Royal's Arranged LoveBy: Sophia Lynn, Ana Adams
Clara surveyed the ballroom through a slit in the doorway, struggling to make sense of who was who from inside the server’s pantry. She unbuttoned her pressed white top, eagle-eying the well-dressed guests gliding through the event.
“Do you see Headmaster Ging?” Her best friend Katy sounded just as anxious as Clara had felt the entire day.
She’d been politely and silently serving them hors d’oeuvre for an hour now, and through the slit in the door, everyone looked like a confusing blur. Ging was her ticket into the biology teacher position at the private school that she’d been eying for months. But she was also on the lookout for the tall, sexy guest who’d just breezed into the event like a gust of summer air—hot, tantalizing, and unexpected.
“I can’t tell.” She slid her top off, dropping it onto the floor as she concentrated. Unbuttoning her pressed black serving pants, she shimmied out of them. “He got a good look at me in the face, so I can’t sneak out this way anymore.”
“This pantry connects to the kitchen, and you can slip back into the ballroom through the side entrance.” Katy’s voice came out as a forceful whisper. This was about the same as a black-ops mission, as far as Clara was concerned.
“Good idea.” She stepped away from the door to focus on dressing. The formal black gown on loan from a friend was folded neatly in the duffel bag she’d deposited in the pantry hours earlier. “Thank god you’re the boss, or else I’d really be worried about how this stunt affects my job performance.”
“Well, with any luck, this won’t even be your job anymore,” Katy said. “So go out there and wow the pants off Ging so he hires you on the spot!”
“I love you for setting this up.” Clara slipped the gown over her head, tugging it into place over her hips. “If I were a better friend, I’d take you out to dinner or something.”
Katy snorted. “You can’t afford that and we both know it.”
“Thanks for reminding me.” Clara smiled wryly as she pushed pearl earrings into place, another loaned item from Katy. “I’ll make it up to you someday, I swear. Once I’m employed and wiping my ass with twenties.”
“Biology teachers make that kind of money?”
Clara sighed, slipping her feet into simple wedge heels. “No, they don’t. But it’s what I need with how many bills I have. Now, give me a half hour and I’ll be back on the clock, shoveling drinks down these people’s gullets. Deal?”
“Deal and done.” Katy gave her friend a final once-over, sealing it with a thumbs-up. “Now go, Cinderella!”
Clara scoffed. “The modern Cinderella, maybe. Instead of Prince Charming, I’m looking for the headmaster. And once the clock strikes midnight, I turn back into the lowly middle-class servant that I am.”
Katy grinned, pushing her toward the door. “Go.”
Clara glided out of the pantry and through the kitchen, snagging looks from a few uniformed cooks as she beelined for the far hallway. In the cool, quiet air of the hall, the guests’ voices in the ballroom were a low hum. She smoothed the front of her dress, drawing a shaky breath of confidence, touching the simple chignon bun she’d pulled her brown hair into.
On the job hunt for close to a year now, Clara was sick and tired of always coming up short. She’d been struggling to land a job in her profession since graduation; but at this rate, any job that paid the bills would do. Loans, credit card debt, and her mother’s emergency medical bills were like a knife at her throat. The most she could do was scrounge for side jobs in her free time just to tread water.
But even treading water wasn’t cutting it. Her rent was months behind, and if she didn’t snag this job tonight, she didn’t know what she’d do.
She breezed into the ballroom, looking confident. She scanned the room, grabbing a champagne flute from a tray nearby. Would anyone notice the transformation of their former server? Most didn’t take the time to even look her in the eyes.
As she sipped at her champagne, the low murmur of voices and laughter soothed her. For a moment, she was able to forget about her own sordid reality. Maybe this was as close to a vacation as she’d get.
Clara stiffened, turning to acknowledge the speaker. A mysterious puff of summer air was at her side, all six-foot something of his glory. Dark eyes trained on her as a smile tugged at his lips.
“Hello.” He offered his hand, a grin blossoming on his face. “Pleasure to meet you. It looks like we had the same idea.”
She knitted a brow, struggling to focus as his warm, rough hand took hers in a shake. “And what’s that?”