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Shacking Up (Shacking Up #1)
Author: Helena Hunting

Chapter 1: Keep Your Tongue to Yourself

RUBY

I set the half-full limoncello 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 about 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 his expectation of women is outside of anything that 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-has.”

That my best friend is referring to girl parts as “who-ha” 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 approaching. “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 keep her skin baby-bottom smooth, at least the skin on her face. Her neck tells another story. I take in the rest of her. She’s wearing a black dress that says funeral more 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 the 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 is 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 that’s 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, unlike Amie. I’m third-generation trust fund, but in this circle, that’s considered new.

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