A Virgin for a Vow

By: Melanie Milburne

CHAPTER ONE

ABBY HAD ONE day left to respond to the invitation to the ball. One day. Twenty-four hours. Fourteen hundred and forty minutes. Eighty-six thousand and four hundred seconds. And if she didn’t come up with a ‘fiancé’ by then she was toast.

Burned and charred and utterly useless toast.

She sat at her desk and stared at the gold and black vellum invitation with its fancy copperplate writing.

Miss Abby Hart and Fiancé

Panic knocked on her heart like a boxer’s fist, threatening to punch it right out the back of her chest. She couldn’t show up at Top Goss and Gloss’s prestigious Spring Charity Ball alone. It was the biggest event on her career calendar. There was a three-to four-year waiting list for tickets. There were more senior people on staff than her who had never received an invitation. Receiving a personalised invitation from the head honcho as ‘guest of honour’ was a big deal. A seriously big deal. Declining the invitation was out of the question. Her boss insisted it was time for Abby’s adoring fans to finally meet her fiancé. If she showed up at the ball alone she might as well take her resignation with her instead.

Everyone thought Abby was engaged to her childhood sweetheart. Everyone at work. Everyone online. Everyone on the flipping planet thought she was engaged. But she didn’t have a childhood sweetheart. She hadn’t even had a proper childhood. Not unless you could call being shunted in and out of foster homes since you were five years old a childhood.

‘Abby, have you got time for a—? Hey, haven’t you sent your RSVP for the ball yet? Wasn’t the deadline like a week ago?’ Sabina from Fashion asked with a frown.

Abby posted an everything’s cool smile on her face. ‘I know but I’m still waiting to hear back from my fiancé about it. He…he is super-busy with work stuff just now and—’

‘But surely he’s taking you to the ball?’ Sabina said. ‘I mean, that’s what a fiancé does, right? This is the night everyone finally gets to meet your mysterious Mr Perfect. That’s why the ball has been such a massive sell-out. I think it’s so cool how you always call him that in your column and blog. You’ve created such a mystery about his identity. It’s like it’s London’s best-kept secret.’

Abby had only been able to keep his identity a secret because Mr Perfect had no identity. He didn’t exist other than in her imagination. Her weekly blog and column was all about relationships. Dating advice. About finding and keeping true love. Helping people find their own happy-ever-after. She had hundreds of thousands of readers and millions of followers on Twitter who wrote in for her advice.

Gulp.

Yes, millions.

Who all thought she was happily engaged to her own perfect man. She even wore an engagement ring to prove it. Not a bona fide diamond but a zirconia, which was so darn realistic no one had noticed it wasn’t the real deal and she’d been wearing it for the last two and a half years.

‘Oh, no, he would never let me down.’ It sometimes scared her how good she was at lying.

‘I wish I’d been invited to the ball,’ Sabina said with a sigh that Cinderella would have been proud of. ‘I’m absolutely dying to meet him. I’m sure that’s why you got the invitation to sit at the boss’s table. Everyone wants to meet this amazingly romantic guy who puts every other man out there to shame.’

Abby kept her smile in place but her stomach was churning so fast she could have provided enough butter for a shortbread factory. Two factories. Possibly the whole of Scotland. She had to come up with a plan. She had to come up with a man.

But who?

Just then a text message pinged in on her phone from her best friend, Ella Shelverton.

Her best friend who had an older brother.

Of course! It was a brilliant solution. But would Luke want to go with her? She hadn’t seen him since that night six months ago when he’d been acting a little out of character, to put it mildly. She had never been that physically close to him before. He was always a little standoffish and gruff—understandable since he was still getting over the tragic death of his girlfriend, who had been killed five years ago. But that night when Abby had called in to collect something Ella had left behind the day before, Luke had been so out of it his head had rested on her shoulder and he’d slurred his words so much she’d had to help him into his bed. Once she’d got him into bed, his hand had taken hers and for a moment she’d thought he was going to pull her down to join him, but instead he’d touched her face as if he was touching a fragile orchid and then he’d closed his eyes and promptly fallen asleep. But she could still feel the tingles in her flesh if she allowed herself to think about it.

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