Knocked-Up Cinderella

By: Julie Hammerle

Dear Reader,

Thank you for supporting a small publisher! Entangled prides itself on bringing you the highest quality romance you’ve come to expect, and we couldn’t do it without your continued support. We love romance, and we hope this book leaves you with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

xoxo

Liz Pelletier, Publisher





For Indy, who was with me while I wrote this book and remains with me in my heart.





Chapter One

Erin

I reached under my voluminous tulle skirt and scratched my butt, once, twice, three times—heck, no one was around. I’d been hiding behind a massive topiary in the hallway outside the ballroom of the Evanston Hilton Hotel ever since I’d escaped a herd of drunk second-grade parents and their ten thousand questions about the school’s paltry foreign language program. My dress itched. My nylons itched. I was developing a pretty massive blister from the clear plastic stilettos I had borrowed from my friend Natalie. Even my earrings were killing me. They were like glittery boulders dangling from my lobes.

But I’d make it through tonight. Somehow. I had to.

Using my phone’s camera as a mirror, I checked my appearance. Back when I taught English to fourth graders, I’d ask the kids to add “sparkle” words, fancy adjectives, to their essays. The “sparkle” words for my current state included “laughable,” “absurd,” “risible,” and “ludicrous.” I was a forty-year-old woman—a forty-year-old elementary school principal—in a half-baked Cinderella costume. At least it was Halloween and not, like, some random day in March.

Having to show up here tonight was an unexpected “perk” of my new job. I had to stay and ride it out, all while wearing a smile. I had to prove to the parents, alumni, and assorted boosters that I was a team player, that I was game enough to make a fool of myself up on stage with the rest of the single ladies to raise money for the Glenfield Academy Athletics Association.

This bachelorette auction marked the first of many, many planned fund-raisers this school year, including the Wintertime Alley Night (yes, the school had a functioning bowl-a-rama in its basement), the Cupid’s Crush Valentine’s Day Ball, and the elaborate, black-tie Glenfield Gala to close out the year.

After reapplying my lipstick, I hiked up my skirt and yanked at the waistband of my nylons. If the shoes didn’t kill me, these control-top pantyhose would. I stretched the band to the hilt and let it snap, satisfyingly, against my stomach, just like, I’m sure, the real Cinderella did whenever she had a moment alone.

A cough from across the way drowned out my sigh of momentary relief.

Heart ramming against my ribs, I dropped my skirt and peered around the side of my topiary sanctuary. A shock of dark hair peeked over the bush on the other side of the hall. I had been operating under the assumption of solitude. I’d scratched my ass. I’d—oh crap—lifted up my skirt and fixed my nylons. My face right now was an inferno.

“I didn’t want to say anything.” The lurker stepped out from behind the bushes. This guy had come dressed in a regular old tux in lieu of a costume to an event the planning committee had expressly billed as a “costume party.” What a rebel. “You seemed to think no one was around.”

“Yeah, I kinda did, dude who leers at unsuspecting women from bushes outside hotel ballrooms.” I stayed put behind my little tree, finger poised on my phone’s 911 button.

“I swear I wasn’t leering.” He held up his hands in surrender. From what I could see through the branches, he was not unattractive. But still. He was a lurker. I kept my finger where it was. “I was hiding, too.”

“What makes you think I was hiding?” I’d entered interrogation mode. The same skills that made someone a stellar FBI agent made me an excellent teacher and elementary school principal. “You’re the one who said ‘hiding.’ Who were you hiding from?”

“Well, that’s personal.”

Phone still at the ready, I stepped out into the open. Time to be a grown-up. Time to put on my professional principal persona and take charge, nip this conversation in the bud. Besides, while it was true that this guy could be here to harm me, the more likely scenario was that he was someone important to my career—a parent, a rich alumnus, a reporter. I owed it to myself and my profession to handle this ugly situation with grace—all the while prepared to scream bloody murder if necessary. I held out my right hand, the one I hadn’t just used to scratch my butt. “I’m Erin.”