The Wedding Date
Katherine Beckett and Guest
Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Hurthshaw
request the honour of your presence
at the marriage of their daughter
on Saturday the Eleventh of August
at three o'clock
St Peter's Parish Church
Kate Beckett had a problem. A big problem. Her oldest friend was getting married, and she needed a date. It wasn't that she necessarily cared about attending the wedding solo, but there was more to it than that. Her jerk of an ex-boyfriend was going to be there. And furthermore, he was to be the groom's best man. Not an ideal situation, to be sure.
She had wrestled with the decision for two weeks after receiving the fancy invitation with the English floral motif. She had hoped to get out of it somehow, silently praying that her boss would deny her the time off to fly to London for the ceremony. But Captain Montgomery was of no help. Instead, her mentor had insisted she attend, going so far as to threaten to put her on non-paid leave for insubordination if she didn't comply. They both understood it was an empty threat, but Kate knew well enough not to cross her captain.
"It will be good for you, Beckett," Montgomery had said. "You're good at your job. Probably the best I've ever seen. But you don't have any fun. So, please, relax and enjoy the time off."
It was not until Maddie had called and practically coerced her into accepting the position of maid of honor that Kate realized she no longer had a choice in the matter. She would have to attend now. And she would need a date if she were to survive seeing her ex-boyfriend again. And that wasn't even mentioning all the well meaning, yet exasperating pestering from the extended Queller-Hurthshaw clan.
After her mother's death, Kate had unexpectedly found herself taken under the wing of Rebekah Queller. The matriarch of the Queller clan took it upon herself to try and fill the motherly void, as it were. And though they were quite a handful, the Quellers had been good to her, keeping her afloat during a really difficult time in her life. Especially Bernard Hurthshaw.
Maddie's stepfather had been a rock for Kate when her own father had been swallowed up by the darkness of his grief. Bernard understood the reasons behind her decision to switch majors and join the NYPD Police Academy, supporting her all the way. He had even helped her reconcile with her father. Jim Beckett had now been sober for six years, and she couldn't be prouder of him. It wasn't like it had been before her mother's death, but it was getting there.
Because of this, and so much more, Kate was willing to suffer through the irritation of having to see her ex-boyfriend again. She had started seeing Will Sorenson after the two had worked a kidnapping case together. Six months into their relationship, Will had been offered a promotion to head up the FBI field office in London and he had accepted the post without even discussing it with her, just assuming that she'd willingly pick up and move with him across the Atlantic. He'd been wrong. And thus ended their relationship.
It was because of Will's new position in London that he had met Maddie's fiancé. It was clear from Kate's conversations with Maddie that the two men were the best of mates. Will had known Maddie through Kate, and somehow—she didn't know when—he had introduced Maddie to his Scotland Yard buddy. Apparently they had hit it off straight from the start. And after a brief courtship, the two had become engaged.
Kate's best friend Lanie had helped her drown her sorrows one night, and it was then, in a moment of weakness, Kate had confessed her complete and utter terror at facing Will—and everyone else, for that matter—at the wedding alone. She didn't want Will to know just how much their break up had broken her heart. She wanted to project strength and resilience. In essence, she wanted Will to believe she'd had no difficulties with moving on.
The problem was Kate really didn't have any prospects to pick from. She would have asked her colleague and friend, Detective Javier Esposito, to assist in the deception if it wasn't for the fact he and Lanie were not so secretly dating. So, in a moment of pure desperation, Kate had agreed to let Lanie set her up with someone. Her friend had recently read an article in First Press about how women looking for the boyfriend experience without the complications of a real relationship would hire a date for the night. Lanie believed it was just the sort of thing Kate needed. However, having worked in Vice for a number of years prior to her current assignment in homicide, Kate was wary of participating in such an arrangement.
Lanie had a contact within the news magazine, and was able to confirm that the operation detailed in the article was legit and above board, as well as obtaining the email address for the unnamed male escort the journalist had interviewed for the piece. After reviewing all the facts, Kate tentatively acknowledged that everything appeared to be on the up and up. This man was not a prostitute. And she wouldn't be paying him for sex, just to play a part. It was like hiring an actor, at least that's what she told herself.
Still, Kate was reluctant. The questionable legality of it made her waver. But she really couldn't find an alternative solution that didn't involve unintentionally stringing some poor guy along. So, after some hesitation—and after running a background check on him—Kate had agreed to let her best friend email the man on her behalf. It was an act of pure insanity on her part, totally out of character for her but she was desperate. And desperate times called for desperate—and maybe somewhat unorthodox—measures, even if that called for her to bend a few of her own rules to see it through. If anything at all, it would at least help her put on a proud front while attending Maddie's wedding and facing her ex-boyfriend without showing just how much seeing him affected her.
"Hey, there's nothing to worry about, sweetie," Lanie had assured her after they'd sent the email. "You're both consenting adults, right? And it's not like you're paying the man to have sex with you. Though, judging from the current state of your love life, I'd recommend throwing caution to the wind. Especially if he's a looker. Who knows, Kate, it could be fun."
"I'm not looking for fun," had been her reply.
And now the moment of truth, so to speak, was upon her. The flight was booked, tickets paid for, and everything else had been arranged. All that remained was finally meeting the man who would be her fake boyfriend and wedding date face-to-face. It was practically all she could think about while she took a shower that morning. Worry crept into her veins. She already felt somewhat uncomfortable with the dubious legality of it, but she'd felt pressured by Lanie and by the circumstances. But from the few emails she'd exchanged with the man, he seemed professional and completely understanding of the situation and all her requests.
Stepping out of the shower, Kate glanced at her blurry reflection through the fogged up mirror. She couldn't shake the slight look of panic she saw staring back at her. Normally she wasn't this uncertain and anxious when it came to men. But this entire scenario was unlike anything she'd ever done before. It was completely out of her comfort zone.
Letting out a sigh, Kate tried to relax her shoulders as she wrapped a towel around her slender body and padded out of the bathroom and into her bedroom. Her luggage was still open, lying at the foot of her bed. She was mostly finished packing, there were just a few more items and she'd be ready. As she stepped over to her walk-in closet, her phone buzzed from on top her dresser, indicating a voice message had been received. Swiping her thumb across the screen, Kate opened it up to her voicemail and put it on speaker as she placed the phone back down on the flat surface of the dresser, listening to it as she continued drying herself off with the towel.
"Hi, Kate," came a rich, smooth voice. "This is Rick Castle. Sorry I didn't get back to you last night, but… I got your messages—all seven of them." He paused for a beat before continuing. "I know you're nervous, Kate. But this is what I get paid for." Another pause. "Now, I'm running a little late, so I'm sending a messenger to pick up my ticket. Don't worry, Kate. Your ex-boyfriend is going to wish he never left you, and your friend's family will think we're in love. You're going to have to trust me. I'll see you at the airport." There was another pause, this one filled with something she couldn't quite place. It made her heart quicken, if just a little, in spite of herself. "I can't wait to meet you."
Kate stopped working the towel up and down her legs as the message ended, stunned momentarily by his reassuring words. He didn't sound anything like she'd imagined. He sounded… genuine. Shaking her head, Kate knitted her eyebrows together in a frown as she finished drying herself off. The background check she'd run had uncovered that Richard Edgar Castle had been arrested once for riding naked on a stolen police horse. He must have had connections, because he got off with nothing but a slap on the wrist. Other than that, there really wasn't much she could find. Simply judging by what she found, Kate had not expected him to be so sincere. Yet here he was, already surprising her before they had even met.
She wondered how else he'd surprise her.
Perhaps Lanie was right, she contemplated with a slight upward quirk of her lips as she tugged on a clean pair of panties and strapped her bra on, slipping it in place over her breasts. Maybe she could still have some fun despite the circumstances. After all, it was only a business arrangement. It wasn't like she was going to fall for the guy she was paying to pretend to be in love with her.
After leaving her a voice message, he finished doing his morning workout before stepping into the shower for a quick rinse off. He checked his reflection in the steam-fogged mirror and smirked, running his hand along his smooth, freshly shaven jaw, liking what he saw. He really was ruggedly handsome. He flashed his reflection a saucy wink and waggled his eyebrows, chuckling to himself as he wrapped a towel around his waist, before he padded out of the ensuite bathroom.
The interior of his spacious Soho loft was stylist yet masculine, demonstrative of someone with refined tastes. But most of that was for show. Hidden behind a row of bookshelves, tucked away in the corner was his personal, private space—his office and bedroom. Those rooms were for him alone. They were his sanctuaries, where he could be himself and not the persona he put on for the benefit of his clients.
Running a hand through his thick brown hair, he paused for a moment, glancing at his bed and the two stylish black leather travel bags resting there. He had never done a wedding before. And he had never flown out of the country for a job. Both were firsts. But there was just something about this particular client—about Kate Beckett—that intrigued him.
She wasn't his typical client, that's for sure. He'd looked her up after that initial email, as he typically did with most clients. What he found gave him some pause. She was a cop, which surprised him. And because of that he had been hesitant about responding, worried it was some sort of entrapment. He didn't prostitute himself. He merely provided his clients with companionship. Nothing more. Nothing less. It was purely a business transaction. He didn't really consider what he did for a living illegal, but some might see it differently.
In the end it had been the cop's desperation that had won him over. She made it clear that hiring him had been an absolute last resort. Yet at the same time, he sensed something else in her voice behind the frantic requests. He couldn't yet put his finger on what it was exactly, but it felt a lot like… hope?
Whatever it was… she intrigued him. And that prompted him to agree to her request. Plus, it didn't hurt that she was willing to pay his six thousand dollar fee. And from pictures he'd seen of her from the online news websites, she was a strikingly beautiful woman. He looked forward to meeting her in person. No matter the circumstances, he was thoroughly convinced that this job would be fun.
He stepped into his walk-in closet, and surveyed the array of dress shirts of varying colors, from deep purple to pale coral white. Yes, he had a long plane flight ahead of him, but that didn't stop him from wanting to make a good first impression with his new client. Besides, there was no harm in someone looking their best, especially when said someone was him.
Yes, he thought with a smug smirk as he selected a nice blue dress shirt and held it up in front of himself while he stepped in front of the full length mirror, nodding in approval at how the rich color brought out the blue of his eyes. I really am ruggedly handsome.
The doorbell buzzed, and Kate hurriedly rushed out of her room, hopping on one foot as she slipped on a stylish pair of high heels as the buzzer sounded again. She skidded through her living room, and dashed for the door, pausing momentarily to compose herself before answering. The bike messenger looked up when she opened the door.
"I'm so sorry," she said, slightly breathless. "I wasn't quite ready for you." She held up one finger, signaling for him to give her a minute. She propped the door open with one hand while she stretched back and reached for an envelope waiting just under the Buddha head on the credenza by the front door. She glanced down at it, running her thumb across the neatly written block letters spelling out the name Rick Castle. She knitted her eyebrows together and chewed on her lower lip contemplatively. It was now or never. This was the point of no return.
The bike messenger's question snapped her back to reality. She flashed him a quick smile and offered him the envelope, but she didn't let go. He raised his eyebrows, and stared up at her.
"It's a plane ticket," she blurted out, unsure what had come over her, but she couldn't help herself. It all just came tumbling out. "For a date. For my date. To my friend's wedding. In London." She paused for a beat, sharing an awkward look with the bike messenger.
"This is a rush delivery, right?" he asked.
"Then you need to let go."
"Oh," she gasped, and relaxed her fingers, releasing the envelope from her tight grasp.
The bike messenger took it and tucked it into the nylon messenger bag slung across his shoulder, smiling politely at her, yet still giving her an odd look, before he shook his head and started back down the hallway towards the elevator.
"Thank you," she hollered after him before closing the door, and leaning her back against the hard surface. She closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath. "Get a grip, Kate. You can do this," she mumbled to herself. She took another deep breath, finding her calm center, and repeated, "You can do this."