Some would say Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Regan has it all. Beautiful, smart, athletic and a great job working as a journalist – in the almost exclusively male sports department. But Charlotte is not quite as sure as she seems. Recently split from her overbearing boyfriend, she escapes for weekends, surfing in the Atlantic, and spends her free nights watching sports, roaring at the TV.
Derry Cullinane is a fashion writer, gossip columnist and sophisticated man-about-town. The go-to guy for any woman seeking expert advice on what fabulous outfit to wear for any given occasion. He’s also tall, dark, good looking – and straight! So what’s the snag? He has a track record of dating glamorous, vain and shallow women.
Charlie gets an opportunity to write a new column under the pen name Side Swipe, but soon is drawn into a war of words and wit with a rival paper’s columnist The Squire – and their verbal fireworks get readers and editors talking. Yet neither Charlie nor Derry knows just who the opponent is...
When Side Swipe and The Squire are finally forced to reveal themselves, will they revert to type – or confound everyone’s expectations?
* * *
'Ow!' Charlotte yelled as the man in front of her stepped back heavily on her foot. He turned quickly, scowling down at her from under a Panama hat. Realizing she was clutching her foot in pain, his face cleared to concern.
'I'm terribly sorry. Were you standing very close to me? Is your foot all right?'
Charlotte glared at him in disbelief.
'Yes, that must have been it. I got under your feet! It was completely my fault,' she countered, massaging her foot. He burst out laughing and regarded her small leather brogues.
'You have very small feet, don't you? I really am sorry, I didn't see you at all.'
What was so damned funny? Charlotte drew herself up to her full five foot, three inches and continued to glare up at Panama Hat Man. He had to be at least a foot taller than her.
'You're as clumsy as an elephant,' Charlotte replied indignantly.
'Actually, elephants aren't that clumsy.' The man grinned as he swept off his Panama hat to reveal a shock of black, slightly curling hair.
'Please accept my deepest apologies.' He arched one dark eyebrow. ‘Any tips for the next race?'
'I'm not sure if you should listen to me...'
'On the contrary,' he murmured, a faint Cork accent filtering through. 'Race looks wide open.’
'What's your bet?' shouted the bookie, and Charlotte suddenly realized they'd reached the top of the queue. She nursed her sore foot as Mr Panama Hat muttered to the bookie, before taking his docket and turning briefly around.
'Wish me luck!' he said, before disappearing to view the race.
'You betting miss?' the bookie said.
'Um, sure. A tenner on Green Velvet – to win,' Charlotte decided suddenly, still thrown by the encounter. Dammit, what had she tipped for this race? She couldn’t remember if it was Green Velvet. But the bookie was waiting. She handed over her money. Once the horses were called to starters orders, the bookies' pitch cleared fast.
Charlotte pulled out a notebook and asked the bookmaker a few questions about how the festival was going. The sun disappeared and she pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. She thanked the bookie and glanced around.
No sign of the good looking Panama Hat Man. Good looking? She'd bet her last cent that he bloody knew it too. Who the hell wore Panama hats in Ireland? It had shaded those brown eyes...so get yourself a dog if you like brown eyes, Charlotte. She gave herself a mental shake.
'...Penny Farthing and Lucky Dip, nothing between these two. And Green Velvet’s coming with a late run. Green Velvet gaining! And Margin of Error’s dropped out of it altogether. And with a furlong to go, it’s Penny Farthing and Green Velvet drawing clear.
‘Yes!’Charlotte shouted, scrambling up on to the bookies’ stand to watch the horses gallop to the finish line. ‘Come on Green Velvet!’
‘Penny Farthing and Green Velvet, stride for stride, it must be a photo. I can’t separate them but I think Lucky Dip takes third. Green Velvet may have got it in the last stride....It’s Green Velvet in first place. Green Velvet wins, followed by Penny Farthing. And Lucky Dip takes third.’
Charlotte grinned delightedly at the bookie as she jumped down off the stand. As an afterthought, she pulled out her column, searching for her tips. There it was: her top tip for that race had been Margin of Error. The horse had been badly beaten.
She bit her lip and shrugged philosophically. Nobody got it right all the time.
* * *
'So, did you get lucky?' a deep voice drawled.
Charlotte spun to find Mr Panama Hat grinning down at her. Bloody hell, she thought, smiling back despite herself.
'Yes actually, I did,' she admitted. 'What about you?'
'I lost. My own fault. I took a flier on somebody else's tip.'
Charlotte grinned sympathetically.
Mr Panama Hat shook his head, scowling briefly.
‘I read some bloody sports columnist from Ireland Today. Had a few winners earlier this week. As I said, it's my own fault. I never normally bother with racing tips. Whoever it is, he obviously doesn’t know a horse from a three-legged stool.'
Charlotte swallowed hard.
'So how much did you lose?' she managed, trying to sound casual.
'A thousand.' He caught Charlotte's horrified expression and laughed. 'Hey, don't look so worried! I'm a big boy.'
* * *
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