Chapter One: Bogus Interviews

“Hi. My name is Sarah Summers. I’m a thirty-one-year-old marketing director in Chicago.”

“Cut.” The director, if Paul could be called that, stood up from behind the camera and flashed a dazzling smile. He was short and in his forties, but in decent shape. His blond hair was spiked in a way a high school kid might call hip. “Perfect, Sarah. Now let’s move on to the next line.”

I read the teleprompter and shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

This was all bullshit anyway. Once Rachel found a loophole, I could put this nightmare behind me. She texted this morning to say “Nothing yet,” but I had faith. If anyone could find a way out of this insanity, it was my corporate-attorney best friend. Then I would be free to strangle my twin sister. Abby took our sibling rivalry to a whole new level with this prank. I could lose my job over it. As if Greg would ever let me take a several-month leave for a dating show.

“Three, two, one . . .”

“I’m perfect for Evan because I’m driven and loyal.” True traits, but I could care less about Evan. I didn’t know anything about him other than he was the heir to the Mershano empire’s fortune. That name I recognized because my company booked rooms at the Mershano Suites for business travel. It was a popular chain in major cities throughout the world.

“Cut. Beautiful, Sarah.” Paul waved the hairstylist over to make subtle changes to my updo. My dark brown hair went from being over my left shoulder to my right with one loose strand tickling my cheek. The makeup artist joined in to touch up my eyeliner.

“Trying to make those gorgeous brown eyes of yours pop,” she explained in her Brooklyn accent.

“Don’t add any more blush.” The hairstylist liked my natural tan. She said it brought out my Argentinian roots. The pink powder made me feel like a clown, so I was good with the suggestion.

“Are we ready, ladies?” Paul called, checking his watch. The next phrase popped up on the teleprompter.

“Uh, no.” There was no way in hell I was saying that.

Paul frowned at the screen. “What’s the problem?”

“My favorite thing about Evan is his ass. Seriously?” I wasn’t sure if the man had a nice face, let alone ass. “I can’t say something more educated? Like my favorite thing about Evan is his drive to succeed?” He was the CEO of a billion-dollar enterprise. That couldn’t be easy even though the position was handed to him on a silver platter.

“Come on, sweetie. This is television. No one cares about his work habits.”

“So we’re trying to marry him for his ass?” This show wasn’t about his backside, nice or not. It was about him being a billionaire bachelor in need of a wife. The fact that he needed to go on the Romance Network for Women (RNW) told me all I needed to know about him. “Okay, sure. Why not?” Let’s talk about the man’s ass.

It’s not going to matter, I reminded myself. Rachel was going to work her magic and get me off this show.

Paul’s frown was comical. Plastic surgery froze his lips into a forever smile that did not turn down well. “We good?”

“Sure.” I read the teleprompter like a good parrot and even threw in a smile. Paul called me perfect again. The man threw out compliments like crackers.

There were a few more lines after the one about Evan’s butt, most of them little snippets about the part I was to play on the show. I gathered my age was a factor, as was evidenced by my final line.

“As the oldest contestant, I have the experience and maturity Evan will want in his future wife.”

Paul engulfed me in a hug meant for good friends, not ten-minute acquaintances, and told me he was looking forward to next week. “Yeah, me too.” Because I have every intention of not being here.

I gathered my belongings and went to the dressing room to change into jeans and a sweater. Chicago was cold in March, yet the producers had me in an orange sundress on set. The show was set to film in Louisiana. It was warmer down there, but it was not dress weather.

My phone dinged as I was leaving the changing area. Meet me at La Rosas, 7pm, was all it said. If Rachel wanted to meet at my favorite Italian place, it was either to celebrate or to ply me with wine before giving me bad news. I started typing a note back to her when I hit a male wall.

“Oomph.” Christ, he’s hard. His chest was solid muscle beneath his black leather jacket. I shook my head twice to clear it and looked way up to apologize. Dark chocolate eyes grinned down at me. “Sorry, I shouldn’t text and walk.” The man was at least a foot taller than my five feet four inches.

“No worries.” He didn’t move. “You’re the one who had a problem with the word ‘ass,’ right?”

Oh, great. The guy was a producer or maybe a writer. If he was the latter, he needed a new job. I cleared my throat. “The word is fine.” I used it all the time. “It was the context.”

“You don’t like talking about a man’s ass?”

“Actually, I frequently call men an ass.” The cocky grin he was flashing made me want to call him one. “I just took issue with commenting on the appearance of a man I haven’t met yet.” Not to mention it was ridiculous.

“Surely you’ve googled him.”

“No. Why would I?”

“Because you’re a contestant on a game show to win a marriage proposal?”

I snorted. “Yeah, no. That’s not going to happen.” I wouldn’t be around long enough to make it to that point, and I had no intention of accepting or hearing a marriage proposal in the next five years. I liked my single life just fine, thank you. Damn you, Abby, for sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.

“Really? Isn’t that the whole point of the game?” His hands were tucked into his jeans, leaving only an inch or so between us. Leather and peppermint tickled my nose, an alluring scent that had me wanting to get closer to him rather than back away. Too bad he works for RNW.

“Is it? I thought the point was to produce good television at the expense of a bunch of hopeful reality stars?” That was too harsh. “Sorry, still a little bitter about the teleprompter. You’re not one of the writers, are you?” Because that would be embarrassing.

His laugh was unexpected and made me shiver. Who knew a laugh could be so sexy? It was like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold Chicago night, warming me from head to toe. Yum. It might be worth going on this show to see him again. Except it would cost me my job, so maybe not. Stern and Associates wasn’t my dream career, but it paid the bills. My MBA from Northwestern wasn’t cheap.

“What’s your name again?” There were dimples in his smile. Very cute.

“Sarah Summers. My parents had a thing for alliteration.”

“So your middle name is something with an S?”

“Savannah.” I grimaced. “Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds.”

“Sarah Savannah Summers.”

“That’s me.” My sister was the lucky one. Abigail Bridget Summers. A normal name for a quirky woman who didn’t know when to grow up. For years we impersonated each other, much to our parents’ chagrin. It’s what identical twins did. What they didn’t do was try out for reality television shows under their sister’s name and send the paperwork with the word “Enjoy!” written on a Post-it note.

I thought it was all a bad joke until the travel documents arrived. A one-way ticket to New Orleans. The Big Easy was on my travel bucket list, but I never thought I’d get there through a dating show. When I tried to call Abby for an explanation, I got her voicemail. When I called her best friend, I learned my devious sister was on a European cruise with her latest sugar daddy. The vacation timing was not an accident.

“Are you one of the producers?”

That made him laugh again. He had this just-got-out-of-bed-and-didn’t-give-a-damn-for-the-world look going on. It was the five o’clock shadow paired with his dark, messy locks that completed it. He must have run his hands through those thick strands a few times this morning and decided it was good enough for public. Or maybe he just rolled out of bed after a long night of pleasing a woman. Those full lips looked like they could do all sorts of wicked things to a girl.

“I’m really starting to think this isn’t an act.”

“An act? Am I auditioning for something?”

“To be a wife, right?”

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. “Sure. That’s my life goal. To get married,” I deadpanned. I had nothing against marriage. It was a fine institution that worked for most people, but not for me. I dreamed of one day owning a firm that assisted nonprofits with marketing efforts. If I found the right guy who respected my aspirations, I would consider settling down. So far, every man I dated was interested in sex or creating a family. The former was fine; the latter wasn’t in my near future.

A short, white-haired woman rounded the corner with frantic steps, her heels clacking against the tile. When she spotted us in the hallway, her nose scrunched up so high her eyes squinted.

Mr. Mershano!” The lady had the “mom voice” down pat. It made both of us cringe. Busted, ran through my mind even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Wait . . . Did she just say Mr. Mershano?

“Hey, Valerie.” He gave the woman a charming grin, one he no doubt spent his youth perfecting every time he got into trouble. “Did you need me for something?”

“You are not allowed to speak to the contestants before the show. If the producers found out, they would throw a fit!” Her lips pinched as her hazel eyes sharpened with disapproval. “Back to your room.”

“Yes, ma’am.” His gaze was pure sin as he addressed me. “See you next week, Sarah Summers.”

Well, shit. Evan Mershano was a fox.

“That’ll be all for today, Miss Summers.” Valerie pointed the opposite way toward the elevators, her tone brooking no argument.

He was the first to move, shooting a wink at me over his shoulder before sauntering down the hallway. Huh. Well, wouldn’t you know? Evan Mershano did have a nice ass. Pity I wouldn’t be getting acquainted with it.

***

No amount of wine was going to fix this situation.

“So let me get this straight.” I was on my third glass in less than twenty minutes. “My only options are to not show up and risk my professional reputation, or press criminal charges against Abby for false representation?”

“Or go on the show.” Rachel tucked a blonde strand behind her ear—a nervous tell of hers I learned in college. The woman sucked at poker.

“And risk losing my job.” I was going on my third year at Stern and Associates. “I only get two weeks of PTO a year. Any longer, and they’ll fire me.” I wasted one of those days today, which meant I had nine vacation days left. Another negative point for Abby.

“You think you’ll last on the show that long?”

“Well, no.” Not after telling Evan I had no interest in marriage. That had to be a red flag for the Prince of New Orleans. He wanted a wife, and I told him I wasn’t interested. “I’m sure he’ll send me home during the first round of cuts.” The paperwork said a third of the contestants would be sent home the first night. Those were good odds.

“So consider it a paid vacation to The Big Easy.” Rachel shrugged. “Not my first choice, but it beats winter in Chicago.”

“I’d prefer Hawaii since I’ll be risking my job and all. I’ve told you about how Brett is sniffing around after my accounts. You know he’ll use my impromptu vacation as an excuse to pounce.” The jackass thrived on competition, making it a challenge to take time off.

She snorted. “He won’t stand a chance. Your clients love you.”

“Maybe, but I need to keep them happy.” I wanted to manage my own firm one day, and that required positive client references. “Somehow I doubt any of them would be crazy about me going on a dating show.”

“You’re going to need to come up with a good excuse.”

“Do you think they’ll understand if I say I need to take a vacation to murder my sister?”

Mirth filled my friend’s blue eyes. “God, I hope so. I thought sleeping with your professor was bad, but this is a whole new level.”

“Oh my God, I don’t even want to think about that.” Abby pretended to be me during our sophomore year of college and seduced Mister Hawthorne. Class the next day was a nightmare. He approached me afterward, and I had no idea what he was talking about, while Abby laughed her ass off. “He was the teaching assistant, not the professor.” Not that it was any better. “I had to drop the class.”

“She really has no understanding of how her actions affect others, does she?” Rachel marveled. “I mean, this could destroy your career, and she’s off on vacation with boyfriend number fifteen hundred.”

Abby was a free spirit. She had no desire to work, no understanding of what it meant to make a living, and no respect for my career. Her college degree in art was useless because she refused to do anything with it. The woman was talented with a paintbrush, but that required focus and discipline—two traits that didn’t apply to Abigail Summers. Instead she relied on men to take care of her.

“I got her back by joining that sorority, though. She had her heart set on being a Gamma, but ended up a Chi whatever instead.” Once a girl rushed and bid on a sorority, she couldn’t change houses. It was minor payback for all the stunts my sister pulled, but it was one of my better schemes.

Rachel tossed her head back and laughed. “She was so pissed.”

“She deserved it.”

“Very true, though.” She sobered, tucking a blonde strand behind her ear again. “So, what are you going to do? I’d be happy to recommend a criminal attorney. Jail might do her some good. You and I both know she needs to grow up.”

She did. “I can’t press charges against my own sister, can I?” We were like night and day, and she didn’t know when to stop, but I loved her. “My mom would kill me.” Abby and I were all she had left after my dad died.

“So you’re going on the show?”

We both knew not showing up wasn’t an option. The network would run my name through the mud and ruin my marketing career. Stern and Associates was a top firm in Chicago. They would drop me in a heartbeat if I brought them bad press. “I don’t think I have a choice.”

Rachel lifted her wine goblet and clanked it against mine. “Cheers, then. To paid vacations?”

I laughed, lifting the glass to my lips. “Sure, to paid vacations with weird rules and guidelines.”

“The electronics thing makes sense.” Rachel read all the paperwork, including the handbook I was given about how the show operates. “They probably don’t want to risk you taking any photos and posting on social media.”

“Because I have so much interest in that.”

“Well, maybe not you, but the other girls might. The wardrobe clause was a bit sexist, though.”

An understatement. The producers were in charge of my clothes. No negotiation. I had to put on whatever they told me to wear; however, I was allowed to pack certain items to be worn off camera. It was all outlined in the contract. “You know the interview I had this morning? Well, they put me in an orange dress. I looked like one of those tiny minions from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“Yeah, whatever. Orange looks amazing on you, unlike on my pasty whiteness.” Her mom’s Irish genes gave her the blue eyes and pale skin, while her dad’s Germanic influence gave her the light hair and height. She was gorgeous, and she knew it. I couldn’t remember the last time she bought her own drink at a bar. Wearing her trademark lawyer skirt suit everywhere she went made her a dick magnet. Something about her piss off look attracted the men in droves. They all took it as a challenge, and they all failed. She was married to her job, just like me.

“I figure I’ll pack a few days’ worth of clothes. I won’t be there long anyway.” I told her about meeting Evan earlier and our conversation. “Despite having a nice ass, I think I’ll pass.”

“He had to be pissed that you didn’t recognize him.”

“I don’t think he believed me.”

“Uh, arrogant much?”

“Well, in his mind, I’m on a dating show for him. So I guess his arrogance is justified.” I wasn’t sure why I bothered defending him. I didn’t know him. He could be arrogant. Most rich men were. “Anyway, he’ll send me home the first night, and all will be well.”

“Knowing you, you’ll purposely sabotage it anyway.”

“Oh, I’m packing a one-piece swimsuit to wear instead of whatever crap they give me.” Not that I owned one. It was on my to-do list after talking to my boss about getting next week off.

“That’s my girl. Jeans, too?”

“Obviously.” No rulebook was going to dictate my wardrobe. Nothing like turning women’s rights back several decades. “I don’t understand how this show is marketed toward women.”

“It’s the dream to marry rich, right? You said he’s hot, too, so there’s that. Think of all the girls out there who will live vicariously through you.”

“Yeah, I’ll be the example of what not to do to win the prince’s heart, or get in his pants, or whatever the end-all goal is of a game show.” There was nothing wrong with seeking true love, but doing so on a game show seemed fictitious.

“You’re going to make so many friends.”

“Yes, that’s my goal.” I sounded so bitter, but that wasn’t my intent. It wasn’t the show’s fault, nor did it have anything to do with the participants. This was my sister’s doing. “Are you still friends with that sexy fed?”

“Mark?” An understanding gleam lit Rachel’s eyes. “Oh, I like where this is going. What are you planning?”

“Do you think he’d be willing to help me teach Abby a lesson?” The handsome federal agent could teach Abby a much-needed lesson about tinkering with other people’s lives.

“He could be persuaded, I’m sure.”

We put our heads together, throwing out ideas and timelines. It would have to wait until after the show, but that wasn’t a problem. I would be back before Abby returned from her cruise. Then the fun would begin.

Chapter Two: And So It Begins

I’m in the middle of a fairy tale, surrounded by froufrou ball gowns and desperate princesses.

Mershano Suites was known for its opulence, but the New Orleans location took the standard to a new level. The property spanned a block of prime real estate on the Mississippi waterfront. It was the original hotel and headquarters for the Mershano empire. Gold, purple, and green were the decor colors of choice, which was appropriate considering the location. Plush sofas, antique tables, and vases filled with fresh floral arrangements decorated the reception area. Original oil paintings hung from the violet walls throughout the hotel, and chandeliers lit the lobby from three stories above. Gorgeous with a touch of wealth and grandeur.

The contestants were standing in line on the second floor, waiting to descend the grand staircase and meet The Prince. I was number twenty-three in line.

“So, what do you do?” Paul told us to ignore the cameras and socialize. He said it was a way for the audience to get to know our personalities. So far, all I knew about the women in front of me were their names, Amber and Bianca.

“I’m a kindergarten teacher.” Amber’s southern twang was nothing like my midwestern accent. Her light blue dress and blonde ringlets were very Cinderella, while my lush red dress was more seductress with the deep neckline and slit up my left thigh. I liked the way it hugged my curves. It made me feel elegant yet feminine. Not a bad first outfit pick by the producers.

“Yeah, I thought about doing that but decided the whole kids thing wasn’t for me.” Bianca fixed the neckline of her forest green dress. It dipped to her belly button and was a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. Good thing we’re not on live television.

“What about having kids of your own?” Amber played the southern belle role well, but there was a cunning gleam in her blue eyes that made me wary.

Bianca shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe. Not really my thing, ya know?”

Amber pursed her lips, disapproval stark in her blue gaze. “Girl, Evan’s going to want kids. Why else would a thirty-five-year-old man want to settle down?”

“Because he’s thirty-five?” Bianca made him sound ancient. That explained the nose scrunch earlier when I mentioned my age. Thirty-one wasn’t too far off from thirty-five.

“Bianca Stone.” Joseph, one of the show’s hosts, stood at the top of the stairs with an expectant smile. His shock of white hair was combed over in a style common for a man his age. I overheard one of the girls say he was a famous producer, and that was how he landed the role. Our other host was a redhead named Carrie. Amber told me the woman won a beauty pageant last year. I gathered from her tone that she wasn’t thrilled by her presence.

“Toodles, ladies.” Bianca gathered her brown hair over one shoulder, gave us a wave, and sauntered over to take the host’s arm.

“She won’t last long,” Amber murmured before flashing me a smile that was a touch too sweet. “So, how do you feel about kids?”

I knew better than to respond the way the brunette did. “I want them, but only when the time is right.” Which won’t be anytime soon. Creating a family required me to find a husband who respected my goals and didn’t mind my work life. That wasn’t an easy feat. “How about you, Amber?”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to be a mom. It’s my dream.” A starry-eyed look came over her that I didn’t believe for a second. She flashed the camera a shy smile. “Hopefully that’s with Evan.”

I suppressed a snort. It was the first night, and the girl was talking about her future children with the prince she hadn’t met yet. What reality is this?

“Amber Darlington.” Our host in the three-piece suit was back and wearing his trademark grin.

“I’d tell you to wish me luck, but I don’t need it.” She gave me a wink and waltzed off to meet her future baby daddy.

You have fun with that, dear.

I tapped my fingers against the balcony railing. I couldn’t see what was going on downstairs due to the way the stairs curved toward the bottom. The crew positioned us this way on purpose. They didn’t want anyone getting a glimpse of the Prince of New Orleans before their grand introduction. I researched his nickname over the weekend and learned the Mershano family was famous in The Big Easy for their financial contributions to the city’s infrastructure and their generosity in giving back to the community. Evan was the oldest child and viewed as the heir to the Mershano empire, giving him the prince pseudonym. His sister, Mia, was referred to as the princess, and his younger brother, Wyatt, was the rebel.

I didn’t read a lot about his family but instead focused on Evan’s ascension to the Mershano Suites CEO throne. The company’s success took a dip three years ago when he took over the family business. Regime changes often yielded uncertainties in the market, so it wasn’t surprising. What was surprising was how fast he was able to turn things around. The stocks were on a steady incline, and the company was expanding all over the world. A hint of admiration crept into my heart after reading some of his business articles. The man knew what he was doing.

“Sarah Summers.” Joseph was back on the landing, his smile ready. Time to see those wicked, dark eyes again. I took a deep, steadying breath and walked over to greet the host. “You look lovely, darling.”

“Thank you.” I’m sure you’ve said that to everyone tonight. Twenty-two women had already gone before me. The girls who went ahead of me were in the lounge, awaiting phase two of the evening. I hoped it involved alcohol.

Joseph locked his arm with mine to start our descent. Evan stood waiting in the lobby with his hands clasped behind his back. His chocolate locks fell in a stylish wave over his forehead, and the five o’clock shadow was gone, revealing a strong jaw and high cheekbones. The rugged style from last week was sexier, but tonight’s handsome look was more appropriate. It suited the black tuxedo he was sporting, which was no doubt a handmade Italian import. A stunning redhead in a black gown stood behind him with a smile plastered on her pretty face. Carrie, the beauty pageant hostess.

“Evan, may I present Sarah Summers from Chicago, Illinois.” The host gave my hand a squeeze and backed up to stand beside Carrie.

There was no wicked gleam in Evan’s gaze tonight, and his smile didn’t reach his eyes. Everything seemed forced and brittle, including the hug he gave me. It lacked heat and comfort and ended with an awkward pat on my back. I imagined this situation made him uncomfortable, but I missed the easy candor of a few days ago.

“Miss Summers. A pleasure.” So formal and cold. That wasn’t working for me. I wanted the playful man from last week.

“Minus the hug, this feels like a job interview, Mister Mershano. Would you like a copy of my résumé? I hear it’s impressive.” Sarcasm was my go-to in uncomfortable situations.

“Is it?” He smirked and gave me a once-over. “Well then, if we were to go on a date, what would be your top three strengths?”

“That’s a very original question, Mister Mershano.” I paused to consider. “Well, I guess it would be my wit, sarcasm, and my breasts.” He was a man, after all, and his gaze had dropped to my neckline twice so far. I didn’t mind him noticing; they were two of my more impressive assets. “Now, I’ve always believed an interview works both ways. So tell me, what makes a date with you better than other men?”

The way his eyebrows hit his hairline told me he wasn’t expecting me to turn the tables on him. Carrie’s and Joseph’s alarmed expressions said they weren’t anticipating it either. Good. I wasn’t here to be predictable. A glimmer of respect flared in his pupils as he took measure of me. He paused on my breasts and grinned at the knowing look I gave him. Not an ounce of shame. If we were in a bar, I’d buy him a drink for that alone.

“If I’m honest, I haven’t compared my strategies to other men; however, I can give you insight into my dating style. Would that suffice?”

“I would accept it as a response.” My tone was steady despite my escalating pulse. The look in his eyes unnerved me. It was part devious, part knowing, and overloaded with confidence. Something told me I’d met my match when it came to witty banter.

“I prefer creative dates that involve intellectual conversation and subtle seduction.” He stepped into my personal space, making me look way up to meet his gaze. “And as for my strengths, I’m a skilled conversationalist, enjoy healthy banter, and I’m told I have a fantastic ass.”

I swallowed. Holy shit. Why was this guy on a dating show? He had more than enough game to land a wife without the help of RNW. Intelligent, rich, gorgeous, and heir to a billion-dollar fortune. Where were all the flaws? “Yeah, I’m out of questions.” It was a rare occurrence for my cleverness to falter. Who the hell is this guy?

Sinful amusement teased the corners of his mouth. “Are we concluding the interview, then, Miss Summers?”

“I believe we are, Mister Mershano. Do we shake hands or hug again?”

“Oh, I think we definitely hug again.” A scent of pine mixed with peppermint teased my nose as he pulled me into his arms. The brittleness was gone, and there was no pat on the back this time. He held me against him, giving me a chance to feel all the hard, hot muscle beneath his clothes. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. His woodsy cologne was also tinged with leather, making me want to breathe deeply through my nose. Not going to happen.

I forced myself to step back and gave him a tight smile. If we were anywhere else, I’d give in to the desire to get to know him better. But not tonight. “A pleasure, Mister Mershano.”

His gaze narrowed at my use of his earlier phrase. “Likewise, Miss Summers.”

Carrie guided me to the next phase—an interview about my first impression of Evan and my game plan for the evening. I read the cue cards verbatim. He was “dreamy,” and I could “definitely see myself falling in love with him.” Sexy was a more apt description, and I could see myself falling in bed with him, but not in love with him.

I played along and moved into the lounge with the rest of the contestants. Violet sofas and black chairs littered the room, and a full bar sat open in the corner. Floor-to-ceiling windows made up the back wall, leading to a balcony overlooking the Mississippi River. The evening hour painted the water in moonlight, an eerie sight that set my blood on fire.

Marketing was my undergraduate degree, but I had a minor in art. Creativity ran in the Summer genes. Abby was the painter, and I was the photographer. Our mother was the romantic visionary. She couldn’t draw to save her life, but she could tell a story that would melt every heart in a room. My dad was a financial planner and also the one I inherited my business skills from despite being taken from me at an early age. I missed him every day.

“Wine?” The waiter knew my favorite drink. How wonderful.

“Yes, please.” I took a glass of the white and found a seat near the back of the room. I chose a table with bad lighting to better see outside. City colors decorated the night sky, giving the sky an alluring orange-black hue. Gorgeous.

Joseph and Carrie made a grand entrance a half hour later with Paul and his crew of minions right behind them. Cue cards flashed, telling the contestants to be quiet and gather around the hosts. We moved to the center of the well-lit room to await further instruction. Bianca stood beside me, radiating tension. Amber picked at some invisible lint from her dress, ignoring the death glare she was receiving. Uh, okay. Catfight, anyone?

“Ladies, Evan will be arriving in just a few minutes.” Clapping and high-pitched shrieks broke out at Joseph’s words, making me cringe. The man was hot, but come on. “He had to go pick up a few guests.”

“Yes, some members of Evan’s family are joining us.” Carrie’s voice had a high quality to it, reminding me of a bell. “I suggest saying hi and making them feel welcome. You never know what they might say to our prince.” Murmurs of who might be here flooded the room while the hosts went back to the door and waited. I picked up a new glass of wine and went back to my seat by the windows.

“Are you all ready?” Joseph’s deep voice carried through the oval-shaped room. “Evan’s outside. The future Princess of New Orleans is in this room somewhere, and he’s anxious to come inside and get to know her better. Let’s make him feel welcome.” Excited squeals broke through the air, making the hair on my arms stand on end. This was not my scene.

The girls rushed Evan as he entered, forcing him to take a step back. His bemused expression made me grin into my wine glass. His life was surreal. I couldn’t begin to imagine what was going through his head. Thirty girls are trying to seduce me. How many can I take to bed with me tonight? Wasn’t this a man’s dream come true? The start of a good porn film?

The cameras followed the mob into the room, and I laughed as Evan was dragged down onto the couch by four of the women. One of them was Amber, and she wasted no time in putting a hand on him. He had a helpless expression on his face that made me feel sorry for him. Poor guy was living every male fantasy come to life at once and had no idea how to handle it.

When a curvy brunette walked over a few minutes later and grabbed his hand, he followed her outside to a secluded seating area out of view. A hoard of women went to the windows to watch, while I admired the water again. No way was I getting involved in any of that shit.

“Mind if I sit down?”

END SAMPLE

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