One of whom she hoped to marry?
She would agree that at the very least, she was enjoying the perfume the show had supplied her with. It was a light floral with sexy oriental notes. She’d always had a great nose for scents, herbs, medicine, potions. Her mother used to marvel at how she could always tell what spices were in the cookies just from sniffing them.
She wished her mother were there right then, but of course, she’d wished that every day for the past twenty five years.
She closed her eyes and shook off the sentimentality.
There was enough on her plate tonight.
Being a part of a television reality show had never in her life crossed her mind.
Sure, she watched them, loved to watch the tribes fight it out on survivor. She always watched Dancing with the Stars, always. Her and both cats and a bowl of ice cream, every season since season one. She loved to hope the Bachelor and Bachelorette would at long last actually find their fairy tale. She'd watched Joe Millionaire, Average Joe, and For Love or Money... every lousy episode of every one of them, but to be in one of these shows?
She found a lose strand of her own red hair clinging to a sequin on her gown and gingerly pulled it free and thought back to that night nearly a year ago when Jules determined she’d be the first contestant on the latest reality show trying to find someone true love.
One crazy night months ago over pizza and wine coolers her entire life changed. Since then, the reality, the arduous nature of the task, the strangeness of the situation and the very real truth, that she was essentially being asked to be a slut on national television, had all set in. She was now having more doubts than she could count. Only, it was a little late to back out. She was about to go out to the garden and meet the men chosen for this insanity.
She leaned forward a bit, trying to get a sneak peak around the open barn doors, but was quickly, and rather jarringly, yanked back.
"No fair peeking." Candace, the assistant director shook her finger. "You'll see them all in about ten minutes. Just be patient."
Aurora rolled her eyes.
Patience was not one of her strong suits and the knots in her stomach were forming knots on top of knots. She was thankful there was at least a half bath on this level of the barn just in case she needed to make a run for it in these six inch Louboutins.
"This is insanity." She spoke softly to herself.
"That it is, but it's your insanity so may as well embrace it." Candace stood beside her, blonde hair placed haphazardly atop her head, more of it having fallen out of the clips than was still in it. She had an ear piece in, a clipboard, an I-pad and three cell phones all within view.
"Thanks." She nearly stuck out her tongue.
She didn't know Candace all that well. It was interesting to her though, that there was a very predominantly female crew for the production. Aside from Darius Finch, the executive producer, much of the rest of the crew, from Jules, producer and director, down to the gaffers and best boys, they were mostly female. She figured that was on purpose for her benefit and as she'd be surrounded by most of these people day and night, she had to admit, she was relieved to see so many female faces.
Oh but it was the male faces she had not been allowed to see yet, that were most on her mind.
"You ready, girl?" Gabbie, the show's hostess, sidled up next to her and grabbed her arm in an excited squeeze.
Gabbie and Jules, the aforementioned director, where the two women she'd become closest with since this whole project started. Of course it was Jules who'd handpicked her for this opportunity but when Gabbie came on board as host... well she’s sort of a force of nature, so it was as if she just decided they'd all be best friends and made it happen.
"No." Aurora stared into Gabbie's eyes, hoping she'd read despair and panic. "I think I'm going to throw up."
"Oh come on." Gabbie grabbed Aurora's arms and turned her so they were facing one another.
"This is supposed to be fun. You're Cinderella, this is your ball. I'm the fairy godmother I guess. Do you see what they did to my hair?" She patted the tight updo that was secured with several flowers at the back.
"I haven't worn my hair so straight or so... tight, since high school! Jules hasn't eaten in three days, the guys are all out there sweating in places you don't want to know about, but you... you're golden! This is all about you baby girl. You know you're going on all the dates, all the trips, you know you'll be at the last episode, you have all the power, enjoy this!"
Gabbie gave her a light shake. There were several directions yelled around them as the final setup was lit and she heard the men being aligned for the first shots.
She let the words sink in and took a deep breathe.
"Of course. You're right." She closed her eyes, determined to recover her equilibrium.
"Honey, it’s only natural to be nervous. This is a pretty big production if you aren't used to this sort of thing, but the lights and the cameras, they aren't the point. Jules and I aren't even the point." She patted at her hair and gave a look that said just how fabulous she was. "You are. Those men are. I've met them all, honey and there's some real winners in there. Sexy? Mmm Mmmm Mmmmm. Smart? There are two that rate genius level. Sweet?" She smiled softly. "Yeah there's that too. You got it all right there on the other side of this wall and this is your fairy tale, your moment to find your happily ever after. Take it."
Aurora looked at her suspiciously.
"Was that from the script?"
Gabbie didn't even bother to look guilty.
"The opening narration, but I did embellish it some." She shrugged. "Had to record it earlier. Now it's stuck in my head."
Aurora lightened up a bit. She even laughed.
“Hey, Aurora, seriously, why do you watch these shows?”
Her mouth dropped open and she was at a loss for words, but she gave it a moment’s thought before the light dawned.
“They make me feel not so lonely in the world.” She nibbled on her lower lip.
“Don’t do that, you’ll ruin your make-up.” Gabby spoke offhandedly.
Aurora instantly stopped.
“I don’t want you to be super focused on our television audience, but do remember this thing is so much bigger than the silliness of the moment. Yeah, it’s totally unnatural, but it’s an adventure. It’s given a boatload of people jobs and it’s going to give millions of viewers some sense of entertainment and companionship. It’ll make girls dream and we need that in this cold, harsh world. I don’t care what the media says about giving women the wrong idea about relationships. Please, how dumb do you have to be to think your life will look like a T.V. show? It’s insulting. This is going to be a good thing. So take a deep breath, and realize what an amazing opportunity this is and how cool it is that you get to be a part of it all, a big part.”
They received the noises off signal and all went quite.
She heard Jules call action from the outdoor area where the men were waiting as she rolled around her head everything Gabbie had said.
She drew a deep breath.
This is it.
Gabbie received her cue to walk onstage. She gave Aurora's hands a last squeeze of comfort then she rounded the corner all flair and sparkle and Aurora was left alone to await her own cue. Then she’d finally meet the men who she was about to get real up close and personal with.
"Heaven help me."
* * * *
Aiden looked down the row of men aligned beside him wondering if he’d done the right thing or not, though it was clearly too late to turn back now. He wasn’t even sure what had made him try this craziness, other than he’d had a long dry spell with women and when that cute little blonde producer met him in the bar that night in Vegas and suggested this, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
He looked a few men down at Romeo, someone he actually already knew. Inwardly he laughed noting the trademark purple highlights streaking Romeo’s shoulder length black hair. He sort of preferred his own boring brown, but then maybe that’s why Romeo was making a stir in the music scene and he wasn’t. Romeo took risks. Aiden was playing bars in Vegas, but then again, none of that was the point of the evening.
He knew very little about the woman they were about to meet, other than she was smart. A graduate of Harvard, she was an architectural designer in Beverly Hills. She probably had a lot of famous clients. He half wondered how they’d take to their designer being on national television. He’d done his stint in Hollywood eleven years ago and wouldn’t go back at the end of a cattle prod.
No thank you.
He called on his own personal discipline to look calmer than he felt. There was a thrill in all this really. A part of him felt challenged by being involved, even if only briefly, with a woman he knew nothing about. He wondered if she’d be a natural submissive. He started to get hard thinking about the game, the chase, the seduction.
It could be quite thrilling and in truth, that was probably why he was there.
They gave the noises off signal and things grew serious.
The air was heavily scented with jasmine it was one of those warm summer evenings after a blistering hot day, something that would have been enjoyable if they weren’t all in tuxes.
Romeo caught him looking and gave him a half smile. Aiden returned it and wondered if the bastard were only there to promote himself.
He didn’t know the girl in question yet, and it was probably his ingrained protective instincts on overdrive, but she deserved better than that.
Of course, he imagined everyone had their own personal motives for being there and true love probably wasn’t one of them by a long shot.
* * * *
Romeo accidentally caught Aiden’s gaze, smiled and looked away quickly.
What were the odds of someone else he actually knew being a part of all this?
Then again, the music business was a small world, it shouldn’t have surprised him. He just wasn’t too keen on being recognized. This entire thing had been a bit of a covert act of semi-desperation. He wasn’t going to tell anyone, not even Haley or Oz, his bandmates, who he was closer to than anyone else on earth. Then everything changed and he had no choice, but who’d have thought they’d land a record contract at the exact same time he landed this?
It forced his hand.
He’d had to make arrangements to have the rest of the band nearby so that in downtime he could work on music and write the songs for the album. Thank God the producers had agreed. Although Darius was a musician himself, so he understood.
He ran his hand through his hair.
Maybe he’d made a mistake. Maybe it was too much to take on at once, but he wanted both things more than he wanted his next breath. What was he going to do, say no to one of them? How would he even choose?
Somehow, he’d figure out a way to make it work.
After all, that’s what he did.
* * * *
Kieren looked over the rest of the guys and thought, unless the girl was an uptight bitch, he had an edge. All the other guys looked stiff as boards, nervous too. The poor guy towards the end, looked like he was about to upchuck his lunch at any moment. The main thing that stood out to him though was, aside from one other guy with sandy blonde hair, and himself with his near white blonde, all the guys were dark hair, had darker complexions, and most had facial hair. He was clean shaven and fair skinned. The guys always laughed at him because he was so fair, yet he lived on the beach, on the water. Didn’t matter what he did, he never darkened up.
He wondered if the tall dark and handsome thing was her “type”, but he couldn’t let himself doubt. He had it over these other guys, he could just tell. He wasn’t sure what kind of a production this was, but they clearly hadn’t gone all out on the cast. He could only hope the girl had been more meticulously chosen than the men had because he wasn’t here to find the same old surf trash he’d seen before.
He wanted a shot at real love with a real lady.
This show was going to give him this opportunity and he’d make sure he’d get his foot in the door early, sweep her off her feet, and then home to his boat where they’d live happily ever… or until they didn’t anymore, but he’d win this. He’d prove to the guys back home he wasn’t a cur like they always implied.
He was tired of being blamed for the sins of his parents.
This was his chance and he was going to win the girl or else.
* * * *
Mal played with his cufflink, projecting an air of boredom while watching the others from the corner of his eye.
This was most assuredly a mistake, but what other options did he have?
She was going on national television, being auctioned off like cattle.
It was beneath her.
It was disgusting.
The humans and their fascinations with themselves, it was shocking they hadn’t extinguished their race long before now.
Although, without their, special guardians, they most likely would have.
He shook his head.
None of that was the point.
He didn’t know how, but he’d somehow make her see what a mistake this was, that she was so far above all this mortal crap.
Ah, but then, she thought she was mortal. He still wasn’t sure that had been a wise choice, but it wasn’t his to make. All that mattered now was that he needed to protect Aurora, even if that meant he had to pretend a romantic interest in the girl. He was certain Maizshdah would understand.
* * * *
I think I’m going to be sick.
Reggie swallowed hard trying to not be the only man there who needed to make a run for the toilet.
I never should have agreed to this.
It was his mother and sister’s idea and though he loved them, they would never understand him, his world. Yeah, he was different than most, but he truly did find companionship in his on-line world and the games he played. He had a high pressure job. He didn’t need a high pressure social life too.
Besides, as he sized up the competition, he may as well just eliminate himself then and there. The girl wouldn’t even see him over Muscles McGraw, Steamy Pouting Man, and International Super Spy who were all lined up beside him.
This was a dumb, dumb idea.
I think I’m going to be sick.
* * * *
Rhys bounced up and down on the balls of his feet trying to keep the excited energy at bay. He couldn’t wait to meet the girl. This could very well be the love of his life waiting just inside that barn and he couldn’t wait to get started.
He’d been so honored to be chosen for this. He’d known about it forever at this point. Handpicked months before the auditions had even been announced. On the one hand it had been great to have the security all this time, but on the other, it had been a hell of a long wait!
Didn’t matter though.
In just a few minutes, that girl would come through those barn doors and the romance would begin.
He gathered since he was the only man of color in the line-up, that the woman was white, but he didn’t care. His last affair had been with an Irish woman, her skin was as pale as his was dark. They would have had some damn beautiful children together though.
That was in the past. This was his future.
Whoever was right around that corner could possibly be the future Mrs. Rhys Spencer.
He couldn’t wait!
* * * *
Kai drew a slow deep breath and relied on his training and years at his job to keep him calm and focused despite he was going out of his mind.
Of all the things he’d done for his line of work… a reality dating show?
He had no interest.
He had no desire to be in a relationship.
His work was his life and he liked it that way. He was born for it and it thrilled him in a way no woman ever could. He had no idea how he was going to pull this off. He only hoped the girl would simply find her time so absorbed by all these other men, she wouldn’t notice he had no real interest in her.
He just didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to form a relationship.
Even if he did wonder from time to time, he knew better. A little woman sitting at home while he was God knew where in the world, it didn’t work.
He’d seen too many try it and fail.
He’d stick to having affairs with worldly women who could understand that his work would always come first and that the sex was really all that mattered to him.
He scanned the row of men until his eyes landed on the reason he was there in the first place.
Why on earth is he in this?
In the eight years he’d been doing what he did, this was the one time he had no hypothesis to work with. He couldn’t figure it out. That man being a part of, well, this, it simply made no sense whatsoever.
He was pulled out of his own head by the sound of the director cuing the host.
God, I hope this nightmare ends quickly.