Authors: Meg Benjamin
Tags: #Salt Box, #romantic comedy, #reality show, #Colorado, #TV producer, #mountains, #small town
Reality can be hotter than fiction.
The Salt Box Trilogy, Book 1
Monica McKellar, associate producer of
Finding Mr. Right
, is desperate. One of the show’s bachelors has bailed one week before shooting starts. She not only needs a replacement ASAP, he has to get the temperamental bachelorette’s stamp of approval.
Fortunately there’s a hot guy right under her nose who’s a perfect fit. Unfortunately, he pushes all
hot buttons. Until the show’s over, her hands—and every other part of her body—are tied.
When Paul Dewitt signed on to write for the reality show, “Bachelor #10” wasn’t supposed to be in his job description. He fully expects to be cut early on, which will free him to focus on the real object of his attraction. Monica.
Instead, he’s a finalist, and they’re all packed in an SUV climbing the Continental Divide, headed for Salt Box, Colorado. Where stampeding horses, vindictive tabloid editors, and one capricious bachelorette’s waffling over suitors may conspire to end Paul and Monica’s romance before it even starts.
Warning: Contains hot sex on the sly, cold nights, creaking wicker couches, and a gypsy wagon that gives a whole new appreciation for the pioneers.
Finding Mr. Right Now
To my wonderful and supportive family, in particular my hubs, Bill, who puts up with me better than anyone. To my terrific critique partner, Teri Wilson. To my editor, Latoya Smith. And to Samhain Publishing for letting me wander from Texas to Colorado!
“He’s really gone? You’re sure? You checked everywhere—hotel, limo service, makeup, wardrobe, all of it?” Monica McKellar held onto her iPhone like it was glued to her palm. If she kept her voice low, maybe no one else would hear.
Most importantly, maybe Ronnie wouldn’t hear.
“He’s definitely gone.” Sid’s voice had an odd metallic ring that probably meant the cell phone signal was close to breaking up. “And yes, I have checked everywhere. I found a note. On his pillow, no less. Trust me, he’s gone.”
“A note? What does it say?”
“It says, and I’m reading now, ‘Gone home to my real girlfriend. Took the shirts. Sorry.’ It’s signed
Monica closed her eyes for a moment. “Son of a bitch. He took the shirts too?”
“He did. There’s nothing left in the room except a couple of gum wrappers.”
The shirts were Ralph Lauren. Granted, they’d bought them at a discount place. But still. Monica ran a quick mental tally and wondered which part of the budget she could hide them under. No way was she chasing Pres Jackson all the way back to Ohio or wherever the hell he lived to retrieve three polo shirts. The jerk could have them.
She blew out a breath. “Okay, come on back to the office. We’ll figure out damage control once you get here.”
“Does she know yet?”
No need to ask who
was. Monica could see Ronnie Valero sitting in the office down the hall. Fortunately, she was too far away to listen to phone calls. Even more fortunately, so was Glenn Donovan.
“No, right now she’s busy. I’ll tell Glenn and he can tell Artie. Maybe Artie can talk to her. She’d never start crying in front of Artie.” At least she never had. Ronnie was so scared of Artie Fairstein, executive producer of
Finding Mr. Right
and owner of Fairstein Productions, that all she usually did was smile brightly. On the other hand, the chance of Artie getting involved in something so far removed from him was probably zilch.
“Okay, I’ll start back.” Sid sighed. “Maybe it’ll all be over before I get there.”
“Maybe,” Monica murmured as she disconnected. Actually, she figured Sid would come back via Greenland, making sure that any tears Ronnie shed would be dampening somebody else’s shoulder. Monica only wished she could join him since her own shoulder was comfortably dry at the moment and she’d prefer to keep it that way.
She tried a sort of subtle wave in Glenn’s direction. Normally she would have headed straight for him since Glenn was the director and
Finding Mr. Right
was his baby. Also, of course, he was one of the few people she knew who could keep Ronnie calm. But if Glenn was talking to Artie Fairstein, the last thing he’d want to hear about would be difficulties over Ronnie’s suitors.
She studied Ronnie again. In a lot of ways she was absolutely perfect for the show. Very blonde, with creamy skin that had never known a tan. Her brown eyes were sort of a shock, given her coloring, but they gave her a dash of individuality. Her figure was nicely rounded without being too voluptuous. She wasn’t model thin, and women in the audience seemed to feel she was closer to reality than the average starlet. The outfit she wore today, which the show had purchased for her, was sexy without being trashy—bright turquoise top that was just tight enough, white linen slacks, platform sandals, gold hoops in her ears, a silk scarf knotted around her neck.
She was laughing now, probably at something Glenn had said, showing a flash of gleaming teeth made more so by a very professional bleaching job Fairstein Productions had fronted for her.
Perfect. Miss Right. Or as she was known to the crew, the Sweetheart Diva.
Ronnie Valero had been a finalist on season three of
Finding Miss Right
. She had, in fact, been the popular favorite to be chosen by season three’s bachelor. One of Ronnie’s many charms was the fact that the camera loved her. She came across as a wholesome, down home girl who also happened to be lovely.
Ronnie didn’t create problems, unlike some of the bachelorettes. She never raised her voice, never cursed, never showed by word or deed that she was anything but delighted to be where she was.
She did have a tendency to become emotional when things weren’t going her way, though, like when the season three bachelor told her goodbye. Then her expression had been so heartbreaking that America had been ready to string the bachelor up from the nearest rose bush at the picturesque Santa Barbara resort where the conclusion had taken place. When season three, like seasons one and two, ended without a wedding or even an engagement, nobody was surprised. Obviously, the bachelor had chosen the wrong girl.
Ronnie’s popularity didn’t diminish over the months after the final show. When Fairstein Productions was still receiving letters and emails months later, demanding that something be done about Ronnie and her sad situation, Artie began to take note.
A few months after the season finale, Artie called the crew together with what he referred to as “exciting news.” The network had bought in on a new series, a spinoff of
Finding Miss Right
to be called, of course,
. And the very first bachelorette to take the plunge would be… And here Monica had felt the hand of fate itself closing on her throat.
No, no, please no.
But of course it was. The very first bachelorette was none other than Ronnie. The viewers wanted it. The viewers demanded it, in fact. They had to find Ronnie a mate, and they had to do it on national TV.
Monica and Sid had managed to find a group of promising candidates for Mr. Right, ten in all. They had a pile of applications to choose from, along with calls from a number of agents around town who had clients they wanted to shop. Plus they always found a few possibilities by chance, guys who hadn’t applied but who looked like good candidates for the show.
Which, unfortunately, was how Pres Jackson had wandered onto the scene. Pres, short for
, was a trainer at a gym where the head writer was a member. His application, while not sterling, wasn’t terrible. And his abs were first-rate.
From what Monica remembered, Pres hadn’t been all that sharp. She’d put him in the general category of
—somebody to fill out the list of contestants, but who’d probably be eliminated fairly quickly once the show started.
Only now Pres was gone. He’d lasted through the final set of interviews and through Ronnie’s viewing of his “audition tape” where he talked about why he wanted to be her Mr. Right. He’d made it into the final cut, and then he’d disappeared, taking three Ralph Lauren polo shirts with him.
With production starting next week, they were down by one bachelor. And Ronnie would have to be told that one of her suitors had headed for the hills without even trying to win her heart. Monica was pretty sure she wouldn’t take it well.
She sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Houston,” she muttered, “we have one big, honking problem.”
The writers’ meeting was degenerating into chaos, and not the kind of chaos Paul Dewitt considered productive. No, this was more the “frat boy” chaos that signaled the end of a particularly grueling season.
Fairstein had a small writing staff spread across several shows. Currently, there were only two writers on
Finding Miss Right
because there really wasn’t that much for a writer to do. They came up with the “stunts,” the activities that the bachelor and his potential dream girls undertook on their dates. And they helped assemble coherent story lines from the piles of videotape that were shot for each episode. Sometimes they wrote short segments for the cast to provide voiceovers for footage so that the action made sense.
Paul excelled at coming up with dialogue to make the filmed encounters look like real conversations even when they hadn’t been. His shining hour was a voiceover in which a bachelor talked about the moment when he’d known Tiffany was “the one” while the camera showed the bachelor and Tiffany glowing at one another in a conversation that had actually been about the relative merits of Chili’s versus the Olive Garden.
All in all,
was far from the worst gig at Fairstein Productions. Harriet, the head writer for Fairstein, was the administrative type, deciding when their stunts were okay and when they were either too expensive or too extreme to get by. She had a finely developed sense of just what they could get away with, and Paul trusted her judgment.
Darryl, the other writer, had one chief function so far as Paul could determine—to be a pain in the ass.
Which was mainly what Darryl was doing at the moment. They were trying to come up with stunts for next season’s shows. If you asked a pizza-eating, Red-Bull-drinking film-school graduate like Darryl to come up with dating activities for one of the Mr. Muscle types who starred in
Finding Miss Right
, the result was always various forms of torture. Still, the kind of torture Darryl usually came up with was at least mild—he’d never suggested anything that was likely to constitute an actual danger to life and limb.
Darryl was now heading in that direction.
“Bungee jumping.” Harriet rubbed her eyes. “You want them to go bungee jumping off a high bridge.”
Darryl nodded enthusiastically. “Great visuals. Chance for the guy to show off his pecs.”
She sighed. “What happens if the girl is afraid of heights? Hell, what happens if the guy’s afraid of heights?”
“It’s a test of their devotion. Are they willing to go the distance, to jump off a bridge for each other?” Darryl’s voice sounded solemn, which was a bunch of crap. None of the writers felt solemn about the freakin’ show.
“Okay, first of all, the insurance company and legal will probably veto this right off the bat. But even if they don’t, these stunts are supposed to be fun, things actual people might actually want to do on an actual date, assuming they had the time and the money. What’s fun about jumping off a bridge, for Christ’s sake?” Harriet gave him the evil eye.
“It’s fun.” Darryl sounded hurt. “Who says it’s not fun?”
Paul was reasonably certain Darryl himself had never jumped off a bridge with a bungee cord attached to his ankles. Hell, he was reasonably certain Darryl never even jumped out of his Subaru if he could avoid it.
“Paul, help me out here.” Darryl turned his smirk in Paul’s direction.