Authors: Carrie Aarons
© 2016 by Carrie Aarons
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover created by Shanoff Formats.
o all of
us who have a guilty pleasure.
hen I was a little girl
, I used to dream about riding around in limos.
There’s such mystery surrounding them. Who's inside? What do they do? Where are they going? What must their life be like?
I thought that if only I could achieve that level of fame, importance, wealth — whatever it was that landed people on the inside of those secret chariots — the world would be laid at my feet. I would be happy and life would be perfect.
Never did I imagine that I'd be surrounded by four other women, decked out in expensive gowns and jewelry, ready to puke my guts out.
"Kristen, you'll exit first, followed by Ashley, Lauren, and Paige. Leighton, you'll be last."
I knew I'd be last. I'd be the last girl to make her limo entrance out of the whole group of 25. I knew this because I'd already done this once, I was the veteran. The audience would go nuts that I was back, production would leave them dangling off the cliff before cutting to commercial.
I would also be the last woman to step onto the glittering driveway of the castle because it was the last thing on earth he was expecting.
Him. God, it had been so long since I'd laid eyes on him. Finn Wyatt, the new Mr. Right.
Mr. Right was the hit reality TV dating show where one man wooed 20 women for a couple of months, slowly cutting that number down until he was left with two. And then he'd propose to one, living happily ever after. My heart went off like a firecracker when I thought about Finn down on one knee in front of me. Again.
Except that happily ever after part never lasted. Last year's Mr. Right, Nicholas Titus, was caught banging a highly paid escort in the bathroom at Exchange two months after he put a ring on the winner's finger. I thanked my lucky stars in this moment that the asshole had cut me right before the final three. Although I'd played it off nicely at the time, spouting elegant tears and wistful endearments about love as I left the beautiful beach in Puerto Rico where the Charm Ceremony had taken place.
No, coming on this show was about the fame. It was about the appearances, endorsement deals and possible spin offs you could collect on after it aired. It was about the parties you got invited to, the people you could potentially rub shoulders with. And for the little girls who had dreamed of riding in limos, it was the launching pad to what you had always considered a better, more important, more worthy life.
I just never considered what it would mean if I actually fell in love.
"She would get to go last just because she has history with him." Paige, the bleach blonde in the siren red two-piece dress scowled. The producer in our limo, Katrina, scribbled something on her call sheet. I knew what that meant; Paige was being nominated for either the bitch or the slut of the season.
I'd educated myself, studying everything about the show before I'd come on as a contestant about a year ago. I knew I couldn't position myself as the bitch or the whiner, and I could never play the single mother or widow cards. I had to play just the right balance of naughty and nice; the sweet spot between sarcastic and mean to get the audience to fall in love with me. I had to be kind, but couldn't be a doormat, that would get me cut too quickly. I had to be willing to kiss Mr. Right, but had to appear demure and flustered. Sluts were sent packing as soon as America was disgusted enough with their behavior, which was usually only an episode or two.
It’s how I’d landed myself a coveted spot as one of the Mr. Right darlings. It’s how I got America’s, and the producers’, vote to be a featured contestant on Right Now Island. It’s how I’d met Finn. And then subsequently, how I’d lost him.
My stomach lurched again as the limo sped over a bump on the winding road up to the Right Castle. It was really just a rather large mansion in the Hollywood Hills, but branding was everything to these people.
Would Finn reject me outright? Would he be surprised to see me? I was surprised as hell at myself that I’d actually agreed to this. But the pull of the spotlight, of stardom, was addicting. It called to me in my waking and sleeping hours, tinted every opportunity that came my way. Or at least that was the excuse I’d use when he asked me.
He could never know I was actually here because I couldn’t take a breath, couldn’t fill my lungs and keep my body living, without thinking about him. He couldn’t know that I laid awake at night in my one-bedroom apartment on Ventura Boulevard going over every detail of our time on the Island, each moment of those last days together. And he couldn’t know that even after what I’d done to him, even after all of these months, that I was still in love with him. Because that was how I got sent home.
The limo turned and I saw them, the top turrets of the castle, come into view. It was like no time at all had been lost. I was that naive 24-year-old who’d pulled up into this driveway a year ago for the first night of filming. My stomach was in knots, my hands started to sweat.
The other girls in the car began to pinch their cheeks for color and primp their hair. The odor of competition in the car was now pungent, rotten jealousy and adrenaline hung in the air.
The limo moved along the driveway, the pavers glistening under the beautifully lit gardens leading up to the castle. I knew for a fact they hosed it down every 20 minutes so that it would be as shiny as the diamonds dripping from the biggest celebrities’ hands and necks.
Candles lined every imaginable surface; the ledges, the walkways and the windows of the castle. The whole thing felt utterly romantic. Or it would be, if there weren’t 100 crew members swarming the main circular driveway leading to the front of the house.
I could hear their buzzing energy even from where I sat inside the limo. The showbiz lights, the mics, hair and makeup standing just off to the side. I was back. The thought set off a ticking time bomb of nerves I hadn’t been aware were housed in my stomach.
I hadn’t been nervous when I’d come here a year ago, vying to win Nicholas’s heart. I’d been excited, overly cocky and eager. But tonight, I didn’t know if I’d burst into tears at any moment or curl into the fetal position and start talking to myself. Because
this was Finn
And then I saw him, and the world disappeared. The only thing that existed was my body, my line of sight, and him. The world dimmed around the corners of my eyes, my peripheral vision went black. I didn’t hear the girls discussing entrances or strategy, the producer trying to convince them to take one last chug of champagne before they got out of the car.
There was only Finn. God it had been so long since I’d seen him. I’d forgotten the way that dirty blonde hair curled up at his neck and ears, that he always wore it just a bit too long, a bit too shaggy. The producers must have had a field day when he said he wouldn’t cut it for the gig.
He had the regular issue Mr. Right black tux, but it looked damn good on him. It fit his broad shoulders, stretching over the muscles underneath. Muscles I’d touched a thousand times. His pants covered his long, lean legs, slightly baggier on the right side to cover the one thing he was most insecure about.
Finn’s hands, hands that had touched me in the most intimate places, hands that knew my body better than it knew itself, rested in his pockets. His posture was relaxed, always the easy going man. That was Finn Wyatt. Until it wasn’t. Until you gave him a reason not to be.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at his face without choking back a sob, so I bit into my lip, hard, before bringing my gaze to it.
But instead of a sob, all of the air expelled from my lungs. I felt like I was actually choking, drowning maybe.
He’d grown a beard since the last time I saw him. Not a full one, but enough that I could see the light brown stubble from my seat in the limo. It lined his jaw and above his lip, making him look rugged.
Finn was the handsome boy-next-door. A hotter version of Chris Evans, but even that didn’t do him justice. He had that squeaky clean feel to him, but I knew there was a dirty, sarcastic man underneath that handsome exterior. With those deep blue eyes, the color of a summer night, and the dimples in both of his cheeks, he was a natural born charmer. Finn had the kind of face that made women swoon, and the Mr. Right franchise had picked up on it right away.
Finn was smiling, laughing at something Mitchell Baleman had said. Mitchell, the host of all of the shows in the Mr. Right franchise. Mitchell’s overly-botoxed face barely moved, and I surveyed his impeccable grey suit, perfectly dyed chestnut hair and blue eyes, which I knew for a fact were the work of color contacts, with a sneer. Mitchell was both evil and compassionate, and not someone you wanted to cross. I always kissed his ass, because I knew he could make or break you when it came to this TV show.
My private moment studying Finn was interrupted as I felt Kristen scoot toward the door of the limo, jostling me in my seat.
She was the stereotypical cowgirl they’d cast on this season, with her flirty sundress and boots. I knew she’d do something “down south” for her entrance. I wasn’t wrong when she stepped out of the limo a moment later, doing a country line dance that Finn smiled uncomfortably at.
Ashley, a red head, went for the simple hug hello, not memorable at all in my opinion in her navy blue A-line gown. Lauren was next, her white scrappy gown hugging her perfect double D’s and her natural blonde hair curled in a pretty undo. She gave him honey from her family’s farm. I’m sure she paired it with some speech about how their courtship would be just as sweet. But I couldn’t hear it, so I couldn’t be sure. But I made sure to make a mental note, she could be competition.
Paige went to step out, her red crop top riding just under her boobs. I swore I could see a little bit peeking out from under the material.
Just as she strutted up to Finn, she grabbed him and stuck her tongue down his throat. My stomach caved as if someone had punched it, and a lump formed in the back of my throat. I was going to have to get used to this, him kissing other women. But she’d made her choice. Slut of the season it was.
Then it was just me. I took a deep breath, the knock on the window coming from the producer who’d ridden with us in the limo. I smoothed my dress, teased my hair with my fingers a bit more.
I’d gone with a yellow fit-and-flare gown. Yellow was a risk, it could be taken as too flashy or over the top for the first night. But the material was a satiny silk, the color was the soft kind of yellow in a sunset. I knew it brought out the orange tones in my hazel eyes, something that Finn used to love.
My black hair hung thick and curled over one slim shoulder, and my lips were painted a dark red. Living in LA, I got mistaken so much for Jessica Lowndes and Lana Del Rey that I think I needed to start making royalties off of them. I’d gone for the Lana look tonight with my makeup and hair; old Hollywood cat eye and pin curls.
My stomach was sour, and the tension building in my shoulders was causing me to roll them, expecting to hear cracking.
The producer knocks again, and I knew I had to come out. I took one last look at Finn from inside, curiosity filled his eyes and an easy smile rested on his lips.
I was about to wipe it off.
The door opens, my tan heel hits the sparkling pavement, and then I am standing just feet from the man whose heart I’d broken mere months ago.