Copyright© 2016 by Tess Oliver
Cover Model: Jack Greystone
Cover Photgrapher: Lane Dorsey
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All Rights are Reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Table of Contents
“I thought you
had to be at work early,” Simone’s voice drifted through my weird circus-themed dream where a clown with big whiskers was licking cotton candy off my hand with a rough, sandpaper tongue.
My neck was stiff with pain as I lifted my head from my pile of advanced nutrition notes. Cheesy, my big orange cat, was stretched across the table, casually licking spilled cocoa off my hand.
I sat up with a start, and Cheesy skittered off the table. I’d spent a good two hours drawing charts of every important nutrition cycle, but half of them were now covered with my unfinished cocoa. I couldn’t remember exactly when I’d dozed off, but with the cotton candy dream, I was fairly certain it was some time during the glucose cycle.
“Shit, what time is it?” The chair screeched across the floor as I shot up and piled together the soggy notes and charts.
“Jeez, I’m going to be late.”
Simone, in her usual state of undress, walked out of the kitchen and handed me a cup of coffee. “I put it in a traveler’s cup so you can take it with you.”
She stared in confusion at my face as I took a sip. Her head tilted sideways, and her brows knitted together as she scrutinized me.
“Simone, why are you looking at me as if I grew a pair of horns last night?” I reached up. “Oh crap, is it a zit? Just what I need on the first day of filming.”
She squinted her green eyes. “Uh, you have the word
on your forehead.”
“What the heck are you talking about?” Then it dawned on me. I put the coffee down and raced to the bathroom.
Mystery solved. I’d fallen asleep during the glycolysis cycle, which was easy to surmise because half of it was on my forehead in black permanent marker.
I pulled my pile of wavy hair into a half-knot sort of thing at the nape of my neck and began scrubbing my forehead with soap and water. “They weren’t overstating the
thing on the packaging,” I noted as Simone slipped past me into the narrow bathroom.
She sat on the toilet because, as I’d discovered just after moving all my things into the tiny room I’d rented from her, Simone had no social filters. None.
I’d had a variety of interesting roommates. Jazmin, a chef who had a habit of cooking fish every night, even if she didn’t end up eating it. She seemed determined to stink up our entire crummy apartment with fishy odor. And she had a weird habit of gnawing on toothpicks, which she left, chewed and spitty, on every counter in the place. Then there was Harold, a botany student who attended the same college as me. I’d fondly nicknamed him Grizzly. He had a terrible snoring habit. But he hadn’t earned the name from snoring like a bear because I had no real way of knowing what a snoring bear would sound like. It was entirely possible they were quiet and peaceful like perfectly swaddled napping babies. I wasn’t willing to spend a night in the woods to find out. No, I’d named Harold, Grizzly, because he was covered in hair from head to knuckles to toes. The only places he was free of the black fuzz were on his palms and the pads of his feet . . . like a Grizzly. The shower and sink were always clogged. He also kept weird science experiments in the fridge.
Then there was Simone, my current roommate, a vegetarian who never cooked fish and who was most assuredly not covered in hair. Unfortunately, she was also rarely covered in anything else. Simone liked to be naked. Plain and simple. When I got home, I usually kicked off my shoes, switched into shorts and a t-shirt, possibly even getting a little provocative and slipping off my bra. But Simone, who waited tables at the same sports bar as me, would get home from her shift, step into the shower and after sufficiently drying, she’d drop her towel and laze around our quaint, but ugly, apartment in the raw. I’d only been working at Sparky’s for a week when I had to look for a new place to live. I knew little of Simone, and I’d badly needed a low rent room close to work. My car was on life support and waiting for the plug to be pulled. It turned out Simone had been raised in an off the grid commune, or at least that was the less nefarious term she used for the cult her mom had dragged her into when she was just five years old. Clothing at the commune had been optional, and bathroom privacy was not a part of their
. I’d almost grown used to Simone’s quirky habits. Although cooking at the same time in our postage stamp sized kitchen tended to be awkward.
I shut off the sink and turned toward her. I pushed the hair off my forehead, including the annoying strand of curly hair that never knew which side to lie on. It was a curl of hair that I’d spent a good portion of my life pushing out of my face, and no matter how hard I tried to tame it to one side or the other, it still came down over my forehead. And it never grew long enough to join the other hair, like a good, obedient curl. It had been with me so long, I’d actually given it the name Jack. Short for Jackass.
“Can you still see the pen marks?”
Simone squinted up into the harsh bathroom light. “Yes, but they are less noticeable, if that helps.”
“Yep, it’ll have to do. I need to get dressed.” I grabbed my toothbrush.
Simone finished her toilet duty and walked to the sink to wash her hands. There was nothing more deflating than standing next to my curvy, beautiful naked roommate in the bathroom mirror. I concentrated on brushing my teeth.
“Oh, El, I nearly forgot. Can you cover for me on Thursday night?” She flashed her pearl white teeth. “That rich guy with the black Corvette finally worked up the nerve to ask me out.”
I spit into the sink and wiped my mouth. “And it only took him ten thousand dollars in beers and tips to finally do it. Simone, Thursday is my one night off. I need to study. Ask Gina to cover.”
She sighed. “I asked her. She has some party thing to attend. Please. Thursday night is Friday eve for the office workers around town. They’ll be in a generous mood. Good tips. Besides, I’ve been waiting forever for this guy to ask me out. I’m afraid if I cancel, he’ll run like a scared rabbit and go back to his hole.”
“Scared rabbits aren’t really your type, Simone. Is it just because he has money?”
“Eliot.” She put her hands on her hips, but indignant was a hard look to pull off when you were buck naked. “Maybe I’ve decided it would be nice to have a scared rabbit instead of a wolf for a change.”
“Right. A rich, scared rabbit. I’ll cover your shift, but you owe me.” I opened the drawer with my makeup but then slid it shut.
“Aren’t you going to at least put on some mascara?” Simone asked.
, I don’t have time.” I slipped past her.
Simone followed me out of the bathroom. “What’s the new bachelor like this season? The last guy was sort of a dud.” She stopped in the doorway of my bedroom.
“Yeah, the ratings proved that.” I picked my jeans up off the floor and pulled them on. “I don’t know anything about the new guy. I haven’t had time to read through the briefing package the studio sent.” I glanced around my messy room. “Shit, where the hell did I leave that envelope?” I hurried to the laundry basket in my closet and rifled through the pile of clothes for one of the light blue studio work shirts. I pulled out the one that already had my nametag pinned to it and pressed it to my face to take a whiff. “Not bad.” I pulled it over my head.
Simone was still lingering in my doorway. “So the person in charge of social media doesn’t know anything about the show she is promoting.” She laughed. “Brilliant.”
I sat on the bed to pull on my shoes and saw the end of the envelope sticking out from under the bed. I plucked it out and tossed it on the mattress next to me. “I know exactly what the season will be about. Twenty pretty girls falling all over themselves to impress one pompous, cocksure asshole who has no real intention of marrying any of them.” I hopped up and rummaged through the clothes on the floor for my keys. My fingers struck metal. “Ah ha.” I pulled them free, lunged for the envelope on the bed and dashed around my naked roommate.
“You aren’t just burning the candle on both ends but on all the sides too, El. You need to slow down,” she called down the hallway.
“Wish I could,” I said as I flew out the door.
I sat on
the end of the hotel bed and stared down at the long list of rules for the reality show. It seemed I was about to give up my entire existence. My years as an army ranger hadn’t come with so many regulations and restrictions.
My phone rang and I picked it up, realizing it would probably be my last phone call for the next six weeks.
“Hey, Noah, what’s up?”
My best friend laughed into the phone. “Just thought I’d see what you were up to during your last few hours of freedom.”
“Rafe?” Paige poked her head around the corner from the small alcove with the coffee pot. She was still wearing my shirt and nothing else. “There’s only one decaf. Do you mind if I have it?”
“Not at all.” I returned to my phone call.
“Who the hell was that?” Noah asked.
“That was Paige. She works in the hotel restaurant.”
“Christ, bro, couldn’t even keep it in your pants before filming started?”
“Hey, I had a long, hot ride from Frisco. I was hungry
horny. Besides, we have a lot in common.”
“Yeah, like what? You both breathe oxygen?”
“That and she was born in Portsmouth.”
“And you were born in Portland. Having the same first syllable in your hometown doesn’t count as something in common.”
“You make your own life’s rules and stay out of my mine. You’re the one who got me into this whole fucking mess anyhow. You and that stupid bet.”
“Hey, I beat you up that mountainside fair and square. It’s your fault that you’re such a softie you had to stop to help that woman. I think she faked that panic attack when she saw you climb past. A little swooning act on the rock face. She sure calmed down fast once you got to her. Anyhow, a bet is a bet. One of us had to lose. And it was either you get yourself on the show as the new bachelor or you shave those long, dark locks that make the women drop their panties for ya. Still can’t believe the producers picked you. You’re hardly their usual type. Shit, the last guy was as dull and polished as a fucking corpse.”
I combed my long hair back with my fingers. “Guess you’ve been watching the show.”
Another laugh. “I forgot that you’ve never actually watched Sealed with a Kiss. You’re in for a treat, my friend.” He was having just a little too good of a time with this.
“You are an asshole, Noah, you know that?”
“Yep and I wear the label with pride, as you well know. Never seen the show. You’re going into this like a virgin. Fuck. This is going to be even better than I thought. I’m going to have to have some show watching parties. So you’re in a hotel room having wild sex. Well, hell, guess you might as well have some fun before they—”
“What? Lock me up in solitary confinement?”
“Right. If solitary confinement means being thrown onto a fucking television set with twenty hot, single women then lock me up and throw away the damn key. “
“Then why don’t you switch places with me right now, and we can help you along with that wish.”
“Come on. You were complaining about being bored. This might be fun. I know I’m going to have fun watching from my couch.”
Paige came out with two cups of coffee. She handed me one with a sweet smile and then sashayed on long, smooth legs back across the room to the bathroom. Seconds later, the shower turned on.
“Hey, what about this woman, Paige?”
I drank some coffee. “What about her?”
“In a week or so, your face is going to be plastered everywhere. Dude, you’re the new bachelor. Remember? She might tell the media about this tryst in the hotel room. It might get you into some trouble with the producers. I hear they’re real fuck-faces when it comes to any of the contestants doing shit that ruins the show. Like letting out secrets before the fans watch it.”
“She’s engaged to the owner of the hotel. She’s not going to broadcast this anywhere. And I don’t give a fuck about their rules anyhow.”
“You will if their lawyers get involved. You’ve got just the right kind of bank account to make their law team salivate.”
“A little late for your warnings,
. I’m all in on this now. Hopefully I won’t fuck it up too badly. And now, I’m signing off because there is a completely adorable and naked woman standing in my hotel shower, and I’m sure she’ll need help with the shampoo. Guess I’ll see you on the flipside, as they say.”
“I don’t think they say that in this case. It’s more like I’ll see you in six weeks with your balls tied up in a pre-wedding knot.”
It was my turn to laugh. “You told me that none of these contestants ever actually make it to the altar, right? Don’t forget, you promised to check in with my parents.”
“Yep, I’ll check in with ole Pete and Carol. Take your time and pick well. A lifetime is a long time to spend with one woman. Especially for you.”
“Fuck. A lifetime. Not a chance in hell. Stay out of trouble while I’m in seclusion. Later.”