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Authors: Carina Wilder

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BOOK: Winning the Alpha
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I let out an inadvertent snort.

“Oh, you’re serious,” I said, looking at their stoic faces. Only Tristan was stifling a laugh. “I’m not really a workout sort of girl,” I added. “But I can try to become one for a bit.”

“Don’t worry, it’s not mandatory,” said
Tristan, winking at me.

They walked me through a series of other rules and regulations. When it came to talking about bathing suits, I told them about my concerns regarding skimpy bikinis.

“Our goal is to make each girl feel comfortable,” insisted Susan. “We won’t put you in anything that makes you feel self-conscious.”

“Oh good,” I said. “So you’ll let me swim in a parka and sweatpants.”

Susan smiled at me, but somehow I felt that her expression was lacking in sincerity.

“Now,” said
Tristan, “We want to know about your interests. We know now that you were a student of English Literature. What else are you into?”

“Well, I used to ride horses. For years, actually
, when I was a kid. I’ve always had a thing for animals…I spent a few summers volunteering at a veterinarian’s office, so I know a lot about dogs and cats.” I listed an old love of baseball stats, architecture and art among my interests. I wasn’t sure why any of it was important at this stage, seeing as I’d already (apparently) been selected.

Tristan
sat back as I spoke, smiling warmly at me and doing funny things to my insides. I felt by the end of the interview that my face must be ghostly white as all the blood in my body had made its way to other places. I’d never met a man who had such a profound effect on me; each time his eyes landed on me I felt myself do something like losing my breath, and I was glad to be sitting down. My chest heated me from the inside out, pushing its warmth to my extremities. Chemicals made their way through my bloodstream as though I’d been injected with a beautiful drug that made my lips tingle softly and made my panties wet. I knew that the whole ordeal of being on reality TV would be worthwhile if it meant that I got to look at the gorgeous producer daily.

Three
:
The Candidates

 

 

Filming was to begin only a week after the meeting.

 

I packed up my things gradually over the course of seven days. Unsure of what to bring, I settled on all my most comfortable t-shirts, jeans and sweatpants as well as throwing in any nice sweaters that I had, and got ready for the adventure ahead.

My time away
would be six weeks long, even if I was rejected on night one. Part of the agreement was that if I was eliminated immediately I’d be sequestered with the other reject-girls, presumably so that none of us could go blabbing to the press about what was going on in ‘the house.’ I loved how they called it that, when really it was most likely a giant recording studio. Whether we were sleeping there or not, it wasn’t likely to feel like a house so much as a demented hostel full of neurotic women. A psych ward, in other words.

 

It was only after my meeting with the producers that I told my mother about the show. She was concerned, which meant, I supposed, that she was a decent mother.


You need to be especially careful,” she told me.

“What does that mean,
especially
? More than the others?”

“Yes. You’re not like them, Nikki.”

Naturally, I took this to mean “You’re fat, Nikki.”

“Gee, thanks mom.”

“You know that’s not what I mean. What I’m saying is that I’ve seen these shows. The women will be there for all sorts of reasons, none of which have to do with their generosity and goodwill. You need to keep your head on straight. And for God’s sake, be careful of the man in question. Don’t let him hurt you. Men are wolves.”

“Yes, and I suppose we women will be like a flock of sheep. Only I suspect that the girls will be more aggressive than the man himself.
Rabid sheep with sharp teeth.”

“I know you’re joking, but you’re probably right
. Watch your back. I don’t want you to be hurt like…like I was.”

Mentioning wolves and her own hurt was as close as my mother had ever come to telling me about my father’s departure, but the wolf analogy might have been a simple coincidence and I felt that I shouldn’t push her on the topic; I could hear the pain in her voice.

I spent the week becoming accustomed to the idea of not having contact with the outside world; I wasn’t allowed to have my cell phone or to email anyone during my stay. I knew that I’d be on my own when it came to support and to preserving my ego. I also knew that it would be awfully hard to keep my self-esteem intact. Even a skinny, perfect woman would have trouble competing with so many others in what seemed like a competition to see who’s the most attractive. I had a suspicion that this sort of fabricated situation could cause serious mental breakdowns so I resolved to make it a study in human, and particularly female, psychology; to go in assuming that I’d lose but prepared to observe from afar and enjoy the ride.

 

I talked to Kate a few times during the week for moral support.

“Remember,” she said, “Any woman who plays
head games, tries to make you feel bad, or insults you in any way isn’t worth your time. Don’t give in to their bullshit. And Tristan seems to like you a lot, so don’t be afraid to go to him if anyone gives you trouble. Think of him as a friend.”

“He’s a friend with a lot of other friends, isn’t he? I’m sure all the women get along great with him. It’s not hard for a girl to fall for a gorgeous guy who’s charming, you know. I suspect that I’ll be competing for his attention as much as for whoever the single man
is that we’re going to meet.”

“Somehow I think you’re wrong. I saw how he talked to you and looked at you. He liked you a lot.
And I have a feeling that under that friendly exterior there’s a pretty assertive man who does and takes what he wants. He’s not into superficial women, that one. And don’t be so hard on yourself, Nikki, or you’ll start off on the wrong foot.”

“Okay, you’re right. I’ll try my best to be a good girl.”

“I don’t care if you’re good. In fact, I’d rather see you stand up for yourself than be nice. Just be good to yourself.”

“I will.”

 

When the day finally came, I took the plane ticket I’d been sent and grabbed my bags, leaving
my life behind me. My mother, who still had mixed feelings about this whole endeavour, wished me well and told me I could call her anytime.

“You know I can’t. Not unless someone dies, so I’d rather not,” I told her. “But you’ll hear from me soon enough.”

I grabbed a taxi and took off for the airport which was on the outskirts of town. My destination was a small mountain town called Wolf Rock, which sounded to me like the name of an isolated ski resort. I was excited by that; the image it conjured was of log cabins, crisp, clean air, and warm hearths. There was little as sexy as cuddling with twenty-four other women in front of a fireplace, after all.

After the usual delay at the airport
, an uneventful flight and a wait for my ride, I was brought to the locale where some initial meetings and preparations were to take place. I was immediately charmed by the scenery. The mountains that surrounded us as we drove were higher than any I’d ever seen in person. Their grey, rocky slopes were topped with perfectly placed white glaciers and snowy peaks, creating an impression of enormity and majesty which took my breath away.

The air smelled pristine, and a
scent of pine permeated the warm breeze that drifted by. Even in the car with the window sealed I was able to inhale it, knowing that I’d entered a new world, ready for whatever it had to offer me.

We passed by charming cabins and the odd hiker, always sporting
a gigantic pack and looking fit. You never saw overweight mountaineers. And they always had a contented look on their faces which indicated a sort of satisfaction at having hiked up a mountain and down again without being attacked by a bear or gotten kidnapped by a horny yeti.

All in all, I was in love with the place and wondered if this was where
Tristan made his home. I pictured winter months here with proper wood burning fireplaces and stoves, where one would sit and sip hot chocolate after a long day of skiing. I found my eyes glazing over as I pictured Tristan in a wool sweater and jeans, slightly sweaty and smelling of sex. 

As we drove into town I fe
ll even more deeply in love with the place. The main street was lined with inviting shops, and tourists in sensible hiking gear walked up and down the sidewalk. It seemed ironic that they’d be clothed for strenuous hikes and yet wander in and out of fudge shops, sampling the wares before heading back to the hotel for a nap. But it created an environment in which no one appeared complacent; everyone was prepared in case they had to go running off into the woods should there an emergency like a zombie apocalypse. No doubt they all carried flint to start fires, protein bars and hand-cranked phone chargers.

 

The plan for the day involved being taken to a first studio to prepare, before being brought in individual cars to the house that was to be our residence for the foreseeable future. I’d seen all this before on other shows so none of it surprised me. My real curiosity was to do with all the other girls; I wanted to know what they’d be like, and if I’d manage to get along with any of them. I tried to be nice in my mind and to assume that they weren’t all like the horrible snooty one I’d seen when I went to meet the producers. After all,
I’d
agreed to participate in this manufactured love fest, so there was a chance that there would be others like me.

When I arrived
at the makeshift studio which looked to me like nothing more than the local high school, the driver helped me get my suitcase out and I wheeled it into the building. I was guided then to a room where a few other girls were scattered in various corners, keeping very much to themselves. The space was large and uninteresting, and I assumed that its normal purpose was that of a gymnasium. Its ceiling was high and the room was poorly lit and cold, a stark contrast from the late summer warmth of the outdoors.

I was one
of the first to arrive; only about six girls were in the room when I entered. They were scattered throughout the space as far away from one another as they could get. I could tell that they were nervous by their body language, and this pleased me. But the thing I noticed immediately was that they were all thin. It was just what I’d feared, but I wasn’t exactly shocked to see it. I chose not to look any of them in the eye but I wasn’t going to stare apologetically at the floor, either: I simply waltzed in and took my place in the center of room, by a long table which was coated in stacks of paper, a coffee maker and cups which demanded to be used.

I woman I’d noticed in a far corner
walked up to me while I poured a cup of coffee. I turned to her and smiled, pleased to see that she was grinning broadly at me. Her hair was long, red and curly and she had a lovely face.

“I’m Julia,” she said, extending her hand. I took it gladly.

“I’m Nikki,” I said.

Julia leaned in and whispered, “Stay close to me. I think there are some serious bitches here.”

I looked around. A couple of the women looked sour, but I wasn’t sure if it was a personality issue or pure fear.

“I think they may be as scared of us as we are of them,” I said charitably.

“You’re nicer than I am, Nikki,” said Julia. “I’m ready to brawl as soon as someone makes a snarky comment. When you came in, though, I liked the look of you. You’re the only one without a scowl on her face. But I suppose you’re right, I should give them a chance before I judge.”

“Yeah, probably. But maybe I’m being t
oo nice. I’m trying not to be too hard on anyone since I’d prefer not to be judged myself. When you’re less than skinny, people tend to make all sorts of assumptions about you.”

“Well, I think you’re gorgeous. And believe it or not, peop
le scrutinize redheads too.”

I laughed then. “Well,
you
probably deserve it, don’t you?”

“Absolutely,” she said.
“We’re the bitchiest of them all.”

Other women started filing in now, one after another. Soon enough the r
oom was full of chattering females who’d lost their shyness and managed to break off almost immediately into small cliques. There were the blondes, of which I wasn’t a part for some bizarre reason; the brunettes, the rich ones (you could tell by the clothes since we’d all come in wearing our own) and what Julia called the plastics. Some of the last group overlapped with the blondes and the brunettes.

Julia stuck by me as promised as we went around and introduced ourselves to the others. She was an aggressive
, friendly girl, and very helpful to have around.

We met several of the candidates
. I immediately liked Diana, a dark-haired beauty who seemed gentle and sweet, and Bree, who was a brunette who seemed uninterested in the others of her ilk. Neither of them seemed to fit into the stereotypical notion of a reality show babe, though they were each very attractive.

The ones who stood out immediately were the women who would no doubt become the show’s “villains.” There was one named
Noelle, who had a permanent scowl on her face. When someone told her to cheer up she declared, “I’m not here to make friends.” I wanted to tell her to save her clichés for when the cameras were rolling. I pictured her at home practicing her lines: “No one comes between me and my man.” “The other girls don’t understand me; I’m really very nice in spite of the venom and forked tongue.” “My plastic surgeon is going to be the best man at our wedding.”

The
frozen-faced woman I’d seen at the production meeting was called Brittany, which was far too pretty a name for such a grumpy-looking girl. She didn’t seem to have anything to say to anyone, but finally sidled up next to a large-breasted plastic and seemed to want to make friends. I was almost surprised that she hadn’t tried to hang out by me; I would have thought that she would have liked to pose herself near a woman who might make her look extra-thin and extra-gorgeous. At one point I made eye contact with her, and she responded by simply narrowing her eyes at me. Well, at least
those
muscles worked. I simply stared back and smiled, and finally she turned her head away, flicking her long extensions as she did so.

“Well, she’ll be the
favourite for sure,” I said to Julia. “She’s one hundred percent fake and men seem to love that.”

“Men on these shows, maybe. I’ve never met a man who’d rath
er have a handful of fake woman-flesh than a handful of real.”

“Then I should make a lot of men’s han
ds very fucking happy,” I said.

 

A young man I hadn’t seen before walked in when all the women had assembled. He was dressed in a suit and had the air of someone who knew how to enter a room with confidence. I assumed that he was going to be the host of the show, though I didn’t recognize him.

He waved his hand
, knowing that of course we were all curiously looking at him, and beckoned us to the center of the room.

BOOK: Winning the Alpha
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