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Authors: Carina Wilder

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BOOK: Winning the Alpha
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“Hello, ladies,” he said when we were all gathered around him. “My name is
John Stone, and I’ll be hosting this show.”

John was good-looking, but not overly handsome. His voice was slightly high-pitched and he wore a wedding ring. I suspected that these were typical traits of the host of a reality show. The producers wouldn’t want him to outshine the leading man, after all.

“I’ll be the person you come to with any complaints or concerns, and you can trust me. It’s my job to act as a sort of go-between. Also, I’ll be guiding you through the process of things like the parties we’ll have, when you’ll get to meet with Craig, and I’ll be announcing the assigned dates and so on.”

The women chattered
suddenly, like a flock of birds going apeshit in a tree because a hyena had come around.

My brain started working: a
ssigned dates? Craig? Right. Craig must have been the single man we were all pursuing. Jesus, what a boring name. They should have changed it for the show to Basil Horsetongue or Damien Wellhung. I’d almost forgotten that there was a man involved, and dates. How utterly bizarre to watch women get so excited without knowing what we were fighting for.

I heard the
continuing murmur of women speaking under their breaths, as though hearing the name of the man we were going to compete for like wolves over a deer’s carcass ignited their imaginations. Suddenly he
had
a name, which meant that he had a conjured face. I wasn’t sure what face “Craig” was really supposed to evoke in the imagination. To me it sounded too much like “crag.” I began to picture a grey-faced man with little to no sense of humour.

B
ut of course all that mattered was that he was the prize, and that would be enough to keep the ladies interested and drooling.

Somehow,
I
wasn’t excited in the way that knew I should be. My initial nervousness had been replaced by mere curiosity, and I convinced myself that I was merely an objective observer. Nothing about this surreal experience made sense so I had to take ownership of it. Perhaps any igniting of flames had already been done in the form of Tristan, who occupied my thoughts more than he should.

John walked us through some of the rules and regulations, most of which we’d all
heard before.

Things
didn’t really become interesting until he finally beckoned someone to wheel rows of dresses in for the first meeting with Craig, which was to be filmed a few hours later. If I thought the candidates were animals before, now they’d gone seriously rabid. When the dress racks rolled in shrieks filled the air, as if the room had suddenly filled with clothes-worshipping banshees. I thought the ladies would tear each other limb from limb over the garments though I couldn’t see why; they all pretty well looked the same to me: low cut, too sparkly, too shiny. Too small.

“Hanging back?” asked Julia, who’d sidled up next to me
as I watched the mayhem unfold. She wasn’t going in for the kill either.

“I figure I’ve seen all the women
by now, and you and I know perfectly well that there’s probably only one dress on those racks that fits me.”

“True,” she said. There was nothing insulting in her tone; Julia was si
mply a no-bullshit kind of girl and I liked it. “And
I’m
not rushing in because I couldn’t care less if they threw me into a burlap sack. I’m all about personality, baby, not showing my tits,” she added.

As I watched the other girls
at work, I realized that my new friend had a point; the cattiest, most violent competition seemed to be over the dresses with the least fabric.

“Jesus,” I said. “I should go in and fight them. Imagine what those things would look like on me. They’d barely cover a nipple.”

“Oh my God, you should totally do that.” Julia looked me up and down now. “I think you’d look pretty sexy, actually.”

I pictured myself strapped in like a woman who’d been tied up in spandex like a
happy and willing victim of bondage. I could see Julia’s point; it was sort of hot. But I didn’t think my first television appearance should really be as some sort of overweight exhibitionist. Surely I could leave that until the third episode at least.

When the crowd had dispersed finally and the women had satisfied themselves, running growling to their corners with their spoils, I approached the racks. There were only a few dresses left, and I knew immediately which was intended for me. I don’t think it had even been touched. It was red, made of a stretchy sort of material and the top half was a sort of faux-wrap. The bottom half was looser and flowing, and actually I quite liked it.

Julia chose one of two remaining dresses: a black number with an empire waist. It was very tasteful and elegant and would probably make her look like the classiest woman in the room, though the ladies showing the bulk of their breast flesh to the world would probably disagree with me on that.

John, who had been standing by the door no doubt laughing to himself or terrifi
ed or both, walked again to the middle of the room now and got our attention. This time wasn’t so easy; he had to pry women’s eyes away from their fancy new frocks.

“Ladies,” he said, and in a louder voice which almost amounted to an angry yell, “Ladies!” Finally girls stopped talking to their viscose atrocities and looked over at him.

“You’ll be brought into various dressing rooms for hair and makeup. After that you’ll be taken in groups of eight to meet Craig. Enjoy the rest of the day, and I’ll see you at the house.”

A couple of
casually but stylishly dressed men came in and began calling out names, summoning us to have our faces spackled with television makeup. I got called in the second group and followed one young man in tight jeans that were so tight that they almost looked like leggings, accompanied by a couple of girls I hadn’t yet met.

We walked out
into the hallway and our guide brought us to a large dressing room whose walls were coated in mirrors and the round bulbs you expect to see in these places. I began to wish every room on earth had those light fixtures, since their glow seems brilliantly able to flatter any face.

As I walked through the
doorway a voice called, “Nikki!”

I turned and
looked down the hallway in both directions. Candidates were milling around, trying to get themselves organized. Emerging from the throng was Tristan, who was walking towards me. Surprisingly, the female competitors seemed to be ignoring the stunningly gorgeous man, probably because their minds were already turned towards the mysterious Craig. It’s amazing how the potential of a man-prize can put blinders on a girl.

I smiled as
Tristan came towards me. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi there.
” He stopped in front of me, grinning widely. “How are you doing?”

“I’m okay. A little overwhelmed, to be honest,” I said quietly, leaning in to him.
Oh my. I could smell him again. Nothing on earth could compete with his scent.

“No doubt. It’s a circus, isn’t it?”

“It’s more like a zoo with shoddily-assembled cages whose doors have broken and all the insane wildlife has escaped. I’d forgotten how much I hate women.”


Don’t think about them. They don’t matter, the screaming girls. You’re the only one who matters.” He put a hand on my shoulder again and squeezed gently. I felt a sensation, a flow of energy which began at the back of my neck and spread like fireworks throughout the farthest reaches of my anatomy, most of the heat settling into the very responsive area between my legs. Under my shirt, my nipples stood at attention, hard pink nubs notifying me and the rest of the universe that yes, I was turned on. I wondered sheepishly if I might be blushing again.

“I’m not sure I’ll be
the only one who matters when twenty-five of us are fighting for the attention of one guy we’ve never met,” I said, trying to seem casual.

“Well, you’re the only one who matters to me.” As he said this,
Tristan leaned in close to my ear, his hand still on me. I could feel his warm breath on my neck and I felt myself shudder gently.

If
only my adventure on reality TV could end here, and I could take this man home as my prize. But involvement with producers was a no-no, particularly since we were all supposed to fall madly in love with the main character.

“Excuse me,
Nikki” said a male makeup artist behind me. “We’re waiting for you.”

Tristan’s face changed now. I’d only ever seen him look friendly, smiling. But he glared at the man
authoritatively, in a way that said, “Another word and I’ll kill you.”

“Sorry, Tristan,” said the voice. “Take your time.”

I could see that Kate had been right; Tristan was very much in charge in spite of his friendly demeanour.

“I’d better
go in,” I said, studying the producer’s face, which had settled back into a calm sort of grin. “I’ll talk to you soon, yeah?”

“I hope so,” he said. As he turned to walk away, his
hand slipped off my shoulder where it had remained all this time, and I felt his fingers brush against the back of my hand. I watched him disappear between wandering women, wondering when I would see him again.

Four
:
Eyeshadow
and Twists

 

 

“I look like a cross-dressing hooker,” I said to Julia when we’d found each other. We were both clothed in our fancy new dresses and caked in makeup. She looked great, but I felt weird; I wasn’t used to looking like this.
There was more eye shadow, liner and mascara on my eyes than I’d owned in my life. The makeup artist had used an airbrush to spray a mist of foundation on my face and I had to admit that my skin looked amazing; it probably hadn’t looked this smooth since I’d been about a year old.

“Y
ou look gorgeous, actually,” Julia said, putting her fingers through the ringlets they’d made of my blond hair. “Really. I mean, you’re gorgeous anyhow, but now you look like a fucking plus-sized supermodel.”

“Thank you.” I’d gotten to know her well enough in our brief time together to trust her word on things like this. Her compliments were easy to take
because she didn’t sugarcoat them. “You look amazing yourself.”

“I feel bizarre. But it’s sort of fun to have people pamper me. I’m not exactly used to it,” she said.
“I lived on the street for a few years and this is a new experience, to put it mildly.”

This
brief history lesson explained why Julia was so good at being aggressive and blunt. I had a new respect for her, and liked her all the more for any past struggles she’d had to endure.

We were brought back into the first large room and given lists that told us which groups we were in for the limos
to take us to the house, and where to find them. I was delighted to discover that Julia was to be in mine. I’d dreaded the idea of spending time cooped up in a vehicle with a bunch of plastics, or even just one generally unpleasant woman.

We were assured that our luggage would be
taken to our rooms if we made it through the elimination that was to take place later that night when more than half of us would be sent packing. But that the first thing was to meet Craig and make enough of an impression to be kept on the show. We were each given a small clutch which contained a list of the other women’s names and a bit of makeup for touchups. I wondered why there was no barf bag, because I thought I might need one. Then again, there would be nothing quite as memorable for my first moments on TV as projectile vomiting.

Julia and I made our way outside and found our limo
usine. We squeezed in and sat on the long vinyl seats, followed by six other women who found it one by one.

I studied their faces as they entered the car. Each smiled nervously, looking around before the car began to move, as though the outdoors would somehow tell us where we were going.

There was a small bar in the car, displaying a bottle of what looked like scotch and some glasses. One woman, a brunette, reached for it as soon as she got in. I smirked, amused at the thought that she could get wasted before we even left.

Brittany, one of the villains
, climbed in last. She looked around, an expression of haughty disdain on her face which intensified when her eyes landed on me.

“Nicole, is it?” she asked. “Would you mind getting out
to meet Craig just before me?”

Before I had a chance to answer I heard snickers from the others and, if I doubted that she was implying that I’d make her look good
by making my own terrible impression, my doubts were allayed when I heard the laughter.

“Aren’t you worried that Nikki’s beauty
will make you look like an ugly bitch? You don’t want to be rejected in the first five minutes, surely, Brittany,” said Julia. I knew there had been a reason I’d wanted her along.

Brittany glared at her but was unable to come up with a response. She wa
s a nasty piece of work, but hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer.

I simply smiled sweetly
at her, having already put my plan into action to be nothing short of charming. It wouldn’t last, I knew, but I could keep it up for a little at least.

Finally the car pulled away and the chatter began. Most of the women
simply seemed excited and giddy and I forgave them for it. It wasn’t possible to tell if their thrill came from the unknown man they were about to meet or from the free dress (which I was pretty sure we weren’t meant to keep) or the appearance on television and the hope to get noticed by some famous film director who had nothing better to do than watch shabby reality TV.

I found myself analyzing their feelings far more than my own, but at a certain point I began to wonder how
I
felt. Was I excited? Sure, I was about to exit a car in front of cameras and there was a good chance that I’d trip on my dress and fall on my face. There was an even better chance that I’d say something incredibly stupid or inappropriate to this Craig person.

But mostly,
I realized, I wondered when I’d see the handsome Tristan again. My gut told me that he would be around the whole time, since he was in charge of things. John was our on-screen contact but Tristan would be the person who would make final decisions, like if a girl should be sent home for committing murder, arson, kidnapping and that sort of thing. I just hoped I could find a way to talk to him now and then without becoming a full-fledged criminal. Between him and Julia, I felt like I had a support system.

 

After a ride that only lasted a merciful ten minutes, we pulled up in front of a house. The women contorted themselves in an attempt to see it, though you could hardly miss the thing. It was a bit of a monstrosity tucked into a beautifully wooded area; a giant stucco mansion, very generic looking and in all likelihood painted and dolled up just for this show. I wasn’t convinced, in fact, that it had been built for any purpose other than to house a herd of shrieking women. I would have much preferred a big old haunted-looking log cabin with character, but I supposed we weren’t there for the architecture.
Stop being so critical
, I told myself. My negative attitude wasn’t going to advance me on the show at this rate.

Much to Brittany’s chagrin, we were handed an order by the driver in which we were supposed to get out of the car. There
would be four other candidates and then me. Brittany was to go last, I supposed because she’d been deemed the most controversial. Of course, I was iffy in my own way. I braced myself in anticipation of Craig’s response to me.

I heard gasps and turned to face the house as I realized that the man himself had stepped out to greet us
, surrounded by cameras and crew members. He was tall and lean, dressed in a tailored suit with no tie. His shirt had the two top buttons undone. He was blond and probably blue-eyed, though I couldn’t tell from where I was. There was no question that he was handsome, in an underwear catalogue model sort of way. I was curious to see him up close and I made it my personal challenge to see if my weight would put him off.

The first girl stepped out and I saw her prance towards him, al
most skipping in her nervous excitement, as a little child would bound through a park.

There was
a fine line, I thought, between this sort of thing and heading to one’s execution; both feel as though life as you know it is about to end. I wondered how my friends and family would see me after I’d been portrayed as a character, or possibly caricature, on television.

The next few went, each shaking Craig’s hand or kissing him on the cheek. They all bounced
up and down uncontrolled as they spoke to him. I made a mental note not to do that. I was a little more jiggly than any of them.

Finally my moment came. Julia, who was to go
second last, squeezed my hand.

“Good luck, honey,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said. “This will be interesting. I’m going to watch his face and see if he reacts to the big girl.”

The driver opened the door and I eased out, trying to be
as elegant about it as I could. In addition to my flattering dress, I’d been given high-heeled black pumps which helped me to feel properly womanly, even sexy.

As I rose
to stand, I looked towards the man of the hour and tried to focus on him rather than on the cameras surrounding us. I smiled nervously and began to walk towards him.

After I’d taken a couple of steps, my left ankle buckled under me and I nearly toppled over.

“Shit,” I muttered under my breath, but I kept going, determined to keep up my smile. I considered asking if I could start again but figured they’d ask me if they wanted me to.

“Hi there,” said the tall man as I approached. I could see him smiling widely, no sign of horror or surprise on his face.

“Hi,” I said, taking his extended hand. No cheek kiss for us.

“I’m Craig,” he said. His eyes were blue after all
, light and piercing, like Tristan’s but less enticing. His voice was nice; deep and rich. I could see immediately why he’d been chosen for this show.

“I’m Nicole. Nikki,” I said.

“What do you do, Nicole? Nikki, I mean?”

Shit. They’d warned me about this question.

“I’m an English major,” I half-lied. First television lie.

“Oh, cool. So you like reading?”

He was a genius, this one. Bonus.

“Yes,
I like it a lot.”

“Who are your
favourite authors?”

“Well, I like Austen. And the
Brontes. And Vonnegut. And you?”

“I really only read Muscle and Fitness.”

Dear God, I’ve met my soul mate. We could have stopped this show right then and there. Time for the wedding.

“That’s great. It’s good to keep in shape,”
I said, a realization of the irony of my words hitting me, which made me want to burst out laughing. Craig saved me from further stupidity by saying “I’ll see you inside.”

“Okay, great,”
I replied, and broke eye contact.  I set my focus on the inside of the house where the others were already downing glasses of champagne to ease their frayed nerves.

I grabbed a glass myself, grateful to have some prop to help me avoid conversation, and wandered
around the house.

The focal point was a large living room, which was where the producers wanted us to gather
. There was nothing homey about it; it was decorated in shades of beige and brown with the odd red accent in the form of a throw pillow placed carefully on the oversized furniture, which was no doubt meant to be enough to hold all our asses while we admired the god-like man we were here to worship.

Throughout the house were arches and
modern hints at classical architecture, no doubt to help create large enough doorways for camera crews to rush through when the women threw hissy fits and went running up to their rooms. As I wandered, I discovered four bathrooms on the main floor alone, perfect for sobbing in when Craig looked at other girls.

Clearly I didn’t have high expectations of my poor housemates.

 

French doors led to a large back
yard which contained the requisite swimming pool and hot tub, the two things that I’d been dreading. I chose to ignore them for now.

As I walked around, Julia joined me, a champagne flute in her hand.

“Cheers, honey,” she said.

“Y
ou made it. How was your encounter with the man of the hour? You in love?” I asked.

“Totally. He’s dreamy
. He’s got it all. Hair, arms, legs, and probably even a penis.”

“Your standards are far too high, you know.”

A cameraman came at us, no doubt hoping to pick up our conversation.

“Oh my God,” said Julia, her voice becoming enthusiastic
as she shifted seamlessly into her role, “He’s just so hot, don’t you think, Nikki?”

I was tempted to say, “Like, totally,” but instead thought of my poor mother dying of embarrassment and said, “He’s very handsome, yes.”

Suppressing my urge to turn to the camera and smile a giant toothy grin, I simply added, “I think we might have a few things in common.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Well, I like to read. He likes to read. And we both like to work out, clearly. Yes, I think we might be meant for each other.”

The cameraman made a signal with his hand as if to tell us to keep
up the ‘in the first two minutes of knowing this man I’ve determined that we should get married’ talk. Julia picked up on it immediately and said, “Well, that’s too bad, because
I
want to have his babies. You realize that only one of us can win this thing, don’t you?”

“I do, and I’m bracing myself for a broken heart
. But I’ll fight for him. I think we had a…a connection. Deep and profound. Timeless and eternal at once, even.”

“If only there could be twenty-five
Craigs.”

“If only.”

The cameraman, finally sensing our disingenuous tone, lost interest and headed for a group of plastics who were hovering by the coffee table.

“This is going to be fun,” said Julia.

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