Somewhere near Los Angeles in a mansion strategically situated in the hills
Sam DeLuca sat across from what was undoubtedly the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in real life. Too bad he was having an insane case of sweat flop.
Hannah White, America’s current sweetheart and the lead on the hit TV show Single Gal, leaned forward, giving Sam, the camera guys, and the rest of the audience a first-rate view of her cleavage.
As last season’s runner up on Single Guy, the male version of the reality TV dating show, Hannah had won over America’s fickle heart when she’d been ruthlessly rejected by the show’s lead in front of a record-breaking audience of over ten million viewers. The rejection was followed by footage of Hannah in a limo crying buckets of tears, mascara running down her cheeks, as she sniffled, “What’s wrong with me?”
Legions of fans immediately answered back on Twitter.
There was nothing wrong with Hannah.
Nothing at all.
In fact, all those tears and heartbreak deserved a reward. So here she was now, three months later on live TV, trying to choose her future husband from a pool of twenty-five eligible bachelors, Sam included.
He’d gotten to know the other twenty-four guys while they’d been holed up in a hotel waiting for filming to begin. According to Sam’s last count, there were seven personal trainers, one washed-out ex-NFL player, two attorneys, a couple of real estate brokers, three social media “influencers” (whatever that was) and an assortment of business entrepreneurs.
Oh, and one duck. Or rather, a guy dressed in a duck suit. Sam couldn’t remember the guy’s name, but as the Duck had put it, the costume was his way “to stand out on night one.” The whole thing was nothing but a circus. When he got back to Dallas, he was going to ground Becks for a month.
He snorted to himself.
Who was he kidding? As if he had any control over his eighteen-year-old sister. Becks was just as headstrong as their grandfather had been.
“Where did you say you were from again?” Hannah asked, leaning toward him.
Don’t stare at the boobs, man. Don’t stare at the boobs.
One of the production crew adjusted an overhead light, shining it straight into his face. Sweat ran down his back. He’d love to take off his suit jacket, but his blue dress shirt was plastered against his skin. The last thing he wanted was to be known as this season’s sweaty guy.
“And what do you do, um … I’m so sorry! I forgot your name.”
“It’s Sam.” It was the fourth time tonight he’d told her his name since stepping out of the limo. This does not bode well. He needed to up his game if he didn’t want to get eliminated on the first night.
He took a sip of his Maker’s Mark. He’d been careful not to drink too much. In preparation for his appearance on the show, Becks had shown him a couple of taped episodes from previous seasons. There was always one joker who made an ass of himself the first night by getting hammered. He wasn’t about to be known as the guy who ended up naked in the swimming pool, either.
“What do you do for work, Sam?”
The light shining in his face got brighter, causing him to blink furiously. “I supply gas.”
The guy behind the camera snickered.
“You mean you work for a utilities company?” she asked hopefully.
“No. The kind of gas you use in your car.” He put a hand up over his face to shield his eyes. Couldn’t they do something with that damn light? The producers had told him he was supposed to ignore the cameras and act “natural.” He was about to break the show’s first rule and speak directly to the crew when the camera guy readjusted the light on his own, giving Sam some relief.
“So you work in a gas station?”
“Not exactly. What do you do?” he asked, trying to bring the focus back on her.
“You don’t know? Sam,” she chided, “don’t tell me you didn’t watch my season.”
“I only watched a couple of the shows,” he admitted. “You’re a lifestyle coach, right? Sorry, I forgot.” He knew the vital info on her. Hannah White, twenty-eight. Occupation: lifestyle coach. Favorite color: pink. Favorite food: sushi. Pet peeve: people who pretend to be something they’re not.
Another trickle of sweat ran down his back. It was May in southern California. Did these clowns have the heat on?
Hannah smiled sympathetically. “It’s okay to be nervous. I was nervous too when I was in your shoes. So, Sam, do you feel like you’re ready to get married?”
“If I was to meet the right person, sure.”
“Do you feel that if you were to meet the right person, you’d be ready to propose in a few weeks?”
He loosened the knot on his tie. “I think a couple should know each other a while before they make a big commitment.”
“How long is a while?”
“I don’t know. A year, maybe?” That seemed like a good answer.
She frowned. “You do know that filming only lasts six weeks?”
“Sure.” Then, because it seemed like she wanted more, he added, “I mean, yeah, it could happen in six weeks.” Not likely, but hey, anything was possible. His grandfather had loved to tell everyone how he’d taken one look at Sam’s grandmother and fallen head over heels in love. It was a nice fairytale and one that had always made Becks sigh, but Sam had never fallen for any of Cyrus Byrd’s sentimental BS.
Hannah wet her lips. Her smile didn’t reach her hazel eyes. “Tell me about your previous relationships.”
“What do you want to know?” He took another slow, deliberate sip of his drink and braced himself for the conversation to come. His personal life was about to be dissected in front of millions of people. Clearly, he hadn’t thought this whole reality TV dating thing through. Thanks a lot, Becks. Only he couldn’t blame his sister. This was one hundred percent on him. He should have known better than to have fallen into her trap.
“You know, the usual. Ever been married? Any serious girlfriends?”
“Never been married. One serious girlfriend.”
Hannah nodded like now they were finally getting down to business. “What happened?”
“She was a Longhorn. I was an Aggie. It was never going to work out.”
Hannah smiled like she was confused. Okay, so she wasn’t a college football fan. Either that, or she didn’t appreciate his sense of humor.
“What’s your family like?” she asked, going down another route.
“They’re great. My mom and my sister, Becks, that’s short for Rebecca, are big fans of yours. They’re the ones who submitted my application for the show.”
“That’s so sweet. I love them already!”
“Yeah, well, they love you too.”
From the moment Mom and Becks had found out that Hannah was going to be the star of this season’s Single Gal, neither of them had stopped talking about her.
She’s so wonderful. Poor thing! I can’t believe that horrible Jeremy picked Sydney instead of her.
You have to meet her, Sam. You just have to! She’s perfect for you.
You’re thirty-five, Sam. I want grandkids!
If you apply for the show, I’ll apply for college.
It was that last one that had sunk him.
Becks had just finished up her senior year in high school and wanted a gap year before heading to college. Which was fine by Sam, except Becks’s idea of a gap year was backpacking through Europe, courtesy of her trust fund. Luckily, the old man had put Sam in charge of Becks’s inheritance until she turned twenty-one. Sam wasn’t opposed to Becks waiting a year to go to college, but if that was the case, she’d either spend the year working or pay her own way through Europe.
Teaching his baby sister the value of a hard-earned dollar was just one of the familial duties Sam had inherited when his father had succumbed to a three-year battle with lung cancer. That, and keeping the family business afloat. The latter was a piece of cake. Thanks to a well-structured company, the business practically ran itself. But helping his mother parent a teenage girl? Yeah, not so easy.
So Sam had taken Becks up on her deal. She had applied to colleges, and Sam had applied to the show. And now here he was, sweating in front of a camera while America sat back in their recliners, eating popcorn and watching him stumble through the most awkward conversation of his life.
“How old is your sister?” asked Hannah.
“She just turned eighteen.”
“That’s a bit of an age difference, isn’t it? You’re, what …?”
“Thirty-five,” he said.
After an excruciating five more minutes of conversation that felt more like an hour, the guy in the duck suit waddled up to the couch. “Sorry to interrupt, but can I steal this beautiful lady from you?”
Hannah giggled and batted her eyelashes up at the Duck. “You’re just so cute!” She turned to Sam. “Do you mind?”
Mind? Hell, no. Sam had never been so happy to see a guy dressed in feathers in his life. “Of course not.”
“I’ll never forget our talk, Sam. Thank you so much.” Hannah hugged him, then stood and wrapped one arm around the Duck’s wing as the two of them walked toward the patio. The camera crew scrambled to follow them, leaving Sam blissfully alone on the couch.
His privacy was short-lived. A couple of minutes later, a guy wearing the prerequisite suit and dress shoes, minus the socks, plopped down next to him. “Sam, right?”
“Yep. And you’re Dave.” Dave was one of the bachelors Sam hadn’t had a chance to interact with, but he’d already gotten a good take on the guy just by keeping an open ear. He was an internet marketer from somewhere in the northeast, but he planned to move to California after the show was done filming so he could pursue an acting career. He’d also heard from one of the other guys that Dave had a serious girlfriend back home.
“Can you believe the guy in the duck suit?” Dave laughed. “Man, I wish I’d had the guts to do that.”
“You must not watch the show. That duck is pretty much guaranteed a rose tonight.” Dave took a swig of his drink. “So, how’d it go with Hannah? She’s terrific, isn’t she? Did you get a load of those tits? They’re not real, but who cares?”
He ignored the crude remark. “It went okay.”
“Did you kiss her?”
“I just met her.”
“What’s that got to do with it? There are twenty-four other guys here all looking to get the final rose. You gotta stand out. Otherwise you’ll be going home tonight, and you won’t even get a limo interview.”
“Isn’t that when the producers try to make you say something stupid on your way out?”
“Yeah, but the limo interview is what makes America feel sorry for you. The longer you last on this show and the more brutal your breakup, the better chance you have of getting your own show.” He lowered his voice. “I’m only here because I want a shot at being the next Single Guy.”
“Yeah? Well, good luck with that.”
Dave snorted. “Don’t tell me you came on this show to find true love? Do you know how much dough you can make peddling sunglasses on Instagram? Dude, you do not want to go home tonight. The guys that go home on the first night are total losers. No one from the franchise invites them to any of the good parties. If you can last three, or better yet, four shows, you’re a shoo-in for the reunion special, and that, my friend, opens all the doors, if you know what I mean.”
“Unlimited ass. Every girl in America is gonna want in your pants. And that’s just the beginning of the perks.”
Before Sam could respond, Dave turned his attention to a nearby alcove, where the Duck was being interviewed by a producer. “I need to find out what that’s about.” He drained the rest of his drink. “Best of luck, my friend.” He slapped Sam on the back and went off to investigate.
What a douchebag. It was guys like Dave that gave men a bad name.
Without anything concrete to do, Sam found his way back to the kitchen and ate a sandwich. He talked to Cal, a financial consultant who offered him some general advice on the stock market, none of which Sam planned to take. He wandered toward the bar, got another Maker’s Mark and made some small talk with a few of the other guys.
From across the room, he watched as Hannah talked to two men (an attorney and the ex-NFL player), flirting and giggling with a lot more enthusiasm than she’d shown during her one-on-one with him. Maybe he should try to talk to her again. Not because he was interested. A ten-minute conversation with Hannah was more than enough to figure out that the two of them had zero chemistry. But Mom and Becks would be disappointed if he was sent home on the first night.
All he had to do was make it through this one elimination ceremony. There were twenty-five guys and nineteen roses to give out. Not bad odds. He just wish he felt more confident about it.