Loud banging on my door yanked me right out of a really hot dream. Jerking upright in bed, I looked around, confused for a moment until I realized I wasn’t actually in the middle of a pool party.
There were no gorgeous supermodels wrapping their lithe, bikini-clad bodies around me. No hands reaching for my junk. No lips being licked as heads dipped over my crotch.
A long, loud sigh rattled out of me. Well, that sucks.
“Rhett!” the production assistant with the shrill voice hollered from the other side of my hotel room door. “It’s ten. How are you still sleeping? Get your ass out of bed.”
Groaning as I collapsed back on the mattress that had been mine for the last couple of months, I grabbed the pillow behind my head and used it to smother my face. Maybe if I passed out, she’d go away eventually.
“Rhett Roberts! If you’re not out here in one minute, I’m coming in and I don’t even care who you have in there with you. You’re both going to regret it.”
I knew she wasn’t fucking around. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d have to bust in here to drag my ass out of bed. Hell, it wouldn’t even be the first time she’d be confronted by me wearing only my underwear. It would, however, be the first time there was no one in here with me to have caused the tent in them.
“Thirty seconds, Rhett,” she warned, fists pounding against the door. “You were supposed to be in a meeting with Jake twenty minutes ago.”
Rolling my eyes at her theatrics, I gave up on trying to ignore her and climbed out of bed. Not bothering to put on any clothes, I marched over to the door and threw it open before flashing her what I’d been told was my most charming smile.
“It’s ten and I was supposed to be in a meeting with the producer twenty minutes ago?” I arched a brow at her, crossing my arms as I leaned against the doorframe. “Nine-forty feels like a strange time for a meeting to start. Are you sure you’ve got it right?”
“You are the most irresponsible Prince I’ve ever had to deal with,” she snapped, narrowing her eyes behind her thick-rimmed glasses. “For the sake of whoever you give that final bracelet to, I really hope you can get your act together. Now get dressed. They’re waiting for you.”
Suppressing another roll of my eyes, I snapped my fingers to my forehead in a salute and started closing the door on her. “I’m getting dressed, okay? I just can’t do it with you in here.”
“Like hell you were getting dressed,” she said, even though there was a door between us again. She knew damn well I could still hear her.
When they renovated this old-school Beverly Hills hotel for the show, they didn’t have privacy in mind. In fact, I’d bet my left nut that the walls were this thin for the exact opposite reason.
You can’t have contestants vying against each other for those god-awful bracelets eavesdropping on conversations they’re not supposed to hear if you’ve got thick walls.
Coming on this show seemed like a good idea when my agent pitched it to me. It’d get my face and name out there, and even though I made a decent living as a stunt double for one of the biggest A-listers around, he was convinced we needed to expand my client base. “Just in case,” he’d said.
Throw in thirty beautiful women who would be all over me for weeks, and I was uncapping the pen to sign on the dotted line within minutes of him giving me the contract. I mean, who wouldn’t want that?
Queen of My Heart was a popular, long-running reality TV dating show with a hardcore fanbase. The premise was simple but effective. One guy was the Prince—me for this season—and he met, dated, and lived with thirty women for four months.
During that time, I was supposed to whittle down the horde until I found my queen, at which point I’d become the king of her heart just as she was the queen of mine.
At random points throughout filming, a bracelet or two would be shoved into my hand by one of the crew members, and right then and there, I was expected to decide which of the girls were definitely staying. As soon as I handed over the bracelets, any women who hadn’t received one had to drop whatever they were doing and move toward the foyer.
I met them there and was given a number of how many girls to send home on the spot. It was brutal, but it had been fun for a while.
None of the participants in the show were allowed any contact with the outside world while we were filming. We were thrown together in this hotel owned by the production company, and while there were many perks to living in a resort-style hotel, I was more than ready to go home.
Swiping a pair of jeans off the thick carpet, I put them on and grabbed a clean shirt before shoving my feet into my flip-flops. They would want me in a suit for the ceremony tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in one if I wasn’t obliged to wear it.
Besides, it was probably a hundred degrees outside again. After this meeting, I was taking my ass to the pool and staying there for the rest of the day.
Let them get some shots of me chilling while I’m supposed to be making my big decision.
I scoffed as I wrenched the door open, lifting my hands in surrender when the production assistant narrowed her eyes at me again. “I’m here, okay? Calm down. I’m ready to go.”
It was her turn to scoff at me before she spun on her heels and strode away, without once turning around to check if I was following after her. She didn’t need to. I knew where I was going anyway.
She might’ve been sent to make sure I got there on time, but I was no stranger to Jake’s office. At some points in this show, it felt like I’d been in there every ten minutes.
For the guy who was supposed to be the star, I sure had gotten more than a few raps over the knuckles for just being myself. Sometimes it’s like they don’t even want me to find love on a show all about it.
The key word in that thought, however, was the show. It wasn’t about me, the girls, or the “big decision.” It was all about the show and the ratings.
I sighed as I ambled down the open pathway that ran along the side of the main building, looking out over the bright green lawn, the pool area, the Jacuzzi, and all the rest of the bullshit I’d thought was so awesome when I’d first arrived here.
When I reached the wing used by the crew for their offices and accommodations, Jake was waiting for me with his features twisted into an annoyed scowl.
“This is the last time I’m working with you, Rhett,” he said when his ice-blue eyes landed on me. He stuck his meaty finger out, jabbing it at my chest. “You’re fucking impossible.”
I flashed him the same grin I’d given to the shrill production assistant earlier. “Lucky for you, you shouldn’t need to work with me again. I’ll have found my ‘true love’ by tomorrow, and you’ll be free to move onto producing the next season with a new Prince.”
Sarcasm dripped heavily from my tone, but he ignored my joke. No true love had been found on this set. Motioning me over to a bank of screens mounted against the wall, he dropped into a chair that sagged beneath his weight. “I can’t wait for this season to be over.”
“Today must be your lucky day because you’re lucky again. By the end of the week, it will be over. We’re down to the last two ladies, remember?”
“Like I could forget.” He scowled at me, shaking his head before turning his attention to the monitors. “I’ve been counting down to this day for months. Actually, I’ve been counting down to tomorrow night when it will all be over.”
“You’re a real ray of sunshine this morning, Jakey,” I said cheerfully. I knew my apparent good mood would piss him off even more, but he was the one who’d drilled into me that I was supposed to be the laidback, happy-go-lucky guy the public saw me as at all times.
Fact was, I really was that guy, but like everyone else, I had my limits. This guy and everyone who worked for him were testing those limits, and they had been for weeks. “What did you need to see me about on this beautiful day?”
He grunted something about it being about a hundred degrees too hot to be beautiful. Then he toggled some joystick until the ballroom came up on the main screen. “We need to discuss the final ceremony. Our estimates say that millions of people will be tuning in for the grand finale and we’re airing live, so it’s absolutely imperative that you do not fuck it up.”
“Don’t millions of people always tune in for the finale?” I asked innocently, earning myself a frustrated huff from him. “Oh, you mean more millions are tuning in for this one than they have for how many seasons before it?”
I wasn’t an idiot. Despite all the shit he’d given me over the months that we’d been shooting, I knew the show’s ratings had spiked again for the first time in a long time. It wasn’t just me being a cocky fuck when I pointed out to him that it was all because of me.
“I was watching this talk show the other day,” I said. “They were going on about how this has been the most exciting season in years. You’re telling me not to fuck it up? Of course I won’t. I’m the reason all those people will be tuning in.”
“Only because they want to see if you can actually follow through,” he retorted. “Don’t flatter yourself, Rhett. America doesn’t love you. They’re curious to see if their not-so-favorite playboy actually has any staying power.”
“They already know I have that.” I smirked at him, waggling my brows just to go for the extra douche-y effect. “I think they’ve seen me in action enough times that no one has to be curious about that anymore.”
“I wasn’t talking about your dick, Roberts. God knows they’ve seen enough of that. They’re tuning in to see if there’s actually a heart in there somewhere.”
Bringing my hand to my chest, I clutched my T-shirt and feigned injury. “In here? I have a huge heart. Look at all the love I’ve shown these girls while we’ve been here.”
“Love?” He snorted. “You’ve shown them something, all right, but it sure as hell hasn’t been love.”
“I resent that. Deep down inside, I felt something for each and every single one of them. It’s not my fault if they threw themselves at me to try get ahead.”
If they’d known how little say I really had in the process, I wasn’t sure if they’d have been quite as willing to get down. To be fair though, not even I realized it back when all this had started.
As time had gone on, it had become clear to me that my decisions had been manipulated all along. If I’d known, well, I’d at least have set a few of them straight before I hooked up with them. After I began learning the truth, I became as forthcoming with them as I could be.
None of the girls were idiots either, though. Just like I figured out what was going on, so did they.
Eventually, I supposed no one really cared. We all had our own reasons for being here, but very few—if any—of the participants had come here to find love. So we’d had our fun while we were stuck here anyway. All of the women had gotten their time in the press because of it, and the ones who had left already had all gone with smiles on their faces once the cameras had stopped rolling. We were all good with each other.
Heck, there were even a few I planned on meeting up with again once this was all over. Jake, however, seemed to still have his panties in a twist about a lot of the stuff we’d gotten up to together.
“Hooking up with you to get ahead is an excellent example of what you cannot say on camera tomorrow night, got it?” he barked.
I nodded. “Sure thing, boss. Just a question. If I can’t say that, can I least thank them for their participation when we look at the highlight reel?”
“Thank God we only have to make it through one more day,” he grumbled. “I can’t wait for the Hawaiian vacation I have booked for next week.”
The thought of his tropical getaway seemed to perk him up enough that he managed to make it through the rest of our meeting without being completely insufferable. Once he was sure I knew what was expected of me, he dismissed me and sent me to the assistant waiting in the ballroom where the ceremony would be taking place. Apparently, she had to show me exactly where I had to stand for each of the cues in the script.
The last two women remaining were also around, but they didn’t come up to me. Clearly busy with their own preparations, they simply waved and smiled like they were absolutely smitten with me just in case there were cameras pointed at them.
And it was safe to say there was always a camera pointed at us around here.
After blowing each of them a kiss for the same reason, I headed on over to the center of the room. There were already several vases on the tables strategically placed around a massive dancefloor in the middle. Bunches of flowers lay on the table in front of me, waiting to be arranged into the vases for the big event. It was air-conditioned in here, but I still wondered if the flowers would make it until tomorrow evening when families, friends, and former contestants would be seated around these tables.
As I thought back to the first time I’d stood in this very room for the opening banquet, memories of the anticipation I’d felt threatened to overwhelm me. A soft, sweet feminine voice cut through my reverie, saving me from having to relive the moments that had happened since that banquet that I’d rather forget.
“Please don’t touch the flowers,” she said. “I’ll be starting with the centerpieces in just a minute, and those really shouldn’t be handled more than absolutely necessary if we want them to hold up.”
I turned toward her, seeing the woman with the sweet voice for the first time, and I nearly swallowed my tongue. I’d met a lot of beautiful women in this hotel, but this one had something different about her—an inherent softness that had nothing to do with her curves but shone from eyes the color of mint ice cream.
Long sandy brown hair tumbled down her back. The front ends of it were pulled into a thin braid wrapped around her head to keep it out of her face. She had full, heart-shaped lips that looked as fluffy as that fancy pillow I’d tried to smother myself with this morning, and she wasn’t wearing any of the dramatic makeup I’d gotten used to seeing around here.
On the other hand, I knew for a fact that I’d never seen her around here before. She definitely wasn’t one of the contestants—we’d already had the obligatory surprise episode where a new girl had been thrown into the mix—and she wasn’t one of the regular crew either.
As I studied her, she did the same to me. Her jaw went slack and those eyes went wide as her perfect mouth formed a little O. Clearly, she hadn’t realized who I was when she’d spoken, but I didn’t mind seeing a girl who looked like her doing a double take just because she was looking at me.
In fact, if this was the kind of reaction I would be getting when I went back to the real world, my participation in this whole charade might just actually be worth it.