Here’s the prologue from Looking for Love (Matchmaker #1). Hope you enjoy!
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ALL MY YEARS of training and yet I still didn’t feel prepared for this moment. The lights above felt even hotter than they had moments earlier; the noise from the audience as the music filled the auditorium was deafening. My fate was in their hands, but I didn’t even know that yet.
I looked at Cat and then allowed my eyes to drift over the heads of two of the men beside me. Which one would I ultimately end up with?
And why the hell was I so nervous?
I’d been training to be an actress for years…and yet here I was, shaking in my shoes. I looked out over the studio audience. I couldn’t make out their eyes or faces under the bright lights, but I could get a good feel for the amount of bodies and the energy in this giant room. There didn’t seem to be more than five-hundred people there—and this shouldn’t have been any big deal. The five men around me…they should have been nervous as hell, and yet every last man seemed cool and collected.
I knew why I was nervous.
This wasn’t acting…this was real. And the entire country was getting ready to watch me—all the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of me, exposed for the world to see. What would people think?
Still…it was on the big screen, edited and sanitized for TV. It wasn’t like they were really getting ready to know me—and, no matter what happened tonight, I’d still be here tomorrow. It was the men who should have been worried, because one of them would be leaving the show based on what happened tonight. We didn’t know yet how they’d get picked off. All we knew was that one of them would no longer be vying for my affection come the morning.
It was all foreign and I didn’t know what to expect; thus, the case of the nerves.
Suddenly, the audience lights dimmed and laser lights began circling around, drawing attention to the stage. Cat stepped out, getting closer to the edge, and smiled, waving her hands. There had to be applause signs somewhere telling the crowd what to do, but Cat’s unending charisma and charm wooed the audience as the minutes wore on.
Then I noticed her peering at one of the cameras in the area just off the stage before the audience section, and a guy beside the camera counted down, using his fingers. Holy shit. We were live in three, two, one…
“Twenty-eight days, five men, one woman…and you help the matchmaker.” While Cat talked, scenes flashed on the huge screens on both sides of the stage, and I turned my head to see me and my five new roommates interacting in bite-size splices in a montage set to a hip-hop theme.
The applause waned, and that was when Cat waltzed to the other side of the stage. The woman was mesmerizing, and I began to wonder why they’d cast me as the object of the men’s desire instead of her. “We’ve taken a single woman and surrounded her with five irresistible bachelors in a secluded house for four weeks. The men are constantly presented with choices: do they want the woman or do they want a piece of their dream life?” Cat tilted her head and began to strut back to center stage, almost directly in front of me. “It’s not an easy decision to make. Claire, the lovely bachelorette directly behind me, gets her prize and a mate at the end of it all. Not all of the men will be so lucky.
“All five men have been screened and assessed by our expert matchmakers to be the best potential mate for Claire based on personality, interests, common desires, life goals, and motivations, not to mention compatibility testing. Our matchmaker is actually a conglomeration of people—psychologists, marriage therapists, sociologists, and dating mentors—and these five men have undergone interviews, personality tests, and a variety of assessments. Out of the thousands of applicants we’ve interviewed, we believe these five men to be more compatible with Claire than ninety-five percent of the men on the planet.
“But we didn’t stop there. There is so much more to what Matchmaker is all about. Stay tuned to find out the surprises we have in store for you.”
The crowd roared as the music swelled in the auditorium with the full version of the song I would come to know as the Matchmaker theme. After a sixty-second long intro, we broke for commercial, and the only reason why I knew was because the sound cut off and the video stopped displaying on the screens. Cat leaned over at the edge of the stage to talk to the main camera guy. Then, when she stood up, she smoothed the front of her skintight gold dress. Next, she nodded at the cameraman again while pointing to the tiny black microphone pinned to the neck of her dress. “Everyone having fun so far?”
The crowd roared in response. I smiled and again glanced at the five men next to me. The enormity of the moment—and strangeness—didn’t escape me. This was the kind of thing I used to watch on TV as a teenager—and now, here I was, the star…if you could call it that. It was fucking surreal. The past week had been like real life on meth—sped up, unpredictable, exciting, and a little off the rails. I’d had five men vying for my attention, affection, and approval—and it felt like more than just a game.
When I’d signed up for this gig a month ago, I would have told you it would be impossible for me to develop feelings for a man in less than a week—real, genuine, deep feelings, that is—and yet I now grappled with the notion, considering the five of them, trying to decide which one would be the best guy for me forever. I sat on this stage under the scrutiny of all of America, preparing to watch an edited-to-perfection slice of my life, and wondered how the hell I could be torn among all five of these guys…and yet I was.
But maybe I need to tell you my story from the beginning.
* * *
The first time I met the guys was at a mixer, kind of a meet-and-greet type of party. But unlike an ordinary event like this, it was just me and five guys. Now, right off the bat, let me tell you that, while I think I’m pretty, I’m not the guy magnet some women are. You know those women. They draw men like bees to nectar. You can be looking your best—your hair and makeup perfect, your dress hugging your every curve, and yet Yvette with the arched eyebrow, smoldering stare, and je ne sais quoi gets her pick of the men. You get her rejects. It’s not so bad, really, because expectations are lower—and the only time I’d complained was when the guy I desperately wanted didn’t have reciprocal feelings.
But now here I was the subject of their attention—and I began to understand what those chosen females had always experienced…and, for me, at any rate, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong—their attention flattered my ego. But I was also under a microscope—no downtime for me.
The cameras poised in various areas of all rooms, not to mention on the shoulders of a couple of guys asking us to pretend like they weren’t there, didn’t help.
So the game began with attractive yet not drop dead gorgeous Claire Seaburg, surrounded by five gorgeous guys any woman would be thrilled to date. I was still a brunette (although I had streaks of blonde and red through my long, wavy tresses) and had the same brown eyes, same fair complexion, same thin body with C-cup breasts. Fortunately, something about me had appealed to the producers. Well, that’s what I and my castmates called the people calling the shots. Who they really were, we might not ever know. Cat was the only spokesperson of the group she represented and she referred to them as the producers, but she encouraged us not to talk about them on camera. We were instead supposed to refer to Cat, but we understood she was part of a collective.
Until this moment, I had never had the attention of five men of this caliber at any one given time. It made me anxious—but it gave me a bit of a thrill, too, because they really were interested in me. They weren’t talking and flirting with me in hopes of getting to my girlfriend. They wanted to win my affection. It was bizarre to me, to say the least. But I’d signed up for this, and I was going to enjoy the hell out of it until, at last, I wound up with the man of my dreams.
Before the cameras started rolling, my makeup lady stood in front of me, touching up my face. Even though this was a reality show, they wanted us to look perfect. I hadn’t realized that, during this first night, they were putting more effort into it than they would later. They’d done my hair and makeup, and I didn’t even get to choose my own clothes. That was okay, because, so far, the wardrobe crew had great taste and really knew how to show off my body. The men stood at various spots in the room, drinks already in hand, and Cat brought me a cocktail before whispering Action!
I took a sip of my cocktail—it was sweet, but I could sense a lot of alcohol in it. Were they making my drink extra strong so I’d lose my inhibitions? Not that I had a problem with that. I’d known, based on our initial discussions, that they wanted me and the guys pushing the envelope. “People will watch our show because we’re going to offer them something different,” she said one day, as she licked her lips adorned in the brightest red lipstick she could find. “So have sex with all the guys if you want. You can even lie through your teeth and we won’t care.” I’d taken that as a hint but immediately thought better of it. If one of these guys became my husband, I didn’t want our marriage to begin based on falsehoods.
The sex part seemed to push against my better judgment as well…but I could be persuaded. Something they hadn’t told the audience or any of the men was something that only I knew, and it was all based on numbers. Part of the deal was that I would have a “dream home” to share with my new mate at the end of the show. But the size, location, and cost of the dream home was contingent upon our ratings. If the show did well, I could be looking at a mansion in a premium location. If it was ho-hum or even bad, then I’d be looking at a repo in Long Beach.
But all these good-looking guys who were supposedly compatible with me? How could I say no?
First, there was Spencer. Holy hell! If sex were crushed, frozen, and served up as a treat, Spencer would be a Bomb Pop. He had to be over six-foot-three, but what stood out about him was his muscular body. Add to that, he had dark hair with dark green eyes, three days’ growth on a solid jaw and chin—and full lips that I couldn’t wait to kiss. Yummy.
But how could I overlook the hot guy right next to him, the guy named Darius? Now, while Spencer seemed to put himself on display like Magic Mike, Spencer had a quiet, introverted quality about him that made me curious. Spencer was almost but not quite as tall as Darius, but I couldn’t tell his physique because of the suit he wore. He was going to be a first for me as well, because I’d never dated an African American before. I had no issues doing it but had never had the pleasure.
His eyes…the way they watched and took it all in; his soft-spoken voice when he answered a question; and his calm demeanor had me more than intrigued. I already knew I’d have to get to know that man lots better.
Unfortunately for him, his quietness was overpowered by the other men. The next guy to make an impression on me was Thomas. Unlike Darius, whose mere presence seemed to dominate, Thomas’s essence was smooth and suave, and I imagined, with his southern accent and ocean-blue eyes, he’d probably talked his way into more women’s panties than I could have imagined. Hell, I was close to inviting him to spend the evening with me already.
Ah…but we had rules.
We hadn’t been told all of them yet, but we’d be going over all of them that first night after dinner, and I wasn’t sure what all we could and couldn’t do—but I’d already made up my mind that I’d push myself to the limit. A meek and mild woman won’t get anywhere but a bold, brave one just might. It felt like my last chance; otherwise, it was out to the Hollywood pasture with me, and I’d have to find what my mom had called a real job.
Two guys left and they weren’t slouches. Next was Gabriel, a guy who put me in the mind of the boy next door. At first, he seemed good looking in an ordinary way, if that makes any sense. Nothing about him stood out until I looked into his dark brown eyes, and then I imagined myself running my fingers up his taut chest and through his short brown hair while his dulcet voice whispered sweet nothings in my ear. And that was the general impression I got from him—that he was beyond sweet. Kind, caring, thoughtful. Maybe that was the kind of guy I needed…but at the moment his gentle personality was overshadowed by the dominant guys in the room. Oh…and his facial hair wasn’t too much but long enough to be soft. I couldn’t wait to kiss that man.
Last but not least, Grayson. Grayson didn’t put me in the mind of an alpha; he was more like the guy who could get along with everybody, and no one was intimidated by his presence. I could tell that, underneath his glasses, he was a good-looking guy. His brown hair had a tinge of red in it and he seemed burly, especially with the closely shaved beard he sported—but every time he opened his mouth, he talked about work. Shop talk isn’t so bad in and of itself, but he was in the gaming industry, and it made him come off like a bit of a…well, a dork. I don’t know that there’s any other way to put it. And, let’s face it, ladies—when you’ve got four other masculine guys in the room, it’s hard to see the good qualities in a guy like Grayson. I was questioning at first why the hell the producers had chosen him for the show, supposedly compatible or not, but I realized later on that he’d been so chatty that first night due to nerves. Once he’d relaxed, he was lots of fun to be around.
So here we were—me and my five potential mates. Talk about pressure. And yet, after a few sips of my drink and a little conversation, I was able to ease into the concept.
Who knew that, just moments later, one of the guys would be touching me under the table—and I would let him?
This was going to be my life for the next four weeks…
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Out soon! Add it to your Goodreads TBR here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40963955-looking-for-love