Excerpt From HOW TO LOSE A BACHELOR
Hi all! I wanted to share with you the first three chapters of my upcoming romance novel, How To Lose A Bachelor releasing from Entangled Publishing November 9, 2015. And, if you enjoy what you read here, don’t forget to enter my awesome preorder giveaway! So, without further ado, here we go!
Rochelle Ransom hadn’t worn a dress like this since—actually, she’d never worn a dress like this. Short, tight, lots of cleavage. Hooker red. Any judge would kick her out of the courtroom if she traipsed in looking like this, hauling a briefcase and with a mortified client trailing behind her. Of course, she’d never make it to the bench. Not in these ankle-breaking stilettos.
But this wasn’t a courtroom. This was the set—or rather, the dining room of a humongous mansion—of Luring Love, the reality show she’d signed up for six months ago. Oh, at first, she’d thought it was funny that the show was auditioning in her city. She thought women had to be desperate to put themselves out there like that, and chase after a man. And, the last thing she needed in life right now was a man interfering with her career and the time she spent working for her favorite charity, Helping Hands. But as the audition date drew near, she began to think of a very good reason to tryout. Of course, there was the prospect of meeting an attractive man who was probably only interested in sex (and Rochelle’s sex life was nonexistent), but there was also the exposure on national television for Helping Hands, and the prize money if she actually won the show. Yep, she was all in when she realized the possibilities. She could sacrifice some pride in order to raise funds for a good cause couldn’t she? Of course she could. And so, after dozens of interviews and near-painful home videos outlining the very boring details of her life, she’d somehow made it as a finalist. She was going to be on TV. But more importantly, nothing was going to stop her from winning the grand prize money for her charity.
Oh yeah, and the bachelor’s heart or whatever.
But seriously, the winnings would free up her time to take on the cases that meant something to her—instead of all the time she wasted making rich corporations even richer. Sure, being a corporate attorney paid the bills, but representing penniless, battered women who came through her charity, Helping Hands, was her real passion. After most grueling workdays, she would head over to give the last of her energy to the incredible women staying there. It was a shelter without other connections or financial options, and she would often find herself rotating between the roles of pro bono legal advisor to amateur therapist to housekeeper depending on the daily needs and demands.
And becoming a contestant on this show put her in a better position to meet those needs and demands.
It was a shallow means to a worthy end. Her closest girlfriends could tease her all they wanted about “ulterior motives” but Rochelle stubbornly refuted them. This was NOT about finding love. That ship had sailed—and sunk, and was rotting on the ocean floor.
She took a generous sip of champagne, wondering how many times she’d have to tell herself that over the course of the next twelve weeks. I’m whoring myself out for money, after all. She’d never even seen an episode of Luring Love, but she’d overheard her Jennifer and her paralegal Gemini talking about past seasons, and the word ‘scandalous’ came up every few sentences or so. Who slept with whom. Who threw a colossal temper tantrum and got voted off. Who had the bikini “mishap.” (Apparently there was always a bikini mishap.)
One thing she had already decided, though, was that there was no way she was sleeping with the guy. He was lucky enough to have all these women vying for his attention, but to expect them all to sleep with him, too? You’ve got to be freaking kidding me. We might as well inject ourselves with an STD cocktail.
But all else was fair game. Charm him, wine and dine him. She was even willing to do her own version of a bikini mishap in order to rouse his, er, heart—or at least, borrow his affection for the duration of the show. Maybe after the show, they could even be friends. As long as she could talk him out of his half of the prize money.
Either way, this poor guy didn’t have a chance. Jennifer and Gemini saw to it that she knew all the ways to win his heart, and all the ways to avoid getting voted off the show. And, if there was one thing Rochelle had cornered the market on, it was persuasiveness. Her track record in the circuit court system was evidence enough of that. How hard could romancing a bachelor be, anyway?
A man was a man was a man. They were all the same. Clean-shaven sasquatches dressed in suits and ties.
She glanced around the room with a self-satisfied grin and began sizing up the competition as she sipped her champagne. And her confidence abruptly faltered. She was the least attractive out of the entire bunch—and that was after she’d put more effort into her appearance than ever before.
Oh crap. The nine other women were nothing short of gorgeous, each in their own way. And ‘gorgeous’ was something Rochelle had never considered herself. Not even now, in her prostitute uniform.
But the one who worried Rochelle the most was the tall woman who lingered shyly in the corner, acting oblivious to the fact that she was the most striking female in the room. Long straight black hair. Smooth, dewy skin the color of a perfectly crafted cappuccino. Legs that went on for decades, and lips that formed a perfect come-hither pout without even trying.
I’m so screwed. Rochelle took an unfeminine gulp of her drink, downing the last of her champagne and motioning for another. The waiter paused as she switched out the empty glass for a full one on his tray. Down the hatch it went.
The waiter gave her a startled look. “No need to be nervous,” he whispered in an Australian accent. “He’s actually quite nice.”
“Who?” Why would he think she was nervous? Didn’t everyone, on occasion, guzzle champagne?
“The Bachelor.” The waiter turned on his heel. “I think you’ll find him to be decent.”
“Oh. Right.” The Bachelor. The poor sucker who was about to be subjected to irresistible temptation by the sumptuous Nubian princess over in the corner. I might as well go home.
And that was when she realized why she had been chosen for the show. Someone had to represent the ninety-nine percent of women who didn’t make the cut for this show.
The waiter left, making his way around the room, catering to all the other women who probably were well aware Rochelle was there for a quota, but didn’t have a clue they were about to lose this competition to the shy black woman in the corner.
After the second glass of champagne kicked in, Rochelle decided to be proactive. And why shouldn’t she? After all, she had more to lose than these other women. Attracting rich bachelors was probably just their hobby. Risking her life in the six-inch stilettos, she eased her way around the dining table, hobbling in the heels like a newborn calf, one graceless step at a time, until she reached the hands-down winner of Luring Love.
“Hi,” she told the princess. Even I’m irritated by how perky I sound. In fact, she was usually allergic to perky people herself—especially before 9 a.m. and two cappuccinos—but she suspected dry sarcasm wasn’t going to win her any points on the show or with the beauty queen standing next to her. It wasn’t wise to piss anyone off just yet, because her assistant had told her—over and over again—that would be asking for immediate sabotage by the other contestants. So perky it was. “I’m Rochelle.” I’m here to represent the normal Americans who couldn’t make it today.
The princess smiled, revealing the teeth of a dentist’s daughter. Of course. “I’m Maya,” she replied. “I like your dress.” Maya swirled the champagne in her glass. “Are you nervous? Because I’m about to pass out.”
So Maya was lovely and honest. “Don’t be nervous. The waiter tells me our bachelor is a nice guy. So, no need to poison him just yet.” Ooops, too morbid.
But the other woman just laughed. “Honestly, I’m more nervous about the competition. He’s just a man, right? But look at you, for instance. You’re rocking our dress. And have you seen the twins? What’s up with that?”
Lovely, honest and humble. Triple threat, which means I’m doubly screwed. “They’re really twins, you think?”
“I know so. I asked.”
“So if one of them wins…”
Yep, she officially liked Maya. Which wasn’t good, since she was going to have to be ruthless in getting her voted off. Preferably first.
Just then, the producer, Richie Odom, a buttery-smooth-talking man with a slicked-back hair piece—and an ego the size of a tank—interrupted Rochelle’s strategizing. Holding up both his hands, which revealed that his tacky red velvet jacket was a bit too short in the sleeves, he announced, “Okay, ladies, we’re about to start filming. The bachelor is going to enter through the door behind me. When he does, I want you to act naturally. Do whatever pops up first into your head when you see him—which I hope looks a lot like insta-love googly eyes. Remember, there are ten of you and only three cameramen, so if we’re going to get a shot of his first impression of you, you’ll have to hold your pose—in the most natural way possible, of course. Remember, this is a reality show. Everything is real. So make sure real looks good.” He consulted the stop watch in his hand. “We’ve got a twenty-second countdown.”
“Here we go,” Maya whispered.
Rochelle took the opportunity to swap out another empty glass of champagne for a full one from the waiter’s tray as he passed by. He shot her a disapproving look, but continued on his way. Yeah, that’s right, keep walking. You’re not the one about to trade your dignity for cash.
“Ten seconds!” Richie yelled.
All eyes focused on the entryway, waiting for the moment when the small talk would end and the rivalry would begin. The second that Bachelor hit the door, he’d be the center of attention for the next twelve weeks.
And for the next twelve weeks, Rochelle was going to have to be perky. Likable. Non-snarky.
Think of the money, think of the money, think of the money.
Rochelle hadn’t realized she’d been holding her breath—until Grant Drake stepped through the entryway. Then she let it out in a heaving gasp.
And her champagne glass plummeted to the floor.
They had instructed Grant to smile at each and every bachelorette in the room, at least long enough to give the camera a slight reaction. But his attention immediately fixated on the sound of shattering glass—and on the woman who stood in a puddle of champagne and glass shards.
The woman who stormed out of his life like an all-consuming hurricane.
He would have been a jackass if he’d asked her to stay in Florida after she’d been accepted to Berkeley. But as it turned out, he’d acted like a jackass anyway. But what had she expected? She’d applied for Berkeley behind his back and suddenly sprang it on him at the dinner—where he was going to propose marriage—that she was leaving for the west coast. Of course he’d been mad. And, all truth told, he’d been destroyed, too.
And now he was going to have to relive it all over again in order to get his vengeance.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
The producers of the show had outdone themselves this time, sifting through hundreds of women applicants, trying to find perfect matches for one lucky bachelor. To him, Rochelle Ransom was, and always would be, his perfect match. Obviously, the casting director of Luring Love agreed with him. That guy deserved a special crevice in hell.
But God, Rochelle was still a knockout. Red had always been her color, but stilettos? He’d never seen her flaunt her assets like this, not even at college parties. The way her dress clung to her every curve like static electricity, how the halter exposed the corresponding perfection of her breasts. They may not have been the largest pair in the room, but he remembered vividly how they’d felt in his hands. How good they’d felt pressed against his bare chest.
And she couldn’t have picked a better shade of red lipstick. Lips that knew just exactly how to make him growl with pleasure.
Yes, she was the most tempting thing in the room, by far. The lust shooting straight through him was evidence enough of that.
Still, it made him furious, all of it. She always dressed in t-shirts and jeans for me, and now she’s dressed like a supermodel in hopes of tempting some joker on a reality show to marry her?
Except then he remembered—he was that joker. And this reality show could be his chance for revenge. After all his friend just happened to be the show’s host, Chris Legend, who helped get on in the first place. This had to work. In theory, it had sounded brilliant. But by the withering look Rochelle was giving him, he only had it half right. He was a joker—but this might not be a chance at vengeance.
And Richie Odom was about to make things much, much worse, he could tell. “You two, come with me. Now.”
The grand, elegant set of Luring Love erupted in whispers and pointing as he followed Rochelle and Richie out of the room.
How many times can Grant Drake ruin my life?
Rochelle took the seat next to him in front of Richie’s desk, unwilling to look in his direction. Instead, she let her eyes wander everywhere else, taking in the majestic gentility of the mansion’s library, which Richie had obviously claimed as his personal office space. Books lined each of the walls and the shelves were adorned with tracks for a rickety-looking sliding ladder—a reader’s paradise. A hint of stale cigar smoke wafted in the air, lending the room a distinctly male atmosphere.
She scooted her chair as far away from Grant as possible before fixing her gaze on the flustered producer in front of her.
“You two know each other. How?” Richie leaned to the side of his high-backed office chair, drumming his fingers impatiently on the giant desk. It reminded her of the many times she had been called in to the dean’s office at university. Who knew debating a professor’s view on every single subject was a mortal sin?
She didn’t know how to answer Richie’s question. Not like a lady, anyway. She certainly didn’t want to re-hash their story to anyone, especially a snide producer who wouldn’t understand insignificant things such as feelings and pride and random urges to attack the man sitting next to her.
She stopped herself cold. Feelings? The only feelings she had left for Grant Drake were borderline murderous—right? So why are my insides whirling like a tornado?
Grant wasn’t talking either. Probably too ashamed of himself. And rightly so. He’d stolen her heart, and then river-danced on it with cleats. The thought of it made her nearly choke on the fiery bile erupting from her stomach.
Her insides screamed at her, What’s the deal? Why am I letting him affect me this way? For the past ten years, she had successfully suppressed all the anger and hurt he’d caused, never letting it bubble to the surface, never letting it affect her life, her career. Sure, there had been a time when she’d thought Grant was The One. That was before he’d abruptly ended their relationship just when she was going to ask him to take it to the next level. Just when she was going to ask him to up and move with her to the west coast after she got accepted to Berkley.
But, Rochelle had risen above all that, the pain and humiliation. She had picked herself up from the proverbial floor, finished college, then law school, and went on to start an amazing career. At twenty-nine years old, she was in a prime position to make partner soon. She’d worked her butt off, finding strength in the fact that she could leave the past in the past. That she could overcome insignificant obstacles like Grant Drake.
Heck, she had become an obstacle-devouring beast.
Except that now, with the insignificant obstacle himself sitting a few feet away from her, she felt like a certifiable lunatic on the verge of a meltdown. And “meltdown” was not in her vocabulary.
“I’m waiting,” Richie said after what seemed like an eternity.
Grant cleared his throat. “Chelle and I—”
“Do not call me Chelle.” Grant was the only person who ever called her Chelle, and she used to love it. Now she despised the sound of it on his lips—and what it did to her heartbeat.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Grant pause and look at her. He recovered quickly, just like he always had. Calm, collected Grant. Except when she unleashed her tongue on certain parts of his body.
Stop that. Immediately.
“Rochelle and I dated in college,” Grant continued, oblivious. “We… Things were left on bad terms.”
Bad terms? Understatement of the millennium. Still, she was glad he didn’t want to restate the facts. The facts could still drive her mad to this day. She remembered the way he’d broken up with her. His indifference. No, she didn’t want to relive that. She couldn’t bear to hear him say he’d fallen out of love with her. Not again.
Richie watched them closely, pressing his fingertips together. “So you two have a colorful past.”
“Imagine the rainbow, and all the colors in between,” she said.
The corner of Richie’s mouth tugged up. “Still hard feelings, I see.”
“It was a difficult break-up,” Grant said diplomatically.
She shot him an ‘are-you-serious’ glare, before looking back at Richie. “I assume this disqualifies me from the show. I’m happy to take my leave.”
She started to rise, but Richie held out his hand. “Not necessarily, Ms. Ransom.”
“Actually it does. I’m an attorney, Mr. Odom. I read all contracts carefully. It specifically says—”
“Grant, could you excuse us for just a moment?” Richie said. “I’d like to discuss the circumstances with Ms. Ransom privately.”
“Of course.” Since when was Grant the epitome of politeness? But she recognized the wariness in his voice. He probably doesn’t want me to relate all the morbid details of that night. Rest assured, I won’t, Grant Drake. I don’t want to relive it either.
After Grant closed the door behind him, Richie offered her a sympathetic smile. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through right now.”
She raised her chin just a bit. “I’m fine.”
“With all due respect, Ms. Ransom, you don’t look fine. I mean, you dropped your champagne glass when you saw Grant walk through that door.”
“I was shocked to see him. Surely you can understand that?” She’d been shocked and outraged and in need of something more stout than a swallow or two of champagne.
Richie leaned back, assessing her. She didn’t like the look in his eyes. Richie Odom might have been the dense, Hollywood resident type, but she’d seen this kind of calculating expression before—and it was usually worn by defense attorneys right before they sprang a surprise witness on the courtroom, or requested to admit a piece of evidence that hadn’t been previously discussed.
Something despicable had unfurled in Richie’s little brain, she could tell. And she hoped he revealed his intentions soon. She had a cab to catch to the airport, after all.
After a few more moments of scrutiny, Richie said, “Why did you try out for Luring Love, Ms. Ransom? And don’t tell me you did it to find true love. No one in their right mind resorts to a dating show for that nonsense.”
“You don’t believe in what you’re selling?”
He ignored her question, instead sifting through pages on the thin tablet in his hand. She knew what he was looking for when he pressed an index finger on the screen then opened his hand to widen the view. He took a long moment to read, probably just to keep her in suspense. “You’re a successful corporate attorney, which at your age, means you’re an over-achiever. You definitely don’t have time for love, do you Ms. Ransom?”
“I have a strong work ethic.” But he had nailed it, and they both knew it. She worked twelve-hour days during the week, then took her work home with her on the weekends. She barely had time to brush her teeth.
He read another page. “You’ve already made a name for yourself in the court circuit, and you apparently have more work than you can handle, so you’re definitely not on the show for more publicity. Let’s see here…” He scanned through a few screens, then paused on one. “Ah- ha. You volunteer at Helping Hands women’s shelter. Oh, you’re the president! Trying to bring attention to your cause, then? A warrior against domestic violence?”
Maybe, but she still wanted to punch him in the face right then. “You could say that.”
He pursed his lips, then opened the laptop on his desk and plucked at the keyboard. After a few seconds, he turned back to her, facing the laptop in her direction. “It says here that Helping Hands is trying to raise money for a new housing facility in a better part of town. You’re in it for the grand prize money, Ms. Ransom. You’re going to donate it, aren’t you?”
“Which, if I remember correctly, also disqualifies me from the show.” The contract had specified that the contestant must be emotionally and physically available to find their soul mate in order to participate in the show. The grand prize money was intended strictly for the couple’s enjoyment—wedding, vacation, honeymoon, and other senseless things. A fact that, until now, Rochelle was confident she could talk her way out of. If the bachelor was any kind of decent, he’d readily agree to donate the money. But she knew how decent Grant Drake wasn’t. And she just wanted to get out of here and on with her life—again. How long would it take her this time? Would she mourn? Would she gain weight by eating all the ice cream she could get her hands on? She wasn’t as young as she had been when he’d ruined her life the first time. This time, the threat of cellulite was very real.
“You don’t want to be on the show anymore.”
“What I think is that you should stay on the show. You have such a worthy cause, after all. And there’s definitely still chemistry between you two.”
“Stay? Are you crazy? We’re about as chemically compatible as potassium and water.” Which exploded upon contact with each other, if she remembered correctly. Against her will, she recalled just how explosive they could be together, she and Grant. Having studied every inch of her body like a final exam, Grant Drake used to keep her moaning for hours.
“What if Mr. Drake is a changed man? He strikes me as a nice guy.”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re wasting your time and mine with that one. Why are you trying to keep me on the show? We know each other. It’s a direct violation of the contract.”
He waved in dismissal. “Contract, schmontract. That’s for the legal department.” Leaning forward in the chair, he folded his hands in front of him. “I’m a producer, Ms. Ransom. My job is to earn ratings. Do you know what gets the highest ratings?”
He wants to exploit our relationship. My agony. My heartbreak. All for ratings.
She stood. “This discussion is over.”
Richie rose, too. “I’ll double the prize money. Personally. No one will have to know. Think of what that will do for Helping Hands.”
She drew in a deep breath. Double the prize money? “You’re assuming Grant will choose me, Mr. Odom. You’re asking me to stay and play a game of chance. One that I’ve already lost in the past.” It hurt worse than she thought it would to say that out loud.
“You were already going to play the game before anyway, right? Why let Grant Drake change that? You’re doing it for a great cause. Besides, it’s not like you still have feelings for the guy. You’re in no danger there, correct?”
She couldn’t help but scowl, even as her stomach did flips. “Of course, not.”
“I’ll make a deal with you. You don’t have to win. If you just stay on the show, I’ll give you double the prize money. Your only obligation is not to quit.”
“I would love to take advantage of your stupidity, Mr. Odom, but I have a conscience. Grant will vote me off the show the first chance he gets. That means you’re doubling the prize money for one episode of precious drama. Not the best deal for you.”
“But what if he doesn’t vote you off? He didn’t seem like he had any ill will toward you.”
“I keyed his 1969 Ford Mustang. Then set fire to his mother’s house.” Well, that last part had been an accident. She’d gone to his mother’s to pick up a box of her things he’d left there for her, and caught his fourteen-year-old sister smoking in her bedroom. She’d slapped the cigarette out of her hand, and…homework burned particularly fast, she’d learned.
At this, Richie Odom’s mouth formed a definitive O. Sure, he was shocked, but Rochelle could tell he was also delighted. To him, the more she said, the higher the ratings rocketed.
“I want you on the show. Period. If he votes you off on the first episode, then lucky you.”
Slowly, she sat back down. “You’re telling me that as long as I don’t quit, that you’ll give me the prize money? Even if he votes me off?”
“No. I’m telling you that I’ll give you double the prize money. Even if he votes you off. You just can’t quit. That’s the only stipulation.”
“He already broke up with me, Mr. Odom.”
“Drama, Ms. Ransom.”
She imagined all the things Helping Hands could do with that money. They’d have a new building, new furniture to go with it. They could even start up their own low-cost daycare, to help battered working mothers get back on their feet. It had been something the committee had talked about—no, dreamed about—but it always seemed out of reach, especially with their puny budget.
How can I say no?
Richie was right. Why let the likes of Grant Drake stand in the way of such a worthy cause? Helping Hands needs that money—who am I not to try? It was only twelve weeks of her saved up paid vacation—she had to use it or lose it anyway. And deep down, she knew she would lose it. Still, just thinking of all the work she could get done on a staycation nestled in bed with her laptop and a glass of wine had her almost salivating.
The word “workaholic” was invented for people like her.
So I’ll do everything in my power to get voted off the first week. How hard can it be?
She offered Richie her most insincere smile. “You have a deal, Mr. Odom.”