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What had she been thinking?
Gail Little took a deep breath and walked into the makeshift hair and makeup area for the set of the reality-TV dating show Sexy and Single. She had never in her entire life thought of herself as sexy, but single now, that was something she had buttoned up. She'd always thought she'd hook up with a guy in college, and they'd fall into a relationship as they both started their careers. Then, after three years of dating, they'd get married, but now she was staring down thirty and still alone.
"I'm Kat Humphries, the PA for Sexy and Single. I'll also be your handler for all of your segments."
Gail shook Kat's hand. She'd expected to see Willow Steadthe producer of the show and one of her best friendsinstead of a PA. Willow had gotten the idea to do the show when Gail had signed up with Matchmakers Inc. Though Gail had only told her friends she wanted to find a husband and didn't meet the right kind of men at work, the truth was she wanted a family of her own and her biological clock was ticking. So she'd signed on with the dating service, never expecting her experiences would become the focus of a TV show.
Kat looked to be in her mid-twenties and wore a pair of slim-fitting jeans and a T-shirt from a bar in Mexico. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had an earpiece attached to the radio at her belt.
"Follow me," Kat said.
Gail nodded and went with her to a bank of lighted mirrors set up against the wall. This was behind-the-scenes television that few viewers ever saw. Not very glamorous, but as the owner of a very successful PR firm, it was a world Gail knew well. Funny that she never pictured herself as the one going onstage.
"Have a seat here. The hair and makeup people are on their way. You're a few minutes early."
"Sorry about that. I didn't want to be late," Gail said. Kat nodded, but held up one finger as she listened to something on her headset.
"Please stay in here until I come back to get you," Kat said. "We want to capture that first moment when you and your match see each other."
Gail wanted to groan. But she knew deep down that if she stayed in her rut any longer, her life would be nothing but work, and her dreams of a family and all that went with it would never be realized.
She stared at herself in the mirror as she waited for the hair and makeup person to arrive. Her thick, curly hair with its wild, out-of-control style framed her face. She reached up and pulled her hair back that was how she usually wore it for work. Because let's face it, she thought, her unruly hair didn't scream sexy and single.
A man and woman approached her. "Hello, Gail. I'm Mona, and this is Pete. We're going to be doing your hair and makeup. Just sit back and relax."
Gail did just that, wondering what she'd gotten herself into. She'd wanted a man to spend her holidays with instead of being home alone, which might have been fun for Kevin in the Home Alone movies, but for her, a grown woman, it had been lonely. She craved the perfect Christmas, for example, and images of it played in her mind like home movies. She was in the business of image and reality, so why couldn't she create the perfect image and reality for herself?
She'd developed a PR plan to take herself from a business success to a personal success. She was very good at enacting her plans, so she had no doubt this one would work. Of course, she hadn't expected Willow to love the idea so much that she'd turn it into a reality TV show.
"Okay, we're done," Mona said.
They turned her back to face the mirrors. Her thick, unruly hair had been straightened and styled to brush her shoulders. Her eyes were bigger than she'd ever seen them before. Her lips were so large and perfect. She'd had no idea a little lipstick and eye shadow could make her look like this. She didn't recognize herself.
"What do you think?" Pete asked.
"I don't look like me," she said.
"Sure you do, honey. Just not the you that is usually in the mirror," Mona said.
And that had been exactly what she'd wanted. "What do I do now?"
"Wardrobe," Pete said. "Your dressing room is over there."
She walked over to the tiny dressing room in the corner. There was a woman sitting there reading a paperback bookone that Gail had just finished. This was the life she was used to, and Gail felt as though she could just sit here for a few minutes. The woman put the book down and smiled at her. "Looking good."
Gail had the feeling that Alice must have experienced when she fell down the rabbit hole, because twenty minutes later she stood in front of a full-length mirror in a couture gown by Jil Sander. The well-fitting top came to a V, revealing her cleavage, while the peplum skirt gave her hips a flattering fullness, hitting her midthigh. She looked sexy and glamorous, two things she'd never felt before.
Kat came back and signaled that it was time to go. Gail realized her hands were sweating and started to wipe them on her skirt but stoppedthis gown cost more than her entire wardrobe. She was going to mess this up. No matter how much magic these stylists had done to her outside, inside she was still the woman who'd spent all of her time working. She had no idea how to make real small talk. This was a mistake.
"Two minutes until you will go into the 'confessional,' then it's down to the ballroom, where you will meet your date, Ms. Little," Kat said.
Gail was nervous. And that wasn't like her. She wasn't the type of woman who let anything stand in her way once she'd made up her mind.
A tech guy in black pants and a polo shirt came over and attached a microphone to her collar. She should approach this the same way she approached a client at her PR firm who needed more exposure. She'd smile and pretend the glam woman staring back at her in the mirror was who she really was.
She stood up and walked over to the entrance to the small room that had been made out of moveable walls and pipe and drapes. No privacy at all. But then, that was reality television.
"Just push the button and start talking. Don't worryif you mess up, just start over. We're going to edit it," Kat said.
"What am I supposed to say?"
"Tell us what you are thinking before you meet your match."
She stepped into the room and walked over to the camera. She sat down in front of it and pushed the record button. There was a small monitor where she could see herself, which just made her uncomfortable, so instead she stared into the lens of the camera.
"Let's see . I'm Gail Little and I own a public relations firm. I am beyond nervous.
"That's it. I signed up with Matchmakers Inc., because I didn't want to let another year go by without meeting someone. I work all the time and don't meet many single men in my job," she said. Then she took a deep breath. She was rambling.
"I'm anxious to find out more about the man that has been picked for me." She pushed the stop button and got up and walked out of the room.
She'd done the best she could. She turned resolutely to walk back to the makeup area. "All done?" Kat asked.
"This way, then. Your date is waiting for you."
They stepped into the hallway and the soundman checked her microphone. "Bob is the cameraman who will be shooting you. He will be in front of you as we enter the ballroom. Don't look at Bob. Instead, look toward the table where your match is waiting."
"Okay," she said. Bob waved at her from the end of the hallway.
"Walk toward Bob and then enter the ballroom. It's been set up for an intimate dinner for two. As soon as we are out of the shot, I will signal you. Just start walking."
Kat and the soundman joined Bob at the end of the hall, and it felt like an eternity before she was given the signal to go. She walked down the hallway, feeling silly that they were taping her walking. But she forgot about that when she stepped into the ballroom.
There were a few production people in the room as well as a man who stood with his back toward her. But she was distracted when Jack Crown stepped in front of her.
"Hello, Gail," he said.
Jack Crown was gunning to beat out Ryan Seacrest for hosting the most shows on TV and was obviously the host of this one. He'd been an all-state athlete in high school and then went on to win the Heisman Trophy in college. He'd been a first-round draft pick and then suffered an agonizing injury in his very first professional football game. But he'd smiled up at the cameras and just shrugged his massive shoulders saying that America hadn't seen the last of him, and he'd been right. He started showing up on television regularly hosting reality shows for the Discovery Channel.
"Hello, Jack," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm the host of the show. I'll be chatting with both of you at the end of your dates."
"Okay," she said. "Now?"
"No, we want to see how you both react to meeting each other," he said, stepping away. Her date had large, strong shoulders that tapered down to a lean waist, which she could see because he wore a well-fitted jacket.
"Stop," Willow, the producer, said, her voice loud in the quiet of the room. It was funny because Gail had never been at work with Willow before, and the booming voice didn't sound like her friend's. "You are going to see each other for the first time in just a moment. I want you both to look at each other and not the cameras. Kat, move her into position."
Kat directed Gail to a spot that was marked on the floor with tape. Gail stood so close to her match that she could smell the woodsy scent of his cologne. And she noticed his thick hair was a brown color with shots of golden-blond in it.
"We're ready to shoot now. Please turn and face your match," Willow said.
The man turned and Gail's breath caught. Then her heart sank. It was billionaire New Zealand hotelier and nightclub owner Russell Holloway. She recognized him from his constant exposure on TV and in magazines. He couldn't be her match. Surely this was a joke. He was a playboy with a reputation as a love-'em-and-leave-'em guy. Why would he go to a matchmaker?
Gail met the full force of Russell's gray gaze. His eyes were bright and intense, staring down at her. He didn't look as debauched as he should, she thought. He looked tanned, fit and healthy too damned good for someone as bad as he was rumored to be.
"Gail Little," she said, holding out her hand. "I've heard a lot about you."
Dumb. Was that really the only thing her mind could come up with?
Russell laughed as he took her hand and kissed it. "Uh-oh, that doesn't sound promising. I know precious little about you, but I look forward to hearing your story from your own lips."
She licked her lips and stared up at him. Her eyes tracked down his face to the sharp blade of his nose and then the full, sensual mouth underneath. Lips the word echoed in her mind, and all she could do was stare at his. She gave herself a mental shake. She wasn't going to be the latest to fall for this charming playboy. He was messing up her plans, and there was nothing fun about that.