Reality TV meets murder in the first in a new mystery series from the author of the Maternal Instincts Mysteries and co-author the New York Times bestselling Scrapbooking Mysteries.
When brokenhearted Georgia Thornton goes looking for romance on reality TV, she has nothing to lose—apart from a good man, a cash prize, and maybe her life…
What was Georgia thinking? Sure, some cad ditched her at the altar, but can she really find love on TV? Her best friend—and producer of the reality show Love or Money—thinks so. Ten men. Ten adventure-filled dates. What can go wrong? For starters, a faulty bungee cord that hurls Georgia’s first date into a tragic spiral off the Golden Gate Bridge.
He’s replaced by Paul Sanders, Georgia’s former fiancé. But the cop isn’t looking for a TV gig. Suspecting that the lover’s leap was no accident, Paul’s going undercover. When another bachelor gets a fatal kiss-off, the reality is that someone has killer new plans for the show—and for Georgia herself. Now, under the threat of permanent cancellation, Georgia fears that the only man on the set she can trust is the one man she just can’t count on…
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Maternal Instincts Mysteries
Love or Money Mysteries
The bungee-jumping harness bit into my shoulders and legs as I looked over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge. To say the water looked frigid was an understatement. The whitecaps of the bay screamed out glacier and hypothermia.
“You’re not in position,” Cheryl, the producer, yelled.
I felt the camera zoom in on me. They needed an extreme close-up of my every facial expression so they could broadcast my terror to the world. Magnify my embarrassment and mortification.
One of the techs said something to Cheryl and she shouted, “Cut!”
The cameraman lost interest in me.
“Why am I doing this?” I asked Becca, my best friend and the assistant producer on this godawful reality TV show, Love or Money.
“To find your dream man,” Becca answered.
“I found him already, remember? Then he left me at the altar.”
A makeup artist appeared at my elbow and applied powder to my nose.
“Dream men do not leave their brides at the altar,” Becca said. “Clearly, he was not the one.”
I studied the woman brushing powder on my face. She had beautiful chocolate-colored skin, a straight nose, and eyes so dark and intense they looked like pools of india ink. She looked familiar, but before I could place her, she turned and walked away.
“I thought you always liked Paul,” I said to Becca.
“I did until he left me at the altar,” Becca replied.
“He left me.”
“Me, too. I was standing right next to you in a stupid tulle and taffeta dress. Anyway, enough about your horrible fashion sense—”
“Even if you don’t find your dream man here,” Becca continued, “focus on the cash prize. You need it.”
She was kind enough not to add “since you were fired,” but I felt the sting anyway. If anyone had told me, six months before, that I’d be on a reality TV show looking for love and/or money, I’d have called them 5150, a.k.a. clinically insane. But here I was, ex-cop, ex-bride-to-be—with a broken heart and broken career—looking to start over.
Ty, one of my “dates,” sauntered over. He was wearing jeans and boots and his trademark cowboy hat. A bungee harness crisscrossed through his legs. Despite the harness, or perhaps because of it, he looked hot. Although I was hard-pressed to think of any outfit that he wouldn’t look hot in.
“Are you nervous, Miss Georgia?” he asked.
I found myself absently wondering if he’d wear his hat while bungee jumping.
He reached out tentatively and touched the back of my hand with a single finger. “Miss Georgia?” he repeated.
I suddenly became aware of the camera rolling again and snapped to attention. “Yes. I’m nervous. I thought I’d get to pick the dates, but I didn’t. I would have never picked this. Only a lunatic—”
I heard the producer, Cheryl, grumble.
I wasn’t supposed to say anything negative about the dates, of course. They were supposed to look authentic, so that the audience wouldn’t know that I had absolutely zero control over anything. The crew would have to edit out my last comment.
Ty seemed to notice the same thing because he replied smoothly, “I’ve always wanted to bungee jump.” His lips quirked up in an irresistible manner. “And now we get to do it off this beautiful bridge.”
Cheryl, who was standing behind him, smiled. He’d just saved the scene. She liked him.
Well, in those tight jeans and boots, and with the cute southern drawl—who could blame her?
I glanced around at the others. They seemed ready to go and had started heading my way. It was inevitable, once someone started showing interest in me, that the others would follow—like a pack of dogs fighting over a lone piece of meat.
Bungee jumping off the bridge was my first date, and I’d selected five of the ten eligible bachelors—or not so eligible. The gist of the show was for me to pick a guy who was emotionally available for a relationship, someone who was on the show for love.
During casting, each guy had given a heart-to-heart interview with the producer, Cheryl Dennison. They’d confessed whether they were ready to be in a relationship. Five guys were searching for love; five guys weren’t. Because I’d worked for SFPD, somehow Hollywood thought I’d be able to figure out everyone’s motives.
I had my doubts.
If I picked the right guy, we’d split $250,000. If I picked a guy who was emotionally unavailable he’d walk off with the cash prize on his own and, maybe worse, a piece of my heart.
America would be privy to the interviews. I’m sure those clips would expose me as a fool along the way.
I pictured Cheryl’s editing staff. As soon as I said someone was cute or hot or sweet, she’d revel in playing a clip of the heart-to-heart where he told America all the reasons he couldn’t fall in love. That kind of thing would be great for ratings.
The guys I’d asked on this date were the ones I suspected might be on the show for the cash. Best to eliminate the fakes ASAP.
I’d selected Ty, the cowboy, because at the first night’s cocktail party I couldn’t actually get him to tell me what he did for a living.
Edward, the hot doctor—tall, with dark hair, a great smile, and a wonderful gentleness about him—had to have student loans from med school up the wazoo.
Scott, the brooding writer, wrote horror stories—I’d been meaning to read some to get an idea about him. He was mysterious and supersexy, with a tight body and a bit of a swagger, and he had a shaved head and dark, piercing eyes.
But who made any money as a writer?
Aaron, the investment banker, looked like the boy next door. Clean-cut, respectable, and polite.
I wouldn’t typically peg investment bankers as needing money, but something about Aaron was unsettling, as though he had some desperation vibe wafting off him.
And then there was Pietro, the Italian hunk with an accent that drove me wild.
I’d invited him because I had a weakness for accents, and weakness must be sought out and destroyed at any cost.
Everyone was suited up and ready to go. My harness felt so tight I thought I might explode out of it. It was cutting into my shoulders and crotch—certainly not a woman-friendly look. But I didn’t complain for fear they would make it too loose and I’d slip out of it at exactly the wrong moment.
Was there no happy medium for me?
The crew was urging us toward the edge of the bridge. We didn’t have time to dillydally, as the show had been granted special access for the shoot. Bungee jumping was not ordinarily allowed off the Golden Gate Bridge due to boat traffic, but the producers had been able to close down the shipping lanes for one hour. Everything is for sale in San Francisco.
Car traffic, on the other hand, was still open on the bridge. Everything may be for sale, but even Hollywood has a budget. It was nerve-wracking and noisy to have the cars whizzing by.
“If you’re nervous, maybe someone else can go first,” Ty offered.
Cheryl said, “Someone needs to go, for God’s sake. We need to get the show on the road. Aaron, want to go?”
Aaron looked surprised and Ty seemed relieved.
“Uh, yeah, certainly. Love to,” Aaron said, although he looked unsure.
Cheryl turned to me and shouted, “You, get over here and watch him jump. We need the shot.”
I don’t know what I’d imagined when I thought about possibly finding love on this show, but it certainly hadn’t included this six-foot-tall blond woman yelling at me constantly. In fact, she’d never even entered my mind and now she seemed never to leave.
Aaron took his place near the edge of the bridge and I stood next to him. The crew maneuvered around us, although one camera remained trained on my face, my every expression being recorded for posterity.
I hoped I didn’t look nauseous. I certainly felt it.
Despite the tech people assuring me it was safe, jumping off the bridge was the last thing I wanted to do.
Down below I could see the Coast Guard boat hovering, one of the conditions the City of San Francisco had put on our use of the bridge.
Cheryl hadn’t cared about the condition. In fact, she’d used it in negotiations for the show, requesting two cameramen be allowed to board and film our jumps.
“Are you ready, Aaron?” I asked, remembering to smile for the camera, but fearing it came off more as a grimace.
Aaron returned my smile, only his seemed genuine. “Oh, yeah. I’ve been jumping before. It’s really a hoot. Feels like you’re flying.” He grabbed my hand and said, “Georgia, will you jump with me?”
Before I could reply, he turned to the tech. “Is her line ready?”
I heard the tech say, “She’s—”
The din of traffic seemed to grow, a car honking at precisely that moment.
Then someone touched the small of my back and Cheryl yelled, “Action!”
Aaron let out a war cry and leapt, still squeezing my hand and pulling me forward. Someone pushed sharply on my back. I was off balance, trying to stay on the bridge.
Aaron didn’t release me and his momentum propelled me forward. I slipped off the railing, falling with him, our hands finally disentangling.
The wind howled furiously at me. I howled back. My face tight, completely stretched with the force of gravity, my own saliva streaming across my checks as I screamed. Aaron was screaming, too, only his yells were ones of sheer delight.
His arms were flung out from his sides and he held them horizontally, imitating a plane.
We were soaring through the air like birds—only birds on a sharp descent, toward water that looked like a sheet of solid glass.
Adrenaline surged through my system, everything happening in slow motion: Aaron’s expression of pure joy, the sunlight reflecting off the water and blinding me, the sound of the boat nearby.
The Coast Guard.
We were speeding, rushing closer and closer to the water. My breath caught in my throat, gagging me. I fought the impulse to retch.
How close to the water were we supposed to get?
When would the cord tighten?
What had the tech said?
All my mind could process was the water seemingly racing toward me.
And then, suddenly, my cord pulled taut and my descent stopped. I bounced up, the water receding rapidly. The negative g-force playing havoc with my stomach.
Out of nowhere a horrific crashing, splashing, screeching sound pierced my ears.
Water shot upward.
I pressed both hands over my mouth and tried to keep the bloodcurdling scream inside, but failed.
Aaron had hit the water.
His bungee cord finally tightened and snapped to position, but he was already underwater.
I continued flying upward, the distance between Aaron and me an eternity.
It felt as if I would crash right through the bottom of the bridge.
And then my descent began again, water rushing toward me.
Dear God, would I crash into the water, too?
I was paralyzed with fear as the cord tightened and then the water raced away. Then I was falling again, zooming toward the water, now my nemesis beckoning me, luring and tempting me to give up the fight.
The cord tightened one last time and I came to an abrupt stop, suspended above the bay—so close I could feel the salt spray on my skin.
I filled my lungs with air and screamed. I kicked and thrashed about, trying to break the harness that had just saved my life. Aaron was so close to me, I needed to grab him and pull him out of the water. I was vaguely aware of the Coast Guard boat nearby, the sound of the engine revving, the fumes of the diesel gagging me.
I heard the crackle of the Coast Guard’s radio and then Cheryl’s voice frantically shouting, “Hoist him up! Holy Christ! Hoist him up!”
I raised my head and was surprised to see the Coast Guard boat so close. Without words the entire crew had sprung into action. But one camera was still trained on me. The other camera zoomed in on Aaron.
I felt a jolt and realized I was being raised back toward the bridge.
“No, no, stop! Let me go—I can reach him!” I yelled.
Then the hoist on Aaron’s harness began to crank and he was lifted out of the water.
His dripping, lifeless form hung like a rag doll from the bungee.
The journey back to the bridge felt endless. My eyes were glued to Aaron, dangling beside me, and I couldn’t stop myself from shouting repeatedly, “Aaron! Aaron! Answer me. Aaron! Respond, damn it!”
Then suddenly I was moving up and he seemed to be at a stand-still, maybe even descending.
What was going on?
Oh, God, was there another malfunction?
Would they drop me, too?
I stopped flailing and gripped the harness, as if gripping it would make me more secure somehow.
Aaron’s body made its descent, the Coast Guard boat motoring directly underneath him.
They must have determined that the Coast Guard would have the fastest emergency response.
Taking a deep breath, I realized that I hadn’t stopped screaming long enough to inhale. The water was now a great distance away, but I continued to shout in vain, and by this point, I don’t think I was saying anything intelligible.
The vague thought that I was in hysterics floated across my mind, as if someone else had put it there, as if I were someone else and not this shrieking woman.
My body was hoisted over the railing of the bridge and, despite the hands gripping at me, I immediately collapsed onto the deck.
Pressing my cheek to the cold metal, I could feel the hum of the traffic reverberate through my body. My screams subsided and I found my voice matching the hum of the bridge in an odd, regressive, self-soothing manner. I was shaking uncontrollably and because I was splayed out on the deck, the sway of the bridge was more pronounced, aggravating my nausea.
Another thought, as if spoken from somewhere outside my head, commanded me to pull myself together. I stopped humming and fought to get my legs under me. I tried to stand up, but hands were pressing me down, a voice calling for a blanket.
“Stay here; don’t try to get up,” the voice said.
I couldn’t identify the voice and I certainly wasn’t going to obey it. Not now that I seemed to be getting myself back on track.
I pushed against the hands and flipped over. It was the doctor, Edward, trying to restrain me. I pounded my fists against his chest.
“Let me up. I’ve got to get to Aaron.”
“He’s with the first responders.”
“I’m a first responder!” I yelled in his face.
“So am I,” he said, calmly putting a hand on my forehead and pressing my head back on the deck.
So that was it? I was a victim? Someone in need of rescuing?
“No! No. I’m fine,” I said, swallowing back vomit.
“Right, I know,” he soothed. He was holding my wrist and I realized he was taking my pulse even as he said, “You had a shock. I just want to be sure.”
I leapt forward, shoving my elbow into Edward’s chest. This classic self-defense maneuver pushed him far enough from me that I was able to get to my feet. But it didn’t dissuade him from charging me and grabbing me in a bear hug.
I punched at his shoulders fruitlessly. “Let me go!”
“No,” he said. “I won’t.”
I buried my face in his chest as sobs racked my body.
He held me and stroked my hair, whispering soothing platitudes into my ear.
I was vaguely aware of the commotion around me. Cheryl yelling into her walkie-talkie, the crew rushing around, and the police sirens, but God help me, I was also aware of my body’s reaction to Edward’s touch.
His chest felt strong and solid. His body gave off a radiating heat that enveloped me, making me feel safe.
I could barely feel my legs beneath me and I realized Edward was holding me up. I tried to speak but no words came out. I was dizzy and desperately trying to hold on to consciousness.
Don’t faint now, for God’s sake! a voice inside my head warned.
Nonetheless, Edward picked me up and began to carry me toward the north side of the bridge, where our crew vehicles were parked.
Two police cruisers pulled to a stop.
A different kind of dread flooded me.
Would Paul respond to this call?
I recognized Martinez in one of the cruisers. I squinted at the other car. It was Wong. They stepped out of their respective vehicles as if in an orchestrated dance. Glancing at each other and communicating like cops, without words. Wong ran toward the crew and Martinez cut Edward off.
“Is that Georgia Thornton?” he asked.
Edward nodded. “I’m taking her to her RV.”
“Does she need medical attention?” Martinez asked, grabbing at my hand.
I squeezed his hand. “Hey, Marty.”
“I’m a doctor,” Edward said.
Martinez ignored him and called for an ambulance into the walkie-talkie attached to his shoulder.
The fact that I was on the wrong side of things struck me hard. I was the one who was supposed to be communicating with SFPD, but I was no longer one of them . . .
That realization drew an involuntary noise from my throat, something akin to keening.
“You look like hell, Thorn,” Martinez said.
I regained my composure and said, “Thanks. So kind of you to say.”
Martinez smiled. “Okay, if you’re still able to be a smart-ass, I think you’ll live.” He raised his eyebrows at Edward. “’Course, I ain’t no doctor. Why don’t you take her to the RV like you said and I’ll check on you guys in a minute.”
Edward nodded as two more patrol cars pulled over. I glanced at them: Lee and Schrader.
Everyone would now be responding to the code Martinez had put out.
No Paul yet, though. Thank God.
“Where’s Paul?” I asked Martinez. “Will he be here?”
I cringed. The last thing I needed was for Paul to show up and, yet, my voice had semibetrayed me. It almost sounded hopeful.
Martinez’s walkie-talkie crackled. “He’s in court today.”
A shudder went through my body. I took it as relief, but Edward said, “I need to get her warmed up before she goes into shock.”
He didn’t wait for Martinez to respond.
Inside the coach, Edward wrapped me in a blanket and squeezed my hand. “Do you have any brandy here?”
“What?” I asked.
He shrugged. “It calms the nerves.”
“I thought that was an old wives’ tale,” I replied.
The door to the RV banged open and the horror writer, Scott, stood there.
“How’s she doing? The medics are here; they want to take a look at her.” He looked around at the white carpet and the mirrored ceilings. “Feels like Vegas in here.”
A uniform peeked in. It was a firefighter I didn’t know. He asked me a series of questions.
I answered as best I could, while eavesdropping on Scott and Edward.
“Holy cow! I couldn’t have written something like that! Did you see him splat against the water?” Scott asked.
Edward frowned and shook his head, motioning in my general direction.
Scott didn’t take the hint. “I gotta see the footage the camera crew took. Unbelievable!”
My disgust overtook me and I said, “How ghoulish.”
Scott looked over at me, seemingly surprised that I’d overheard him. A lopsided smile filled his face. “You think that’s ghoulish? Hell, nobody gets out alive.”
I made a mental note: Scott would be the first to get the boot.
The fireman concluded that I had not suffered any physical trauma. Any trauma I felt was purely psychological. What else was new?
When he left, Edward searched inside my refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water.
Scott peered over Edward’s shoulder into the fridge. “What? No beer?”
Edward ignored him and passed me the water along with a small white pill.
“What’s this?” I asked, fingering the tiny tablet.
“My personal stash,” he replied. “Consider it a fast prescription fill.”
Scott oohed. “Give me some of that, man. I’ve been traumatized, too.”
“Undoubtedly, but your trauma was too long ago to fix now,” Edward said. He turned to me. “Don’t worry, it’s only a Valium.”
“No,” I said.
Why this guy was a walking drugstore?
Ordinarily, I’d have grilled him about it, but since we’d just witnessed a man plummet to his death . . . Oh, God. What if it had been foul play?
The thought made my head ache.
No, it had been a dreadful accident. I kicked off my shoes and climbed under the covers.
The door to the RV popped open again and Martinez stuck his head inside. “We need statements from each of you.”
Scott and Edward both got up.
Scott squeezed my foot through the blanket. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Oh, you have a heart after all?”
He pinched my big toe. “I’m sorry; I got off on the wrong foot with you.”
Martinez cleared his throat and indicated that officers were waiting outside. Scott and Edward left the RV, the paper-thin door banging repeatedly against the wall as the wind whipped it out of Scott’s hand. Martinez reached out and secured the door.
When he was sure they were gone he asked, “What the hell are you doing on a reality TV show?”
“Are those two of the guys you’re supposed to be dating?”
I covered my head with the blanket.
After a moment I said, “Are you here on official business?”
“Of course,” Martinez said.
“I fail to see the relevance of my dating life, then.”
Martinez grumbled. “Okay, tell me what happened.”
I cataloged the events for him, as though they had occurred to someone else and not me. I supposed that was some stupid defense mechanism. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was cry in front of him and have that get back to Paul.
Martinez took notes and when I finished, he asked, “You say someone pushed you?”
I frowned. “Pushed me? No, no. Well, not really. I mean, someone did press against me, but I assumed it was Cheryl just trying to get the scene going.”
Martinez looked down at his notebook. “Was there an order you guys were supposed to jump in?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Who was supposed to jump first?” Martinez asked. “Was it always supposed to be you and Aaron?”
I shrugged. “I didn’t think we were supposed to jump together. I thought there was a safety distance issue. Anyway, I assumed I’d go last, but maybe I made that up.”
I was starting to feel fuzzy around the edges.
“I think the cowboy wanted to go first. But the witch told Aaron and me to go,” I said.
“Who’s the witch?” Martinez asked. “Becca?”
I laughed. Only it lasted a little too long and bordered on hysterics.
I collected myself and said, “I’ll tell her you said that. I meant the other witch, Cheryl.”
Martinez made a note. “I’ll talk to her again.”
I sighed. “Yeah, there’ll be a lot of talking. Lawyers, insurance people, even the supes from the city will get involved, I bet. Maybe even his royal highness, the mayor. You suppose he’ll want a little PR out of this horrible accident?”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Seems like he always wants publicity.”
“Who do you think will be the P.I. officer assigned? Kristen?”
“You know we don’t get involved with that. Doesn’t matter.”
Even as the words tumbled out of my mouth I knew Martinez was right. I was no longer a public information officer. I’d been canned for releasing unauthorized information to the public. I’d been asked by the media about departmental overtime and potential steps to remediate the expense. At that the time I thought I was simply giving my opinion, but I soon learned that I wasn’t allowed an opinion. At least that’s what was made clear to me by the newly appointed police chief. He’d claimed that the overtime forecasts were confidential. City politics at its finest.
First, I’d been put on administrative detail, a.k.a. the rubber gun squad—where careers go to die.
Then, after my Skelly hearing, when the review board found me not guilty and recommended I be returned to my post, the decision to terminate me had ultimately been the chief’s. The board only provides “recommendations.” The chief, who reports to the mayor, makes the final decision even if it contradicts the review board.
I was asked to turn in my badge and gun.
Boom. Big mouth = career over.
Martinez tapped my arm. “Hey, you sure you’re okay? Seems like you’re kind of spacey.”
My eyelids felt heavy, but I managed a nod.
“How come you haven’t called Brandi?” Martinez continued. “She’s hurt, you know, that you guys don’t talk anymore. She wanted me to tell you that just because you and Paul aren’t together doesn’t mean she dumped you.”
Brandi was Martinez’s wife. As soon as Paul and I had begun dating, she’d attached herself to me, thinking that because Paul and Martinez were best friends, their significant others should be best friends, too. Problem was, I had a best friend—since middle school—and I’d never liked Brandi.
At that moment, Becca burst through the Prevost coach door. She barely acknowledged Martinez and hopped into bed with me. She scooped me into her arms.
“Oh, my God, Georgia! It could have been you!” She showered the top of my head with kisses. “It could have been you,” she repeated.
Martinez mumbled something and left.
I closed my eyes and the entire day flashed through my mind.
It could have been me.
Something nagged at me. The makeup woman I hadn’t placed . . . who was she? My mind was becoming increasingly fuzzy.
The coach seemed to be getting darker; either that or I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open.
“I’m exhausted,” I murmured to Becca.
“No doubt. It was shock.”
I turned over. “I think I need to crash for a bit.”
“Yeah. Sleep. It’ll do you good,” Becca said.
I prayed I’d have a deep sleep and wake up a different person with a different life a million miles away.
Ridiculously, a smile came over my face. “At least I’m done with the show now.” I sighed, relief wafting over me.
The last thing I heard before dozing off was Becca saying, “Done with the show? Oh, no, honey, they’re not letting you off the show. Do you know what this kind of thing does for ratings?”
INT. LIBRARY DAY
Aaron is looking directly at the camera. He’s in his late twenties and dressed in a windowpane shirt and has boyish good looks. His foot is repeatedly tapping and his eyes shift back and forth.
So, Aaron, are you looking for love or money?
Love? Yeah, yeah, love . . . Um, I suppose everyone is looking for love, but if you mean right now, like, here on the show . . . uh, I don’t think a reality TV show is the right place to find love.
What if after you meet our contestant you fall madly in love with her?
Oh. I’m sure she’s a wonderful girl. I mean, sure, she’s probably great. Nothing against her. It’s just that I’m at a point in my life where I really need the money. I mean, I really need it, okay?
• • • • • • • • •
I awoke in the RV and peered out the door. We were back in Los Angeles, parked outside the mansion that the men lived in during the shoot. I was only allowed to have dates there, I couldn’t move in any of my things. I couldn’t cook or shower there and I certainly wasn’t allowed to sleep in the incredible master suite.
How cruel was that? So close, and yet so far away.
At least there were no cameras in the bus. I could actually have a moment of privacy. But only a moment, as it seemed that every other second there was someone banging around outside or on my door.
One of the bangs was accompanied by Cheryl’s voice singing out, “You awake, Sleeping Beauty?”
I swallowed past the dryness in my throat. “Come in.”
Cheryl poked her head through the door. “Good. You’re alive. You need to be at the men’s house in an hour. Harris Carlson is going to make an announcement.” She eyed me. “Christ. Get into hair and makeup. No one wants to see you like that!”
She let the door bang behind her.
I lay back down.
Harris Carlson was the host of the show. Surely “his” announcement was something that Cheryl and the other producers wanted to tell the cast at the same time. What would happen if I refused to go?
How had we gotten to L.A., anyway? Had I really slept the whole way?
And had SFPD really let us leave? The preliminary findings on Aaron must have pointed toward accidental death. Of course. What else could it have been?
Before I could contemplate things further, my door opened again and Becca came in.
“I was told you were given the warning call by the queen herself. You can’t ignore her, you know. We need you now. You look like crap and we’re not miracle workers.”
She pulled me up by the wrist.
I moaned as I got to my feet.
“I don’t wanna—”
“Oh, spare me.” She pushed me toward the small toilet at the back of the coach. “I don’t wanna do a lot of things, either. Most of all I don’t want to send you to makeup until you brush your teeth.”
I grudgingly stripped and stepped into a freezing shower. Becca was yelling at me, so I didn’t have time to wait for the water heater to kick on.
Fortunately, the cold water helped snap the grogginess out of me.
What was Harris Carlson going to tell us? With any luck he’d tell us they were canceling the show. But wait: if that were the case, I wouldn’t have to go to hair and makeup. How could we continue to film after what had happened? How morbid.
My thoughts turned to Aaron. Had the rest of the cast been told about him? How could we possibly play this off for the cameras? The thought made me sick.
I shut off the water and toweled dry.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I spotted the outfit that Becca had laid out for me. It was the same violet halter dress I’d had on the first evening. Why in the world would they put me in the same dress?
I stepped out of the bus into bright L.A. sunlight and felt the sting on my eyes as if I were Count Dracula himself. I looked around for Becca, but didn’t see her. I was anxious to pepper her with questions about the previous day and also what was going on now.
I made my way toward the tented area that doubled as hair and makeup. I sat in a fold-up camping chair and a gal with an enviable dye job went to work on my hair. She mumbled something to herself about my posture and I sat up straighter.
The same makeup artist from the day before materialized. She tilted my chin upward and began to apply foundation.
The gal doing my hair gave a garbled command through a mouthful of bobby pins. I figured it had something to do again with my posture, so I pressed my shoulders back and tried to study the woman doing my makeup. Unfortunately, I only got a flash of her face as she immediately went to work on applying my eye shadow.
Who did she remind me of?
They whipped me into readiness in short order and then I was ushered over to the men’s house for the announcement.
I entered the mansion and was positioned near the fireplace mantel. The men were all seated and watching me. Had it not been for the unsettling feeling that was already descending upon me, it would have been nerve-wracking to have the nine of them gaping at me. As it was, I felt myself tense, gearing up for a fight. Like answering a call during those few short years I’d been on the beat. You know the news is never going to be good. It may not be fatal, but it’s never good.
The guys who’d been on the date the day before—Ty, Pietro, Scott, and Edward—were all a bit ashen faced. The others were smiling and goofing around with each other. They seemed completely unaware of the disaster.
Hadn’t anyone told them?
Cheryl entered, but instead of addressing us she put on a headset and made a beeline to the back of the set. She motioned for cameras to start rolling.
Harris Carlson, our ever-fearless host, entered, clicking on a champagne glass with a silver spoon to get our attention, apparently oblivious to the fact that he already had it.
“Gentlemen. Georgia!” He smiled widely, almost blinding me with his overwhitened teeth. “I understand that Aaron had an unfortunate accident yesterday and he won’t be returning. So while that is certainly awful news, the good news is that there will be no elimination round.” He smiled again.
I surveyed Edward and Scott. They were looking at the floor. Ty and Pietro were looking equally straight-faced and grim.
Nathan, a surfer with shaggy, long blond hair and killer blue eyes, asked, “What happened to Aaron?”
So they didn’t know.
“Aaron is in the hospital,” Harris said.
In the hospital? Was he alive?
My God, how had he survived?
At the very least he was either in a coma or paraplegic or both.
“Did he break a leg or something?” Mitch, a wealthy real estate investor, asked.
Harris toned down the megawattage on his smile. “C’mon, guys, you know I can’t disclose his medical information.”
Mitch sat up straighter and flashed me his own toothy grin. “Well, don’t get me wrong. I hope he recovers fast, but that means I’m one step closer to ending up with this lovely lady.” He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “And then there were nine.”
“Yeah,” Nathan agreed.
I refrained from grimacing. Good God, one had just quoted an Agatha Christie murder mystery and the other had exuberantly agreed. I had to get out of here.
Harris cleared his throat. “We won’t be able to use the footage from yesterday. So we’re going to refilm the first date. Sort of ‘re-create’ it.”
This time I must have visibly grimaced because the cameraman normally trained on me panned to the fireplace. After a moment, he refocused on me.
What the hell did he mean, re-create?
I felt my ire rising and I couldn’t wait for the shoot to be over to confront Cheryl.
“And I should tell you that we have a new cast member. Sorry, Mitch. Not one step closer to the lovely Georgia, but sort of like a do-over.” He upped the wattage on his grin.
Aaron didn’t get a do-over. What the hell was going on?
Harris pivoted in his red Berluti loafers and motioned toward the door. “Gentlemen, meet your newest competition.”
Two cameras panned toward the door. Another stayed trained on me and the last on the remaining men in the room. Everyone’s reaction was sure to be captured and manipulated however Cheryl thought would get the most mileage.
My mouth went dry and I suddenly felt light-headed.
It couldn’t be true.
Through the doors walked Paul Sanders, my ex-fiancé. He even had the nerve to wear the tux he hadn’t worn to our wedding.
First I fought the wave of nausea that swept through my body, then the urge to punch Paul in the face.
Harris introduced him as “Paul, the Insurance Salesman.” Paul flashed a grin at Harris and said, “Thanks for the warm welcome.”
He turned to me and outstretched his hand. “So nice to meet you.”
What kind of charade was this?
Nice to meet you?
There was something in his eyes. A warning. Play along, Georgia, it said.
I clenched my teeth and gripped his hand. A zing, on par with a full-on electric shock, zapped through my waist and hips. I didn’t trust my voice, so I said nothing.
I glimpsed myself in the mirror over the fireplace and realized that I looked mean. Downright hard. Why would any of these guys want to date me? I forced a smile.
Paul smiled back. He looked every bit as Hollywood-handsome as the others did.
He released my hand and took a seat on the couch next to Ty, who touched the brim of his hat and winked at me.
Harris clapped his hands loudly. “So, Georgia, you’ve met your eligible bachelors—or not so eligible.” He gave a little shake of his head as if he had just amused himself to no end. “You will select five for your first group date and tomorrow the fun will begin.”
It dawned on me then: The introduction to Paul was meant to replace meeting Aaron. Redo, re-create. A little Hollywood magic, some snips and edits, and Aaron never existed.
“Cut,” Cheryl yelled.
The cameramen took their units off their shoulders and left the area, presumably heading to the craft services area they had set up next door with unlimited coffee and tables overflowing with pastries.
“Okay,” Cheryl continued, “gentlemen, go change, then come back to this room and lounge around waiting for the invite card. Georgia, you can go get ready for the date.”
It was an order, not a request.
I never did well with orders; my stomach churned at the thought that that very trait had been one of the reasons for the end of my police career and likely even one of the reasons for the end of my engagement with Paul. But, hell, sometimes you can’t fight your nature.
“What’s going on?” I demanded.
Harris linked his arm through mine. “I know you’re probably watching your figure, but they have amazing doughnut holes next door. Why don’t you have one? I’ll watch your figure for you.”
He raised his eyebrows at me in what I was sure was supposed to be a flirtatious way, only it came off flat and sort of like a cautionary signal.
I glanced at Paul. His smile was intact but the warning message in his eyes remained.
Everyone was telling me to shut up and leave the room.
• • • • • • • • •
“We’ll have you change into your date clothes and then you can get back to hair and makeup,” Harris said, as he led me to the craft services area.
I was fuming. “Tell me what’s happening.”
He looked confused. “With what?”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Diana Orgain and her novels:
“A charming debut thriller.”—Publishers Weekly
“A straightforward whodunit …a fun mystery.”—The Mystery Gazette
“An excellent female sleuth novel with lots of humor!”—Listology
“Deftly plotted with a winning protagonist…a page-turning read. We will be hearing much more from this talented newcomer.”—Sheldon Siegel, New York Times bestselling author
“Orgain’s protagonist…is a charming, gutsy, wry character.”—Louise Ure, Shamus Award-winning author
“An entertaining new sleuth.”—Gillian Roberts, author of the Amanda Pepper series
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dollycas’s Thoughts Fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette this is the cozy for you. It has an added twist, not all the contestants are searching for love, half of them are trying to win money. Things start to go wrong on the very first date and one of the suitors is killed. Not everyone believes it was an accident and that brings Georgia’s former love to the show, he is a cop and he is going undercover. Then another bachelor dies and and reality television gets even more real as the show must go on. Georgia doesn’t know who to trust but she knows she must find the killer before the final glass of champagne is poured. I loved this story and I am really interested in seeing how the author continues this series. Georgia was the bachelorette and her turn on Love or Money is complete. I really liked her spunk. She is smart and courageous enough to put herself on national television to find love and track down a killer too. This story flows really well. The characters are fleshed out and easy to picture and get to know. I found myself rooting for more than one of the bachelors and not only following the clues to find out the killer but who was in it for love and who was in it just for the money. I really enjoy where Diana Orgain takes us in this story. Not your typical theme for a cozy mystery, it is new and fresh and a lot of fun to read. I am anxiously awaiting the next installment to see where she takes us next.
Diana Orgain takes reality TV into overdrive with the first book in the Love or Money series, A First Date with Death. With a unique premise and an interesting new cozy heroine, readers will be both satisfied and wanting more. This book is like The Bachelorette on steroids! Throw some murder into the mix and that completely changes the dynamic of the game. Orgain's sense of simplicity with her clues and suspects will leave the reader grasping at straws and trying to put the puzzle together. A great start to a new series. I loved the premise for this one. You have ten men who want to date our heroine, Georgia. Five of them really want to find love, but the other half is only interested in the money. Who will she choose? Will she get the chance to choose anybody, when the bachelor's start dropping like flies. This was very intriguing. I felt like Orgain gave me something creative and different. With cozies authors have a hard time coming up with something unique, but Orgain really hits it on the head with this idea. Georgia is a great new cozy heroine. She isn't desperate, but she does want to find true love. She turns to reality tv to find it. She was smart and sassy and very capable of investigating what happened to some of her bachelors. I was sorry she had to deal with Paul, since he had been such a jerk to her in the past, but she did need backup and that added a whole new layer to the story. What does the future hold when it comes to these two? Too early to tell, but the author certainly has me wondering. I liked the setting and how Orgain was able to transport her readers to the place and time she wanted. Some authors struggle with being able to get in all the setting and background information necessary to set up a series, while still giving the readers a good mystery the first time out. Orgain proves you can have that perfect balance even if it's the first book in the series. I was impressed with her plotting and character introductions and look forward to see where we go next. Bottom Line: This looks to be a good start to a new series. It has a killer premise that satisfied my love of The Bachelor and Bachelorette reality tv shows, but was still unique and creative. Georgia has so many good qualities in a heroine and I think Orgain did a great job with both set up and balance in this one. It's great to get in on a series at the beginning and I think this is definitely one to watch.
I will not read a book with out knowing what it's about!
This was a lot of fun to read. Georgia is not exactly the typical reality show participant, she's convinced to join the show Love or Money by her best friend and who is the associate producer. The cast is her and ten men. The goal, to figure out which of them are there for love or the money. But when men start being killed, and her ex-boyfriend the cop comes onto the show, things get really interesting.
"A First Date with Death" was the first and definitely not last by Diana Orgain I read. It was an interesting twist to the Cozy Mystery genre: a love or money mystery. Enter Georgia, a "Bachelorette"-type character on a reality TV show with a twist of it's own; her would-be suitors included five men looking for love and five men looking to win a large cash prize. Her mission is to sort through all of the accents,good looks,and butterflies to pick a man on the show who is there for her and not an ulterior motive. Throw in multiple murders, and Georgia is no longer simply fighting to find love but fighting to survive a diabolical killer. I enjoyed this book immensely. The behind-the-sceenes setting, Georgia's inner turmoil when the ex fiance who recently left her at the altar and is the reason she is now a single lady looking for romance becomes a show suitor, and the many red herrings along the way kept me guessing. The language was realistic, the chapters long enough for "just one more before bed," and the emotional commitment I felt towards Georgia to stay safe while picking the right man compelled me to give 'A first date with death' four stars and to cross my fingers for the next book in the new series to come quickly. I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This is a fun first book of a new cozy series. It is about Georgia, a woman who goes on a reality T.V show while getting over her ex-fiancee, and possibly finding new love. The book opens with the first date that ends tragically with the first death. Then to make matters worse the ex, Paul, shows up. He's a cop, so is he there to investigate or to get her back? It was interesting to follow her feelings about Paul and the other men as the story unfolded. Sometimes the murder took a back seat to the reality show and I would have liked that to be the other way around. I enjoy the thought process that goes into solving a mystery and didn't get as much of that with this book as I would have liked. Overall the book was a good read and I plan to read the next one when it comes out. I'm looking forward to getting to know the main characters better and seeing if the romance with the chosen bachelor continues. ** I received this book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
This is the first book I have ever read by Diana Orgain and I found it to be a fun read. I really liked the main character, Georgia, who went on a reality show where she had to determine which bachelors were there for love and which were there for money and found myself rooting for her the whole way. The first date (as the title indicates) involved a death and thus started one on the adventure of trying to determine who was the killer and in which our main character is right in the middle of it all. I wish there was more of the mystery part throughout the book instead of most at the end -- it seems to me that the mystery was actually a subplot and not the main theme and I did find the story interesting and entertaining but was a little disappointed as I thought there would be more mystery. Please don't get me wrong and do recommend this book if you are looking for a fun read as Diana Orgain is a excellent author -- the story was well written and entertaining
When I began this book I have to admit, I’m not a fan of reality TV, however the locations in California are some of my favorites so I continued reading. Diana Orgain did an excellent job of drawing me into the constant twists and turns of the characters. The drama the main female character endures on the “love or money” journey was comical, especially when an ex-fiancé shows up as a contestant. I look forward to additional books in this series.
I really wish I could give half stars here on Barnes & Noble, because really I felt like this book merited 3.5 stars. I didn't quite like it enough to give it 4 stars, but a bit more than my normal "3 star" books. I thought the main character was a bit whiny at first, but she grew on me and by the end I even sort of liked her. The plot was somewhat original (in that I've seen reality show plots before but not a *dating* reality show). While it wasn't a page-turner for me, it did keep me entertained and I didn't feel like I was "forcing" myself to finish it. All in all, it was an enjoyable read and I'll try at least one more in the series before I really make up my mind on whether or not I want to read the whole series.
Date This Debut It’s always a delight to see an author you like start a new series. Since I was a fan of Diana Orgain’s earlier series starring a new mother, I was thrilled to see A First Date with Death hit the shelves. This new series is off to a fun start that promises many more adventures to come. Georgia is doing something she never thought she’d do – go on a reality show. Worse yet, she’s a contestant on a dating show, trying to decide which of the bachelors on the show are in it for the money or which are in it for love. The first group date ends early with a tragic accident, however, and Georgia gets a huge shock when her former fiancée, a man who left her at the altar, takes that contestant’s place. Paul is a cop, so that must mean that there was something sinister behind the accident and he’s only on the show to investigate, right? The next day, another of the contestants is found dead. What has Georgia signed up for? And will she pick the right contestant if the show even continues? The book starts out with that first group date, and it was a scene that fed into my fear of heights, so it definitely got the blood pumping. I was intending to read just one chapter before I went to sleep, but I read another couple because I couldn’t stop there. That level of interest never wavered as I was reading the book. However as I read, I realized that the mystery often took a back seat to the dates and the choice that Georgia was facing as a contestant on this reality show. But here’s the thing, I was so into that aspect of things, I didn’t mind the mystery taking a back seat. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some deduction happening. The mystery came to a logical and satisfying conclusion, although that part was rushed at the end. Hopefully, the mystery will be stronger in future books in the series. Likewise, the characters weren’t quite as strong as they could have been. Georgia and a couple who are obviously going to be series regulars are strong. In fact, it was Georgia and how likeable she is that really drew me into the story. Part of the issue with character development is that there were just so many characters. I was surprised at how easily I was able to keep track of them, but most of them weren’t quite as developed as I normally would have liked. For those who didn’t stick around long, that wasn’t an issue, but this could have been a bit better overall. Now neither of these complaints is to say I didn’t enjoy this book. While I was aware of the flaws, I was also busy turning pages anxious to see how things would turn out. And I had to keep from cheating to see if Georgia made the correct choice at the end. That’s how much fun I was having and how much I cared for her. So I am definitely looking forward to Georgia’s next adventure. In fact, I’m very curious how Diana Orgain will be continuing this series. If they are as good as A First Date with Death, I’ll be along for the entire ride.
Paul left Georgia at the alter and then she was fired from the SFPD. Could things get any worse? Could be. Her best friend is an assistant producer of a reality show and she is supposed to pick which man is there for love and which is there for money. As one leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge, his bungee failed. Paul took his place on the show and Georgia thinks it is to investigate the "accident". It is that or is he there for love? Will Georgia pick the right guy?
This was a fun new cozy mystery series to start. I thought it was fun that a reality show was used as the backdrop for the story. The author did a good job of making this book flow. It is a book that you will not want to put down as you are not only wanting to figure out who is doing the murdering but who will Georgia pick for love. In this book we have mystery, romance and humor all things to make a cozy mystery a fun book. I will be reading the next one in this series when it comes out.
It's a version of the Bachelorette reality show gone bad. I had the impression that all the TV set-ups to get things lined up for a perfect shot are probably spot on. More of a romance than a true mystery story and she found true love in the end....which I wasn't expecting.
I liked this book but it was a romance book, not a mystery. There was hardly anything on the murders. The romance part was fun and interesting.
Very happy to see this author back with a new series, plus it ¿Member reviews Turns out that the set of a reality show is a very good place to set a mystery. I really enjoyed this first story in a new series by Diana Orgain. Georgia Thorn, having lost both her job and fiancée, decides to give a romance reality tv show a try, in this one, the winner must find out who is in it for love, or just the money. I liked how the first date brought us to the murder scene right away. The variety of men, who also masquerade as a pool of suspects, was good, and Georgia was able to use her former training as a police public information officer to help her gut ferret out what happened. Add in her ex-fiancée arriving as an undercover replacement and the show gets very interesting! Another nice touch was Georgia's best friend Becca, Since she was on site as an assistant producer, I enjoyed the peek behind the scenes at how reality tv is scripted as much as anything else out there.