Excerpt from Love in Reality

Love in Reality

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Love in Reality is the first novel in the Blackjack Quartet series. In this early scene, the hero—producer for a reality TV series called The Fishbowl—breaks the news to the heroine that she’s been shortlisted to appear on the show:

When Rand got back to The County Cork, the bartender seemed pleased to see him. She took his drink order and offered him more Goldfish. He’d eaten a couple of handfuls when he realized he’d spaced on getting some supper. As he chewed, he watched her move around the space, using a calm efficiency that impressed him. He bet she’d be unflustered even on a busy night with three times as many customers.

Unflappable poise—precisely what Marcy didn’t want. Rand’s desire to cast Lissa-the-Bartender grew with every step she took.

She finished with another customer and fetched Rand’s beer from the cooler. He got out one of his business cards. They were hideous: embarrassingly colorful with a holographic Fishbowl logo—a fishbowl in the shape of a TV set, complete with shimmering fish—taking up most of the white space. His name was crammed in along the bottom with the misleading title “Producer” underneath. As Lissa slid his beer in front of him, he pushed the card over to her. It looked like they were swapping Happy Meal toys.

Rand watched Lissa’s face as she eyed the card. She didn’t pick it up, only stared at it, clearly confused. Which was odd. Usually applicants recognized the logo immediately and started to scream before he could say a word.

“You’re Lissa Pembroke, right?”

She glanced around, then looked at him, hard. She nodded with a single jerk of her head.

“I’m Rand Jennings. I’m a producer on The Fishbowl. We’ve reviewed your application to be on this season’s show and we’d like to make a test video.” Commence joyous screaming in four…three…two…one…

Silence.

The bartender wrapped her arms around herself as though she were wearing an invisible straitjacket. She opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it shut. Now she was acting like his business card might bite her.

She shrugged her shoulders and huffed her hair out of her eyes. Finally, she scrunched her face in an apologetic grin. With her chirpy, breathy voice, she said, “I’m sorry. Do you know, I actually forgot I even sent in an application?” She tried a wholly unconvincing laugh. If she thought she had a career in acting, Rand could set her straight. Good news for him was she definitely could seem ditzy.

“Look,” he said, “I know this is unexpected. At this stage we’re just asking people to let us tape them. You know, see how they look on TV. I think you’d be great.”

He tried out his kill-’em-with-charm smile, the one he shared with his dad. Rand wasn’t movie-star handsome like her uncle. Based on results, though, the smile was irresistible.

Lissa-the-Bartender was shaking her head, slowly. “Yeah, uh, about that. I think you’re wasting your time here. Uh, my—my circumstances have changed since I applied, and, um, I’m not going to be able to…participate.” Keeping one arm around her waist, she reached out the other hand to push his card back at him. She had tapered fingers, short nails, no polish.

“Are you pregnant?” he asked.

She looked stunned, then shocked and finally revolted by his presumption, all in a single glare. “Of course not.”

He waved away her outrage as an inconvenient trifle. “I had to ask. That’s the only changed circumstance that really matters to us. Everything else we can work around.”

“Look, Mr. Jennings,” she said after a glance at the card. Her voice was back to business casual. “I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time coming to Philadelphia. If you’d called me, I could have set you straight and saved you the plane fare. I may have—”

Here she stopped and rolled her eyes in self-disgust. “In a moment of insanity I must have thought I wanted to be on your show. I’ve changed my mind. And I doubt you could get me to change it back.”

He ignored the speech, although it was deliciously cogent. There was a cool flash of contempt in her brown eyes that convinced him she’d be perfect for his plan to hijack The Fishbowl. He had to figure a way of talking her into it without promising her the part. Rand wasn’t sure why she was dragging her feet. It should be a piece of cake to convince a bartender from South Philly to be on national TV.

He tried the smile again. “Hey, I know. It’s a surprise. You applied last summer, six months went by, nothing. People forget they even sent in a tape. But we loved yours—” he trailed off as her eyes got even larger, and not in a “Oh, is this all for me?” way. She looked horrified. Where was the ticker-tape parade? The rush to call all her friends?

What was up with this woman?

After a pause, she pursed her lips and squinted at him. “Mr. Jennings, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to be on your show.”

Rand heard a loophole in that last sentence. “Pretty sure? C’mon, Lissa-the-Bartender. You did apply,” he cajoled in a teasing voice.

She wouldn’t meet his eyes. She pressed her lips together, annoyed with herself. She sighed, rubbed her forehead, then reached over and took his card. “Okay. I’ll try to find out what my situation is for the summer. This is your cell phone number?” He nodded. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” She stalked off, evidently disgusted with him, the show, something.

Rand visualized her as a contestant. Smart, not eager to be on TV, definitely a thinker, and over all that was an odd film of ditziness, or maybe it was distraction. Plus, of course, she was attractive in an interesting way—he really liked her nose, with its almost-bump—and she’d look great in a bikini.

Sold. He had his Ditz.

All he had to do was convince her to make a tape he could sell to Marcy.

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