By: Lauren Landish



My knees are weak, shaking beneath the length of my formal gown as I stare blankly at the pops of color across the dark night sky. Behind me, I can feel a faint wind tickle my exposed back, making the fountain show a little blurry as the lights flash on the moving water sprays. I’m sure it’s spectacular, but I don’t even really see it. I try to blink, focus on something, anything, but I’m lost in some sort of weird hypnotic trance. My arms feel heavy, and it’s only the waving motion of the producer off camera that snaps me out of it.

The two men across from me are both strikingly handsome, but that’s where the similarities end. One is blond and blue-eyed, with a chiseled body and a prowling natural grace. And while he might seem a little rough around the edges, with me, he’s kind and genuine. The other is the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. He has a way with words that makes me feel precious.

If there’s anything these two men have in common, it’s the look in their eyes, one of equal parts want and need. But is it real? How can I be sure?

This is my deciding moment, and I feel so torn. Do I choose the one I’m falling in love with, the one who pushes me and lights flames deep in my soul? That should be an easy question, and if I were a bystander sitting at home on my couch, I’d readily say yes. But I’m scared. He could destroy me, burn me to ash with his fire. And if I’m wrong about him, I don’t know if I’ll ever recover.

People are pulling me the other way, telling me the other guy is the better choice and backing that up with good reasons. The other guy is passionate, driven, and totally focused on me. He’s everything a woman could want. But my heart doesn’t flutter when I think about him. Can I be happy settling for safe?

It’s all just happening so fast. I only met them a few weeks ago, and it’s been a whirlwind of romantic adventures ever since. Admittedly, most of it has been orchestrated by the show, contrived by the people behind the camera who have walked me step by step through the journey to this moment.

So whom do I chose?

“Emily!” the producer calls, obviously exasperated with my unintentional overly dramatic pause. “We don’t have time to stand around all night. I need the choice before the light show finishes!”

I take a deep breath, trying not to lose my lunch all over my high heels. I give a nod and count to five, pausing as I see flickers of emotion in the eyes of both men.

Fear. Uncertainty. I know exactly how they feel.

Even though I’m not sure how this is going to end, I dutifully begin. “I’ve thought long and hard about this, so gentlemen, let’s see if we’re a Match. Please . . . turn over your cards.”

Chapter 1


“I still can’t believe it!” I cry into the phone to my friend Cassie as I walk out of my bathroom, fresh out of the shower and over the moon giddy. “They really want me!”

“We’ve been over this. You’d better believe it, girl!” Cassie laughs. I’m sure she’s happy it’s finally become a reality for me as I’ve annoyed her to death ever since I sent my video to the producers. “Unless you’ve suddenly become grotesque or killed a man, they picked you. You’ve sailed through all their Q-and-A sessions, and I’m guessing you’ve haven’t had a zit pop up overnight, so you’re golden. It’s you, babe.”

I’ve been running around my room like a chicken with its head cut off, but at Cassie’s words, I pause and squeal, “O.M.G. It’s so happening! Hollywood, here I come!”

“Congrats again!” Cassie exclaims. “I’m so happy for you!” She adds under her breath, “Thank you, Jesus! I don’t have to listen to ‘I wonder if they think I’m cute enough’ over and over anymore.”

I can’t stop smiling, my heart soaring to the heavens. “I know, right? I mean, after I sent in my video, I was convinced I wouldn’t get a call back. They must get thousands of submissions from interesting women. Me? I’m regular old Emily, nothing special.

“You are special!” Cassie says. “I know it, you know it, and they damn sure know it or they wouldn’t have picked you. Now, serious question here . . . you got your outfits picked yet?”

I can hear the grin in her voice as she asks, and I nod, even though she can’t see me. “Yeah, a few. They told me that I only needed to bring a few spare outfits and they would provide the rest.”

“Damn, they’re just rolling out the red carpet for you, aren’t they?” Cassie jokes. “Sure they have one wide enough?”

“My carpet’s a lot skinnier than yours, Miss Future Real Estate Mogul,” I say, casually tossing back her dig. Furrowing my brow, I bite my lower lip thoughtfully. “I’m just dying to know what the show is going to be about. The ad was attached to the season finale of Survivor, but the execs told me it would be something totally different.” Thinking about it, my mind goes back to when I first got the call.

“Hello, this is Meredith Ward of Ward-Williams Productions. I wanted to talk to you about your video submission,” the businesswoman announces when I pick up the phone.