I stared at the seven men of my supposed dreams. Of my nightmares, more like, and theirs too judging by their stunned faces. The hotel ballroom’s walls closed in and dizziness shuddered through me.
The show’s host said, “What’s wrong, Princess?”, his overdone innocence making it clear: this was no accident.
I had to speak, had to take back some semblance of control, but knowing how many eyes and cameras studied my every move and reaction silenced me like a hand over my mouth.
The host raised well-tended eyebrows. “Nothing to say? Let me help. Gentlemen, I’m Peter Stanley. This, of course, is Madeleine-Cora Spencer. I say ‘of course’ because you all know her. Know her well, in fact.” He paused long enough for me to consider fleeing then added, his tone too casual, before I’d decided how to get past the camera crew, “You’ve all dated her.”
My exes exchanged surreptitious glances, no doubt mentally questioning my choices, as I fought to keep my face expressionless. Hearing the words from him made it all too real.
“Now, she expected to be on the ‘Find Your Prince’ show, but she can’t be on a dating show with her exes, can she?” Returning his focus to me, he shook his head as if sympathetic. “No, you can’t. Especially not the ones you called ‘flighty’… ‘ridiculously jealous’… ‘egotistical’…”
With each trait he pointed to the man it described, and my horror grew with each word. ‘Flighty’, predictably, didn’t seem bothered, but ‘jealous’ and ‘egotistical’ both looked ready to take me apart. I had to shut Peter up before he got me killed. “I did date them,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady, “and you knew that since I put them all on my appli–”
“Gentlemen, Madeleine-Cora,” he said over me, “you’ve been given various explanations for why you’re here, but now it’s time for the truth. You will spend the next twenty-one nights on a tropical island.”
‘Flighty’ said, “Cool!” but Peter ignored him and went on. “You will live together in a shelter, after you build it, and scavenge for most of your food. You’ll be competing for a million dollar prize, and in time we will explain what you need to do to win. Princess, gentlemen, the game is on.”
An island. Trapped with seven men. Not just any men, but these men. So much history. And cameras hungry for the men to reveal that history, reveal my most intimate secrets. Nowhere to hide.
My careful analysis of the real show’s previous seasons to see which strategies worked, the hours I’d spent considering how to get to know my potential princes. Wasted. This bunch of frogs didn’t contain my prince. I’d kissed them all, I should know.
I’d regretted signing up for the show a hundred times over the past two months, starting seconds after I’d filled out the application online through tears of rage and humiliation. Meeting new men and letting them learn about me would be hard, I’d known that, but I’d been sure that finding a good man would be worth the pain. But this? All pain, no possible gain.
“I’m so out of here.”
Greg, my most recent boyfriend, stormed forward and slammed to a stop facing Peter. “You told me I’d be the prince, the one choosing a woman, not this stupid thing. This isn’t fair.”
When Greg had told me he loved me on our third date, I’d been more than a little surprised and nowhere near ready to return the sentiment. He hadn’t seemed to mind, but the words had hung over us like a three-syllable cloud of doom, and I’d dumped him a few weeks later because I couldn’t handle knowing he wanted me to hurry up and fall in love so we could get married.
I’d almost left our pitifully short relationship off my application, but I’d been afraid he’d end up on the show with me in some horrific coincidence. Well, no coincidence, but here he was.
Or maybe not. “I’m leaving, and you can’t stop me.” He headed for the ballroom’s door.
He didn’t make it.
“I don’t want to stop you,” Peter said, his face calm and faintly amused, and Greg paused. “Give me the two hundred and fifty thousand dollars you agreed to pay if you quit the show, and I’ll drive you to the airport myself.”
“Surely you read the contract before you signed it?” Now addressing everyone, Peter went on. “We’re allowed to change the show’s concept if we see fit. If you’re thinking of quitting, folks, make sure you have the money ready. Otherwise you’re ours for the duration.”
Greg’s defiance sputtered and died.
Peter ran his eyes over the rest of us. “Anyone got a quarter million burning a hole in their pocket? No? Then let’s go.”
And before I knew it, I was in the back of a limo with my ex-boyfriends on the way to twenty-one days of hell.