SEEKING THE SMART ONE: Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV. Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .
He touched my chin with two fingers, bringing my gaze up to meet his. Damn those green eyes. I searched them for answers, wishing I knew whether he was putting on an act for the audience. Even with the lights off, the cameras stationed in the yard would capture us. The producers filmed everything, day and night. Everyone in America would know if we kissed. For a moment, I struggled to remember why that was bad.
“I guess it’s not your fault, since I got the question right,” I said begrudgingly, shifting slightly backward.
“If that is the best I can get, I’ll take it. But I’m going to work on complete forgiveness. I’ll pay you double interest on our bet—six cents.”
“Well, then,” I laughed. “Maybe I’ll have to reconsider once I get my money. I’d hate to have to send Birdie to break your kneecaps.”
The image of five-foot-tall Birdie coming after Justin with a baseball bat cracked him up. I laughed, too, crossing my legs and settling more comfortably in the lounger. My knee practically touched Justin’s leg. He didn’t move.
We sat quietly for a few minutes. I wondered if he heard my heart pounding. Even not wanting to get caught kissing on national television with a near-stranger, I found something about Justin irresistible. Possibly his smile. Or his dimples. His brains. The ease of talking to him. His personality. The fact that he was practically perfect for me in every way.
That line of thinking wasn’t helping. I needed to change the subject before I started calling him Mary Poppins.
“It’s a beautiful night.” I gestured at the sky.
“Yes, it is,” Justin said, his eyes never leaving my face. Did he lean forward slightly? Only inches separated our lips.
The warmth definitely wasn’t the beer. I licked my lips nervously and leaned in, closing the gap. If he moved the tiniest bit…
Copyright © 2017 by Laura Heffernan
Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.