Authors: Jessica Clare
Copyright © 2014 Jill Myles. All Rights Reserved.
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his book is
a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Where reality is whatever you wish it to be...
e are very pleased
to issue your Invitation to Eden, an exciting series coming to you in 2014 from 27 of the biggest names in romance. Join us as we take you on an exciting adventure to Eden, where anything…and everything goes!
Glass artisan Juno Ashmore’s bank account has hit the skids lately. When she’s invited to mysterious Eden to film the reality TV show Pleasures of Eden, she’s not interested. Swanky island location? Billionaire bachelor? No thanks. But when she hears the contestant payment fee of fifty thousand dollars — just for showing up, Pleasures of Eden suddenly sounds more interesting. Screw the billionaire bachelor! Juno will take the contestant fee and have herself a nice beach vacation.
But the billionaire bachelor is none other than Heathcliff Forester, the sexy, arrogant man who broke her heart in college. And Heathcliff’s made it clear that he’s not interested in any girl but Juno. In fact, it’s looking more and more like he’s rigged the entire show just to bring her into his arms again. It should make Juno furious, but all she can think about is what it’d be like to spend her nights in Eden in his bed…
he one that got away
? Juno. Absolutely, 100% Juno."
-- Heathcliff Forester, the Billionaire Bachelor, Pre-Show Interview
of the day was always a bit depressing in a glassblower's stall.
Not only were sand and mud trekked all over the floors, but there were inevitable bits of mystery glass which told me that someone had broken - and hastily stashed - another one of my products. After a bit of eyeball inventorying, I found the item: a broken cobalt globe peppered with bits of red calcite. Another thirty dollars down the tubes, I told myself with a sigh and swept up the pieces.
Of course, if the end of the day was a bummer, the end of faire season was even more of a let-down. I looked around my unsold inventory with a tiny frown. The small, dainty pieces of blown glass in the shapes of unicorns and dragons always sold. The tiny colorful frits - garbage glass I sold for a buck? Always. But my bigger, more artistic vases that comprised the bulk of my earnings? Not so much. People going to the faire would rather spend their money on candied nuts and turkey legs than a spiraling glass candlestick striped with variegated colors. I sighed at the thought, because one of those candlesticks would mean enough money to buy more silica and metal oxides to make new creations.
As it was, sales were so bad this year that I was considering taking a part time job. Which made me grumpier. Which made me sweep my hot shop clean with even more vigor.
"Juno," a cheery voice called. "Guess what I have!" A familiar figure appeared at the front of my open shop, darting between the wooden benches circling the furnace, where I gave hourly shows during faire season. Leona pushed forward, waving a piece of paper.
"Hey," I said to her, feeling sweaty and gross after a day of toiling in the hot sunlight in my booth. Leona ran a hair-braiding stall a few booths down and always managed to look adorably fresh despite the long hours in the blistering sun. She was wearing a wench costume but still managed to look wholesome and sweet despite the cleavage protruding from her leather corset. Today, her braid was an intricate coronet atop her head sprigged with tiny flowers and ribbons, and a long fishbone-braid tail trailing over one shoulder. "You look cute."
"Of course I do," Leona teased with a wink. "It's my job. But look at this! It's the new rules from the investors."
I groaned to myself and eyed the paper. "Do I even want to see?"
"Probably not," Leona agreed, a frown on her pretty, cherubic face. "It's a doozy."
"Well, now I really have to see," I told her, and took the paper she offered me.
It was no secret to anyone working at Windy Trees Renaissance Festival that times were hard. Park attendance had been falling off steadily for the last three years, and the owners kept raising ticket prices to try and make up for the fact, which just caused people to spend less on trinkets. Booth rents were raised, and it was becoming harder and harder to turn a profit. I'd considered looking for a new renaissance festival to call home, but everyone else was hundreds of miles away and a lot of places already had a glassblower. The ones that didn't welcomed me...as long as I brought my own furnaces and set-up, which was incredibly expensive.
So I stuck it out at Windy Trees, hoping for a turnaround.
Sadly, there was no such turnaround this year. Sales were worse than ever, and I cringed every time one of my glass works broke under the hands of a small child. Busted glass was a fact of life in my world, but instead of just accepting it, now I saw dollars and pennies going down the drain.
And then last week, we'd heard that the old owners had sold the faire to an investment company. Everyone was on edge, wondering what that would mean for those of us who depend on the faire for our livelihood. People like Leona lived out of their RVs and just went from faire to faire, making a living. Me, I was more stationary. The downtime between faires was used for creating the glass objects that would fill my shop for the next year. And it wasn't like my furnaces were portable anyhow.
If anyone was going to be screwed by new management, it was going to be me.
"Lots of bad news in this," Leona said, peering over my shoulder as I read. "I saw it and thought of you."
I scanned the legalese, looking for things that would affect me. There were new prices for booth rentals, of course, and because mine was one of the largest booths, my fees would be skyrocketing. I winced at the dollar amount. "I guess if they can bring in a lot more people, maybe the costs will be offset," I murmured as I read.
"Well, I hope that's the case, because we're also going to be paying for advertising."
"What?" I read further down. Sure enough, we were going to have to pay additional fees for local and radio advertising, fees for 'participating' on the website, and fees for photography. That was on top of my booth fees. "I...can't afford this."
"Did you see the dress code requirements?" Leona pointed out. "Full wench garb for every woman, and they request we do not repeat outfits. Do you know how much that's going to cost just to have new outfits for every workday?"
"Are they serious?" I stared at her, aghast. "I work in front of furnaces all day. I can't wear long skirts. That's a fricking fire hazard." The old owners had let me get around the whole 'renaissance' thing by allowing me to wear leggings and a soft, belted tunic since I worked with fire and heat.
"Yeah," Leona said, making a small pout. "The only ones happy about this are the dress boutiques because now everyone's going to have to clean them out just to have enough clothing for work."
I wiped at my sweating forehead. "God, I don't know what I'm going to do. Setting up here next year was going to be a crapshoot as it was. With these new fees, I just don't know if I can afford it."
"I know," Leona said. "I'm trying not to think about it. I guess I'll be doing a lot of sewing over the next few months."
I grimaced. I couldn't sew to save my life. "Sew something for me, will ya?"
"Oh!" Leona's hands fluttered with excitement. "I meant to ask you, did you get the emails about the game show?"
I arched an eyebrow at her. "Wasn't that spam? They sent it to everyone that works at the faire."
"Only because they're looking for women with unusual jobs," she exclaimed. "Didn't you read the email?"
"The first time I got it, yes," I told her. "The other sixteen times, no. I swear, they sent it out every day for the last three weeks."
"It's not spam," she said. "I called and spoke with the producer. It's for a dating reality show. They're looking for women who want to go to their island for a month and date their billionaire."
"A billionaire?" I snorted and handed the new park rules back to her. "It sounds like a scam to me. A billionaire can't find a girlfriend and has to resort to a TV show? Come on."
"I'm serious," Leona said. "It's legit, and I think you should go to the casting session with me."
"I think you need a hit on the head with my marver," I told her.
She blinked at me. "I don't even know what that means."
"That's the stick I roll the glass on," I told Leona with a smile. "And I'm not looking to date anyone. Not right now." Maybe not ever. I'd been soured on men since college, when Heathcliff had broken my damn heart and then trampled on the shards for good measure. Work was all I needed.
Never mind that I now had about eight months of free time coming up...eight months in which I could work and worry about how I was going to pay for next year's faire season. I picked up my broom and started sweeping again.
"Think of it like a timeshare," Leona exclaimed. "You don't have to buy anything. You just have to show up and see what they're offering. And the producer I talked to? Said they paid all the contestants for their time. Fifty grand."
I paused in my sweeping. "Did...you say fifty grand?"
She nodded, her eyes wide. "I know, right?"
"Just for being on their show and dating some gooby billionaire who can't get a date?"
"Right? It's like taking candy from a baby!"
I thought for a minute. Fifty grand would take care of so many problems...provided I was cast, of course. I wasn't exactly the most glamorous girl. I never wore makeup (my job was too hot), my hair was always up and out of my face, and I lived in jeans and tank tops. Also, I was an artist, which meant I spent more time in my own head, pondering designs, than I did engaging in small talk. The odds of some billionaire picking me to date would be slim to none, so provided I got on the show, I'd get booted right away. "What do you get paid if you get cast and the guy doesn't choose you?"
"Flat fee," Leona said excitedly. "Everyone gets paid the same. If you get knocked out early, you just get to spend your time on the beach."
I considered for a moment longer, then sighed.
Leona crossed her fingers and did a little excited hop in front of me. "Come on. I'll do your hair."
I pointed my broom at her. "I'll go...but
to the casting call. I'm not convinced."
Leona's squeal of happiness was so high pitched it could have broken some of my wares.
hat following Saturday
, Leona and I showed up at a conference room in a hotel downtown, armed with our contestant forms and our best pageant smiles. I teased Leona as she braided my dark hair into a soft, wispy concoction that made me seem more fragile and feminine and less hard-edged than I normally appeared. She was great at her job, I had to admit.
As we entered the conference room, I was surprised to see so many women. There must have been at least two hundred here, all dolled up and ready to push their way onto the show. Some were wearing backless t-shirts, one was in a bikini, and almost all of them were wearing stiletto heels. I wriggled my toes in my old Converses and felt a bit underdressed. "Should we even be here?"
"Nonsense," Leona said, looking cherubic in her long blonde curls and pink blouse. She linked her arm in mine. "Of course we should. The producer told me especially that we should come, because we are just what they're looking for."
"I'm not so sure about that," I told her. But still, fifty grand. I was willing to waste a Saturday for a chance at fifty grand. Heck, I'd even waste
Saturdays for a chance at fifty grand.
"Just trust me," Leona said, and steered us to the front row of the conference room.
A man handed us packets of paperwork as we sat down, and we skimmed them as we waited for the speaker. Everything seemed legit - it was indeed a casting call for a dating show called Pleasures of Eden. That sounded totally Cinemax to me, but it was for network TV so it couldn't be that bad, right? The rules were as Leona had described them: one month of time spent on a private island called Eden. Twenty-five women would be selected, all between the ages of twenty and thirty-two. The billionaire had a preference for women with unusual jobs and an artistic sensibility. Headshots would be taken and interviews done today and women would be called back if they were selected. If you were selected, you would be paid the fifty grand regardless of how you did on the show in exchange for letting the producers film your 'journey'.
"They're not going to pick me," I murmured to Leona as the producer waxed on enthusiastically about the show and its unique location.
"Have faith," she told me. "You're exactly what they're looking for."