Authors: Kiki Abbott
“Yes, I do.”
After adjusting his phone earpiece they pulled out into traffic. “I have Jaxie Hart in the car and we’re headed to Beverly Hills right now.”
At first, she thought he was talking to her but then realized before she made a fool of herself, that Crane was on the phone.
That was the last time she heard the driver’s voice for twenty minutes until he took a call that had him talking business, coordinating schedules and plans. She tuned him out, instead plugging in her iPod to get charged up for the competition that would pit her against some of the prettiest women in the nation.
When they pulled onto the 405 and headed north, the driver glanced in the mirror and addressed her. “I take it you don’t watch the show?”
Why did he assume that? “No. But I hear good things.”
“Are you looking forward to being on The Husband Hunt?”
“Yes. Very much.” What else could she say? Not the truth about using the show to prove something to her ex.
“And I understand you’re a chef?”
This sounded like her phone interview with one of the producers. “I’m a restaurant reviewer but I went to chef school. I love to cook.” Her eyes met his in the rear view mirror.
“You’ll be handy at the mansion. What type of food?”
The usual answer was ‘all types’ but outside of Seattle, she could be honest. “I love to cook Italian. Scaloppini, Chicken Parmesan, Fettuccini Alfredo, Gnocchi.”
“Gnocchi!” Looking into the rear view mirror, she could see his eyes crinkle in a smile. “My mother was Italian and used to make all that. I loved her gnocchi.” They were at a stop light and Crane turned around. “It melted in your mouth.”
“My mom too,” Jaxie said. “She’s Italian, I mean. That’s how I got interested in cooking school originally. My mother is an amazing cook but she never made Gnocchi.”
“Hmm, it’s delicious home made. And Penne with Sausage.”
“Now you’re making me hungry. I haven’t eaten all day.” Jaxie’s mouth watered.
Crane laughed and the light turned green. “You need food then.” Several turns later, he pulled into a small parking lot, and stopped. The sign over the massive front doors read “Giuseppe’s”. He turned off the engine. “Come on, I’m going to introduce you to the best gnocchi, this side of the Atlantic.”
* * * *
Two days after being deposited at the W Hotel, Jaxie had a sunburned nose from too much California and was feverishly trying to cover her Rudolph nose for taping that night. She’d spent the last forty hours writing emails to her replacement at the station, offering suggestions for restaurants, writing a review of Giuseppe’s and texting Phillip every hour on what she was doing, which was a whole lot of nothing.
The internet had reported nothing on the recent breakup of Brent and Jaxie and didn’t seem to care that the King 5 food reviewer, Jaxie Hart was off to L.A. as a contestant on The Husband Hunt. Brent was the celebrity in that couple and so far, Brent hadn’t publicly commented. He was in the Caribbean, or South America, fishing. Although Phillip hadn’t approved of her method to show Brent she was spontaneous, he’d been intensely interested in the actual TV show, wanting as many details as possible from L.A. Then, all contestants had to hand in their phones and laptops.
Jaxie had been briefed on what would happen, signed away her right to stay in touch with everyone, and was sworn to secrecy, like she was working on some NATO project in a war zone. Apparently secrecy in a show like this was extremely important.
During her two days of wandering around the W Hotel, she’d seen some gorgeous women, also alone, and wondered if they were her competition. If so, blondes with perfect figures and humungous boobs seemed to be the theme for the show. Jaxie was neither. Her small waist and slightly oversized, yet toned, butt was a feature men seemed to appreciate but her boobs could never be called large. ‘Two nice handfuls’ Brent had said, on many occasions. That had not been one of the problems in their relationship. The physical attraction was probably what kept them together for too long. Both Brent Manford and Jaxie Hart were known as photographers dreams, both tall, well groomed and generous with the press.
Friday morning, the network sent over a stylist to pre-approve her dress. She told Jaxie that makeup and hair help was coming to her room at six. But, by that time, Jaxie had it under control and when the hairdresser arrived, he mostly helped her pin up her hair and fasten her dress in the back, then sat on the bed asking about life on T.V. in Seattle until he had to go to another room to check on another girl.
When the eight o’clock knock at the door made her jump, she took a deep breath and reminded herself not to worry. Pulling the door open, she saw her driver standing in the hall. Without thinking, she mistakenly said “Hello Grain,” then felt her cheeks redden. He laughed, corrected her and fired back. “Very funny, Foxie.”
“I’m sorry. I’m nervous.” Her bags were stacked in the hall in anticipation of moving to the Hollywood mansion. Or leaving for the airport. Only half the girls would continue on with the show that night, and Jaxie had said a silent prayer to make the first cut when she’d packed those bags.
Before leaving the room, Jaxie turned out all the lights and walked past Crane to the hall. “Silly to be so nervous,” she said under her breath.
“It’s understandable,” he said, making sure the door locked behind her. Someone else would come get the bags later. They walked to the elevator silently, Crane on his phone again to report that Jaxie was coming down now. Relief flooded her to see a familiar face amongst all the butterflies that flew around in her stomach. And Crane’s face was a handsome one, even if he was only the driver. She needed to focus on her reason for being in L.A. and not get distracted.
It was hard to forget that at Giuseppe’s two days earlier, she and Crane had had fun. He’d introduced her to the owner as a restaurant reviewer and after that there was no turning back on eating a little bit of everything. Crane laughed at how much she could put away. “Hey, I grew up on this stuff,” she countered.
It seemed natural to sit with him in the front seat when they got back in the car. Returning to the back seat after he’d told her his mother had recently died and he missed her cooking, would’ve been cold.
“Tell me again I’m not expected to be on camera tonight, because I am so full,” she laughed and made a face. He assured her she had almost fifty hours before filming began. “And now I have to get you to the hotel before nightfall.”
They talked all the way through Hollywood – about food, Seattle, more talk of Italian mothers and as they approached the hotel’s circular drive, Jaxie realized she didn’t have a very solid plan for what was going to happen. Jaxie liked to be in control, with a clear, set schedule. “I don’t really have the plan for the next few days. How long am I staying here?”
“For two nights before Friday’s taping. I’ll make sure someone gets in touch with you tomorrow about the schedule. You’ll move to the mansion on Friday night if you make the cut at the cocktail party. I’m surprised you don’t know all this.”
“I just auditioned five days ago, very last minute and was accepted two days ago. And, as you noted, I don’t watch the show.” That had been two days earlier and she’d tried to forget what a sweet guy the driver was.
Now she was going to the taping of the first episode of The Husband Hunt 2013. This wasn’t exactly how she wanted America to first hear about Jaxie Hart but it might be a good launching pad to better things, if she played her cards wisely.
Wearing a short emerald cocktail dress to show off her long legs, Jaxie felt pretty good and was surprisingly more than a little disappointed that Crane hadn’t noticed. She was fully aware of the effect she usually had on men but he seemed unaffected. Maybe because he’d seen her dribble meat sauce down her chin at Giuseppe’s. Hopefully the Bachelor was more easily impressed. Her disappointment in Crane’s reaction was made worse by the fact that, in his tuxedo, he looked pretty damned good himself. Crane was not her usual type, but extremely sexy. Jaxie usually went for the big muscular men, like Brent, the hunk type. But looking at Brent, she wondered why.
As the elevator reached the lobby level, Jaxie hoped that the Bachelor was someone she found as handsome as Crane. If so, it would be easier to fake an attraction.
Five other girls in stunning gowns, full makeup and up-do hairstyles, stood amongst the show’s crew in the lobby. Jaxie smiled nervously as she and Crane approached.
“Hi. I’m Jaxie,” she held out her hand to the nearest girl. After they all introduced themselves and excitedly chatted about the show, the six women were shown to their waiting car. One limo had just taken off and another was pulling up, as more gorgeous women entered the lobby, everyone looking like deer caught in the headlights. Jaxie was glad she wasn’t the only one facing this unreal situation of being up for review like some sort of cow at the auction barn. In her mind, she repeated what was becoming her mantra--
“for the greater good.”
Jaxie was the last to be helped into the stretch limo by Crane and as she stepped in, she turned back and caught him staring where her short dress was inching up her endless legs. She shot him a look like he was being a naughty boy and he ducked his head apologetically and grinned. As she took her seat, her face felt hot and she told herself to stop flirting with the driver.
They’d been parked down the road for almost an hour, waiting for the go–ahead to approach the house. Their driver (not Crane) had told them he thought they were waiting for full darkness to set in but he wasn’t sure. The woman in the limo with them who was a production assistant confirmed this by phoning ahead to see what the problem was. Jaxie knew there was a lot of hurry up and wait action in filming and luckily was sequestered in with some nice girls. They all seemed to be big fans of The Husband Hunt and knew every episode.
Not soon enough, they got the call to advance to the house and once the limo pulled up the long drive and stopped near the path to the front door, the assistant gave them the plan for exiting the vehicle. Everyone tried to get a peek at the Bachelor out the windows, too busy to listen to the assistant, all but Jaxie who didn’t bother to look. The signal was given, and the door opened to let the first girl out, a waitress from New York named Ingrid.
When it was Jaxie’s turn to exit, she took a deep breath and slid her legs out the door provocatively. Reminding herself that this was a business deal for her, an acting job, she vowed to play it smart, not emotionally.
With eyes on the man at the top of the path ahead, Jaxie extended her hand to the staff they called David, to help her out. When their fingers touched, she slid forward and stood. Turning to thank David, for his help, she saw that the man holding her hand was Crane.
Wired with a microphone, she knew that everything said would be part of the show. “Thank you.”
Under his breath she thought she heard him say “Foxie.”
The walk to the Bachelor was an opportunity to impress. Cameras were rolling and Jaxie knew how to do this even under pressure. Smoothing her sparkling green dress, Jaxie smiled at the handsome guy waiting at the top of the path and walked forward, alongside the track they’d set up for a rolling camera shot.
As she closed the distance she saw the second surprise of the night. She knew the Bachelor. The man staring at her was a familiar NFL quarter back who’d been dumped by his team last year because of poor stats, a man who’d made enemies with Brent over a game, and someone who might recognize her. Keeping her cool, she knew enough to play this thing out. Had the producers done this on purpose? In her initial interview she’d mentioned that she’d broken up with her Seahawks boyfriend recently. Dammit.
Jaxie smiled warmly at the fine specimen of man that Liam Bolton was. They’d never met in person but he might know her from photographs with Brent. “Hello Liam.” Was that a flash of recognition behind his eyes?
“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” He smiled warmly, looking her up and down like a piece of meat. Jaxie tried to not blush.