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To my right, a film crew looked as if they were conferring with each other about technical stuff. I hadn’t seen a picture of Drake, but I figured I would know who he was the second I saw him, as there weren’t that many people in the room.
I glanced around, searching for a guy who fit the profile of a bachelor type, and the second my gaze landed on him, I nearly lost my breath. For a second, I just stood there, completely stunned.
He sat in a chair on the other side of the room, his brownish hair streaked with gold as if he’d been out in the sun lately. A makeup artist powdered his face while I took a moment to observe him, taking in his measure. He wore navy blue sports pants, expensive-looking sneakers, and a white t-shirt that showed off lightly tanned muscled arms. He appeared to be in his early thirties if I had to guess. His five o’clock shadow and the black-framed glasses sitting on his nose gave him a rugged preppy look, but what was most surprising was his weary, frustrated expression as if he didn’t want to be there.
The man was so gorgeous all I could do was blink and gape at him. And blink and gape some more.
So, this was Drake Arnold.
Abby had said he was handsome, but I had only processed that information in an intellectual sense.
The producers had chosen him for a dating show, so it was reasonable to assume the man would be attractive, and I had assumed that, but I hadn’t given it more thought. Back when I was in college, I’d had a huge crush on my English professor, and this guy kind of reminded me of him because of the glasses. Drake was ten times better looking than Dr. Harris, though.
That was all before my parents died. After they passed away, I’d kept my feelings so tightly controlled, there was no chance of falling for anyone new.
And the strange thing was…I hadn’t thought that I would personally fall for the guy since I hardly ever looked at men anymore. I had decided a long time ago that a relationship wasn’t possible at this time, so why torture myself?
He must have sensed my gaze because he glanced up and our eyes connected. My stomach dipped and twisted, all the angst of that moment tying me up in knots. I couldn’t get a read on his reaction to me.
He just stared and then turned away as if…nothing. As if he were thinking about absolutely nothing that concerned me.
One of the men from the film crew glanced at me and cleared his throat. “Good morning. I’m Brad, the director of this project, and you’re here for a five-minute audition for ‘Who wants to date a billionaire?’” He said it so fast it sounded like a memorized line he spouted to each woman who walked through the room. “We’re ready, so please take a seat.”
I swallowed and forced myself to move forward, but I couldn’t look at Drake for fear that I would start freaking out the closer I got. I took a steadying breath and reminded myself that it didn’t matter how good-looking he was. A man’s character was more important, and I refused to be that shallow person who only cared about someone’s appearance. He was way out of my league, so it was doubtful the producers would choose me, anyway. Abby and I had seen hordes of beautiful women while we’d waited in line, and most were probably used to being on camera. I figured it was safe to assume my audition wouldn’t go anywhere.
I finally made it to the chair and sat down, and the moment I did, my heart began to pound so hard it felt like I was having a fight-or-flight response. We were sitting very close to each other. Way too close for my comfort. Most likely because the crew needed to film us on the same screen. Or manufacture a more intimate conversation.
Whatever the reason, none of that mattered. It was making it hard to breathe, and I felt like I was about to suffocate from not getting enough air.
Drake glanced away as if bored, discretely checking his watch, and I suddenly realized his response was the opposite of mine. My presence completely underwhelmed him.
Nothing about me brought about the tiniest spark in his gaze.
I sensed his indifference.
He wanted to be somewhere else, and he was mentally checking out.
It made me a little sad.
But then it gave me courage.
If he didn’t care, then neither should I.
I could get through this audition without worrying that I had to impress him because clearly, he wasn’t impressed. At all.
I’d never been one to back down from a challenge or let any man intimidate me, much less some guy on a cheesy dating show. I sat up straighter, squared my shoulders, and lifted my chin a little higher. Let’s do this.
Brad cleared his throat again. “Please state your name.”
He nodded and checked something off on a clipboard. “Karlie, this is Drake Arnold.”
Drake shook my hand and mumbled, “Nice to meet you,” but he wasn’t truly looking at me. He was looking past me or around me, but I wouldn’t say he saw me. I understood that he had a lot of sessions to get through, and it was probably tiring, but he could have tried to be friendlier. At least show respect for someone who had been waiting for hours to talk with him.
Brad walked over and held out a bucket with tiny strips of paper in it. “Please take two questions.” When I hesitated, he seemed slightly impatient. “Quickly. Don’t look. Just pull them out.”
I did as he requested, and then he handed the bucket to Drake so he could take out two pieces as well.
“Karlie, I’m going to count backward, and when I say, ‘You’re on,’ you’ll introduce yourself, and then Drake will ask the first question. Got it?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
“Five, four, three, two, one. You’re on.”
What happened next nearly floored me. Bored, tired, Mr. Arnold lit up and turned to me with a smile on his face as if he actually cared.
Surprised by the change in demeanor, which was only because he was on camera, I hesitated for a long moment. And then I let out a breath. “Hello, I’m Karlie.”
He brightened even more as if truly interested, but I knew better. “It’s an honor to meet you, Karlie. Shall we get started?”
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