The real world sucks.
As soon as I step through the doors of the pier restaurant, I feel dozens of eyes on me and have to fight the urge to turn around and run. The lunch crowd is looking at me with sympathy; because even a year later, I’m still just Mercy, the aptly named, pathetic woman who had her heart snapped in half on a reality television show.
Okay, maybe I’m just imagining the pitiful stares, and pathetic is simply how I still see myself every time I look in the mirror. After traveling the world for an entire year with my overbearing, Bible-thumping mother to avoid standing still long enough for the paparazzi to take a photo, I thought I would be over the pain and humiliation.
The sound of my former college roommate’s comforting voice grounds me, pulling me out of my self-conscious thoughts. I’ve missed Sasha and could really use a friend right now. Lifting my big sunglasses that I use as a shield to keep my emotions from pouring out of my eyes, I finally spot my tall, blonde friend when she stands up and waves. Not only does she grab my attention, but everyone else in the restaurant as well. Sasha is a beautiful woman who simply radiates warmth, so all eyes are definitely on us now.
I hurry over to the table she’s claimed for us and give her a hug.
“Hey, girl!” Sasha says as we embrace. “It’s been too long, as in an entire calendar year! I’ve missed you!”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I missed you too,” I tell her as I take a seat across from her. Removing my sunglasses from the top of my head, I slip them into my purse and then hang it on the back of my chair.
“I’ve been worried about you,” she says softly.
“Oh, I’m fine,” I reply with a wave of my hand. “And I didn’t mean to drop off the map from everyone, but it seemed like the only way to escape the drama was to keep moving,” I explain. “After the first few weeks, I think I was scared to call and have someone bring him up and make my heart break all over again when I was trying so hard to get over him.”
“No, I totally understand,” Sasha assures me, reaching across the table to give my hand a squeeze. “And I won’t ask you about He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. But I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that,” I tell her with a small smile.
“You look great, by the way,” she says.
“Thanks, you too! Running has become my new best friend,” I admit. “The only time I could really get away from my mother while we traveled.”
“I noticed you’ve been making some headlines too,” Sasha responds. “Is it true? Are you going to be the new leading lady on Queen of Hearts this season?”
“I am,” I answer with a nod.
“Congrats?” Sasha asks with a wince as if she’s not sure if it’s a good thing or not.
“Yeah, I mean it’s a great opportunity to try and meet Mr. Right and move on from Mr. Wrong,” I say, trying to convince myself that’s true as I open the restaurant’s plastic menu and lower my eyes to study it.
“Are you sure you’re ready to date again?” Sasha asks, her voice lowered in concern.
“Yes, of course,” I tell her, looking over the menu with a smile. “It’s been over a year. Besides, what woman wouldn’t want to be the object of twenty incredibly hot men’s attention?”
“One who is still in love with someone else who cheated on her and ran his mouth about her to the world,” she whispers to herself as she pretends to look at her own menu.
Closing mine, since I always have the grilled chicken salad, I rest my forearms on top of it to reply to her comment. “It was a show. Did I think Blake was going to pick me at the finale? Absolutely. But he didn’t. And while my ego took a huge hit after the show aired, seeing him on camera with all those other women and talking about how bad I am in bed, it has now healed. My heart too.”
“If you say so,” Sasha replies with a shrug of her shoulders, pretending she’s buying my explanation and letting it go. After all, that’s what best friends are for.
“So, tell me what you’ve been up to,” I say to effectively change the topic.
“Well,” Sasha starts, then tosses her menu down so that she can hold out her left hand to show off her ring. “I’m engaged!”
“Holy shit,” I mutter when I grasp her hand to bring it closer while examining the massive diamond. “That’s a beautiful ring. Who is the lucky groom-to-be?” I ask, excited that my friend has at least found a keeper. In my heart, I thought that Blake was going to put a ring on my finger when instead he said I wasn’t the one for him.
“You remember me telling you about Chase Fury, my high school sweetheart?” Sasha asks.
“Of course,” I remark. How could I forget the name of the jerk she used to cry over at various times through our four years of college after he abandoned her when he wrecked his bike?
“Well, it turns out that he was there for me after our accident, for days, in fact; and my parents told him that I didn’t want to see him and that I blamed him for everything,” she says. “They intentionally split us up! And because I was too stubborn to talk to him, we didn’t find all that out until a few weeks ago.”
“Wow,” I reply in surprise. “So, how did you get back together?”
“It’s a long story, but I reported on an accident where he was the man police were looking for,” she says. A waiter appears beside our table to get our orders before I can ask a follow up.
As soon as we’re alone again, I say, “Go back. The man’s a criminal?”
“Ah, sort of,” Sasha replies with a wrinkle of her nose. “Like I said, it’s a long story, but the best part is that we’re back together. And to be completely honest with you, you should know that he’s the acting president of the Savage Kings MC right now. So, associating with me could not only be bad PR for you but also…dangerous.”
“Ha!” I laugh since there’s no way I’m staying away from my best friend I haven’t seen in a year because her bad boy biker fiancée could be trouble. “Bring it on!” I tell her. “It would actually be great to have the paparazzi report something about me that doesn’t have to do with…well, you know.”
Everyone always thinks that those reality shows are staged and scripted, but the truth is, I fell hard for Blake, the bachelor from last season’s show King of Hearts. Sure, I knew that I would be competing with nineteen other women when I signed a contract. As a struggling model-slash-small time actress, I needed the money and thought it would be great for publicity. And I was right. Now I’m known as the woman who told a man she loved him after he professed his love. A few days later, I then proceeded to push him into a pool when he picked another woman at the final rose ceremony. That’s right, every second of my jealous fit is out there for the world to see. And although the cameras left before we got naked, everyone also knows that Blake and I had been sleeping together for three weeks prior to him choosing Felicia, a woman he barely spent any time with other than in bed. At the recent reunion show, tempers flared and insults ensued, including an accusation that I was colder than an Alaskan trout in the sack. Blake declared that he realized before the ceremony that I was faking everything I said and did with him to try and keep myself on the show for my failing career.
The only thing fake between us were my orgasms that he failed to ever give me because he was a selfish prick. Which I could have overlooked if he had loved me.
Let’s just say that on top of the pile of trust issues my absentee father created, Blake caused me to develop a few new ones. There’s a reason I haven’t been on a date with anyone in over a year, and that reason’s name is Blake fucking Burton. Because of him, I can't stop thinking what if he’s right and I am solely responsible for having never experienced good sex?
“Seriously, Mercy. There have been some attacks on the club, and the guys are on the rampage after Chase’s sister-in-law was killed by one of their enemies,” Sasha tells me, pulling me back into our conversation. “If you want to steer clear of me, I’ll understand.”
“That’s awful,” I reply. “And while I hate that happened, I don’t think our friendship will be hazardous to my health.”
“I hope not,” Sasha says. “I would feel terrible if something happened to you because of my association with Chase and the MC, but I’m glad that you think I’m worth it.”
“Definitely,” I agree, right before several bright flashes of light go off right outside the window next to our table.
I don’t even have to look out on the deck to know what’s going on, but Sasha does.
“Jesus!” she mutters when her jaw falls open and she looks back at me.
“So, there are a few hazards of being friends with me right now too,” I warn her. “Like the fact that you’re probably going to end up in the tabloids as my lesbian lover or something equally absurd.”
Sasha gives a big burst of laughter at that. “I can see it now, once they do a little digging and find out we were roommates in college. The headlines will probably be that we’ve been secret lesbian lovers for years and today we finally outed ourselves.” When she starts giggling again, I can’t help but join in.
“Thanks for having a sense of humor about this,” I tell her. “They have been all up in my ass worse than an epic wedgie since I got back into town a few days ago. I hope it doesn’t cause you any problems with the news station.”
“Oh, please,” she says with a wave of her hand. “I figured they would fire me as soon as I went public with Chase, but they’ve actually been kissing my ass instead, like they’re scared I’ll sic the MC on them if they try to let me go.”
“That’s great,” I tell her.
“It is. I have my pick of stories, more vacation time. It’s crazy, but I’m glad I didn’t have to give up my career to be with Chase.”
“Yeah, it’s awesome you get to have both,” I agree with a smile.
“Are you gonna be in town for a while? If you are, I really want you to meet him,” Sasha says.
“Absolutely,” I reply. “We start filming later this week in Wilmington. It’ll take weeks to get a season worth of bad dates and all filmed, so I’ll be around.”
“Bad dates?” Sasha repeats with a bark of laughter. “Try not to sound so hopeful!”
“You know what I mean,” I say with a roll of my green eyes. “The guys may all be hot, but some will be jackasses. I just have to focus on weeding those men out, which will take time. And in the meantime, I’m going to try to avoid the paparazzi as much as I can.”
“How exactly do you plan to get out of here with that growing horde outside?” she asks, tipping the side of her head toward the window. I don’t turn to acknowledge the cameras. I’m trying my best to avoid letting them get any straight-on shots of my face looking like a deer in headlights.
Glancing around the restaurant that’s also filled with gawkers now, I grin and say, “Maybe someone can find me a broom to beat them back with.”
“I have a better idea,” Sasha says with her own mischievous grin. I can’t even guess what she might be cooking up. The girl is as sweet as honey, but can occasionally be trouble with a capital T. “If you don’t mind the MC association, I could call in a few bikers to provide you with some backup.”
“Bikers?” I repeat before my eyes narrow at her. “Wait. You’re not trying to set me up, are you? I’m getting ready to start a dating show!”
“Of course I’m not setting you up. None of Chase’s friends even come close to being your type,” she replies.
“Right,” I agree, since I could never imagine myself dating a biker or my mother ever approving of one.