My heart was beating out of my chest as the sun over French Polynesia beat down on my way too pale skin.
This was not part of the deal.
I could feel the sweat running down from my forehead and underneath the blindfold I had on, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
I felt sunscreen burn my eyes as I held hands with a complete stranger in waist high water just off the coast of Moorea, a supposedly tranquil island, just a thirty minute boat ride from Tahiti.
“Okay, everyone. Season one. Episode one. Take one. Cameras rolling in three…two…one…action!”
“Welcome to Instalove Island, where over the next week twenty unsuspecting couples will vie for the title of Island God and Goddess…all for the chance to win one hundred thousand dollars in cold hard cash and prove that their love is unbreakable.”
“Contestants. Are you ready for your first challenge?”
“Yeah!” a few men roar, but most of the contestants sound just as nervous as I feel.
“Then remove your blindfolds and let’s begin!”
My hands release from the man’s across from me and I reach up for where I expect his face to be, but I’m off by a country mile and instead my fingertips find a rock hard chest that feels like it’s chiseled in stone.
“Sorry,” I say as my hands jerk away but my subconscious has them gripping again right away, this time finding his shoulder.
I run my hand along the curve of his shoulder before remembering it’s a blindfold I’m looking for and not the defined muscles I keep finding.
I stand up on my tiptoes and my hands come down on his lips. They’re fuller than I would expect a man’s to be, yet masculine. I don’t know if the intense sun in the middle of the South Pacific is making me hallucinate but I immediately imagine kissing him.
But what would I know about that? I’ve had my head stuck in books for the last four years working my tail off to get my degree, and the only thing that’s touched my lips is copious amounts of coffee to keep me awake while I studied formulas and theories in the hopes of getting a job. Yeah, so much for that idea.
But I have plenty of ideas about what I want this guy to do to me and now I really want to see the face that goes with the physique.
My fingertips move across his cheeks finding the fabric of the bandana blindfold and I carefully lift it up just as I feel his hands find my bandana as he removes mine as well.
It’s pushing one hundred degrees right now yet I feel my body completely freeze up…in motion and in temperature.
A cold chill shoots through me as I recognize the man standing in front of me.
“Isabella,” he says, but the way it rolls off his lips is more like he’s greeting me at the door and I should have brought a bottle of wine to this party. There’s not a hint of surprise.
Did my brother set me up?
He told me he’d lose his job as producer of Instalove Island if he didn’t find a female contestant stat so I begrudgingly agreed to help him out. The one thousand dollar participation fee and my looming rent payment pretty much made up my mind for me.
But it was just a favor and he promised he’d make sure the first challenge was one that would eliminate me, giving me a quick holiday on Moorea to try and de-stress about my job situation before I had to head back to the real world and start job hunting again.
But as I stare at Isaiah without his shirt on, those muscles rippling right in front of me I go into a different kind of hunting mode.
I’ve wanted him for as long as I can remember and Eric, my brother, is gonna get it for torturing me like this.
But apparently I’m not the only hunter here right now.
“Contestants. There are ten three foot by three foot floating aluminum platforms around you. If at any time you decide you want to end your participation in this challenge just jump on one of the platforms and you will be eliminated.”
The announcer casts a devious smile.
“But just remember there are only ten platforms and twenty couples so if you decide to throw in the towel you best throw it in early.”
“Release the sharks!”
Wait a second. I didn’t hear him right.
My eyes dart towards a group of men who together lift what appears to be some sort of metal barrier out of the water. It’s the kind you see at concerts to keep the crowd back, but apparently this barrier is designed to keep the sharks in.
Oh hell no!
My brother knows I’m terrified of sharks.
I watched Jaws as a kid and didn’t so much as dip my foot in a swimming pool for a decade.
And when I even hear a mention of Shark Week I get weak in the knees.
“Get me to the platform!” I yell feeling myself hyperventilate.
I turn left then right, my hands coming out of the water instinctively as I hold them up over my head. I am not about to lose any appendages today!
“Contestants you are now surrounded by over one hundred Blacktip reef sharks…hungry Blacktip reef sharks,” the announcer says as a few of the couples go racing for the available platforms.
I spot a platform to my right not more than ten feet away and make a move for it, but a couple is already trying to balance together on the super small surface area.
I look left, then behind me. Oh my god, the platforms are filling fast.
“Shark handlers…chum the waters!” the announcers yell.
And then I go into full-blown anxiety mode and scream out at the top of my lungs.
I’m about to get torn to shreds by a giant, prehistoric killing machine.