Chapter One: Night One - Meeting the Groom

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Juliette Simon laughed as the town car glided lazily up the stone-paved driveway. She could hardly believe where she was. Her family and friends knew she was only doing it for the money, but what would everyone else think- what would her followers think? Over ten seasons and five years she'd amassed close to a million fans, and in a few moments she would betray them all.

"The money, think about that big payday," she whispered. There was no one else to hear her; the driver had closed the partition, and luckily the producers hadn't thought a cameraman necessary for her drive up to the mansion. After all, she wasn't the story. She was supposed to help get the story.

She couldn't decide if posting the satirical audition video on her Instagram and Twitter feeds had been genius or idiotic. The payment the producers offered would pay off her student loans, credit card debt, and a hefty chunk of her car loan, but was she going to destroy the online persona she'd worked so hard to build?

Not that it would be a huge loss, but she felt obligated to her followers, and it had given her an edge in certain areas professionally. Social work was rewarding, but oftentimes frustrating due to lack of government funding and general community apathy. Once her name started to get big, people took notice of her projects and she'd been able to achieve goals. She didn't want to turn into a joke.

"That's why you got message and edit approval in your contract," she reminded herself. It had been the biggest deal-breaker in their negotiations. She had no say over the season as a whole, but the editors were required to run any scenes by her that had the potential to show her in a negative light. As an expert on the show, she knew how she did not want to be portrayed.

Gravel crunched underneath the tires as the car slowed to a stop. Jules's stomach did a flop. The producers hadn't given her anything to eat in-between photo shoots, interviews, and multiple, hour-long sessions with the other contestants on the rules and what to expect. She had managed a glass of champagne while in hair and makeup, but that wasn't sitting well.

The glass partition between the front and back seats lowered, and the driver turned to face her. Juliette held in a hiccup as he smiled and said, "They'll open the door when they're ready for you. Sit tight."

Just like that, the partition slid back into place, and Jules adjusted her jewelry, the straps on her shoes, and the neckline of her gold dress. The beading along her décolletage scratched her skin and weighed the fabric down. Previous contestants always made moving in these elaborate clothes look easy, but Jules felt ridiculous. She'd never normally dress up this much and begged the producers to allow her to wear something slightly less formal, but she had neglected to put wardrobe approval in her contract. Her brother, Wesley, who also happened to be her lawyer, would hear about the oversight the first chance she got. It was bad enough she was a fraud, without feeling like one, too.

After twenty silent minutes, she tapped on the partition to ask the driver how much longer. He just shrugged. No one had warned her of the time spent waiting. All day long she'd waited. First for hair and makeup, then for the photographer, then for the producers. If this was indicative of the coming weeks, she'd need to make sure and bring a book everywhere they went.

Finally, there was a tap on her window and the door opened. She took a deep breath and accepted the hand of the gentleman she recognized as host Patrick Nelson. The sky was deep, inky blue, the first hints of stars emerging on the horizon. All around, trees had been decorated with twinkling, white lights. The mansion loomed large in the background, lit by hundreds of candles and lanterns. She heard music and laughter escaping the first floor windows. And there, straight ahead, Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome himself, Ravi Kapoor. As a smile erupted involuntarily on her face, she noticed the briefest flash of disappointment on his. Her momentary excitement that Ravi was the new Groom faded instantly. She dropped Patrick's hand, gathered her sequined skirt in her fist, and marched over to him, wobbling only slightly on the heels she'd assured the entire production crew were bound to break her neck before the evening was over.

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