Planning on Prince Charming(5)

By: Lizzie Shane


Whatever the reason, she wasn’t nervous with him.

“Would they really fire you?” she asked as he filled a pair of glasses with ice water.

“In a heartbeat. Thou shalt not screw around with the Suitorettes is commandment one.”

“But nothing happened.” She rounded the couch and came over to accept one of the glasses from him. “And you’re so popular. I bet there are thousands of viewers who tune in just to see you each week.” Not that she would ever admit to being one of them. “There are fan sites devoted to you.”

“And whoever they replace me with will be younger, have more rabid fans and draw an even bigger audience. Welcome to Hollywood.”

“Such a cynic. I had no idea.”

“I mask it well.”

“You’d have to.” He was so charming every week on Marrying Mister Perfect. So upbeat as he encouraged the contestants to follow their hearts and leap headfirst into love. She’d always thought they had that in common—the foolish romantic optimism—but if this was how he really was…something sad panged in her chest. “You’re shattering my illusions here.”

He grimaced, downing his water. “Never meet your heroes. It will only disappoint you.”

She studied him. The Josh Pendleton. “I guess you were a kind of hero.”

He cringed. “Don’t say that.”

“Why not? I used to watch you on Brainiac.”

“Ah, so you were the one,” he said dryly.

The short-lived quiz show had never made it to prime time, but she remembered his quick-witted banter with the contestants, the way he’d always made her laugh. “How does a quiz show host become the host of Marrying Mister Perfect?”

Josh shrugged. “Right place, right time, right wife.”

When the last word left his mouth, something heavy entered his eyes.

Sidney was good at talking down nervous grooms and jittery brides. Like the version of Josh Pendleton who hosted Marrying Mister Perfect, she excelled at pointing her charges toward love. But she’d had the odd couple call it quits too. It happened. Sometimes their happily-ever-after lay elsewhere.

There was always an air about those couples, when they finally called it a day. A misery that held a finality that always made her heart hurt. Often mixed with resignation and a guilty relief.

Josh had that.

Something had happened to him. And she’d bet her next commission it had to do with his wife. “Rough night?”

He shrugged, downing his water and then grimacing as if he wished it were something stronger. “You’re interrupting my bender.”

“I can see that.”

He frowned down at his hands, then began yanking at something on his left hand. His wedding ring.

Josh tugged at the gold band, cursing as it caught on his knuckle. He struggled with it, taking a better grip and it came loose with a jerk. The back of his hand smacked his glass, sending it flying to shatter against the base of the bar, glass raining down to cover the floor.

“Shit. Your feet.”

Sidney looked down. She hadn’t bothered with shoes when she made her ill-advised escape attempt and belatedly realized she was standing barefoot in a carpet minefield of glass shards. She barely had time to register the fact and set down her own glass before strong arms caught her behind her knees and swept her away from the mess.

Or at least tried to.

*

Josh realized his mistake approximately five seconds after trying to do the gallant thing. Carrying the barefoot Suitorette away from the debris would have been chivalrous… if he hadn’t been too tipsy to make it through the maneuver with his balance intact.

He staggered as he tried to straighten with her in his arms. Knowing he was going down, one way or another, he managed to aim his collapse toward the nearest sofa and all but tossed Sidney onto it before crash landing onto the adjacent ottoman.

She smothered a laugh with one hand. “Your heroism is a little rusty.”

“I’m not supposed to be your hero,” he grumbled, giving vertical another try—and coming up with more success.

“Don’t worry, Sir Galahad. I’m not planning to fall in love with you,” she said, laughter still lingering in her voice. “I know better than that.”