Kara Kay George had agreed to be on The Stag as a favor to the producer, her old sorority sister. “I just need you for one night,” Noreen had begged. “Then you can go home.” But going home was not an option. As luck would have it, the Stag took a liking to her and decided to keep her around. No way would she fawn over him as the other women were doing. She had a business back home to run and no time for a silly romance, especially not with a man who had his eye on twenty-four other girls.
Tree Gunner had lost a bet at his best friend’s bachelor party, meaning that he had to apply to be on the popular TV show, The Stag. Of course the handsome son of a Houston building magnate was a shoo-in. Certain that he will not fall in love with any of the girls, Tree arrives on the show feeling smug and confident. He’ll enjoy the attention of twenty-five vain, beautiful women, all hoping to marry him and his money, and then haul it back to Houston, alone.
Luana Deneux goes on The Stag with one purpose in mind – to marry Tree Gunner. An heiress with a disappearing inheritance, she and her brother are desperate for her to marry The Stag in order to restore the family’s dwindling coffers, and they will stop at nothing to insure it happens.
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Tree Gunner stood in the immense ballroom, looking much calmer than he felt. Known as Houston’s Stud Man, he shouldn’t feel nervous about meeting a group of women, but he did. After all, these weren’t just any women. They were here hoping to marry him. The very word gave him the heebie-jeebies. Him, get married?His buddies must be laughing their heads off.
The cameras were readied, aimed at him, their lights blindingly bright. He could hear the crew cracking jokes. Something about how, “if I were in his shoes,” and “lucky dog.” He’d happily trade places with any one of them. It had been just his luck to win, or lose was a better word, the bet with his buddies. They’d been sowing wild oats at Jed’s bachelor party when someone had come up with the bright idea. Winning the bet meant that he had to apply to be on The Stag, which didn’t mean he’d get chosen, but, when you were the handsome son of a building magnate, what was the chance you’d get turned down? So, here he was, nervously awaiting the twenty-five beautiful young women who were coming to meet him to cast their spells and try to drag him to the altar. He cringed inwardly at the thought and looked around, having heard his name called.
“Tree.” He turned to see Noreen, the show’s producer, approaching. She was a saucy redhead with bright blue eyes and a ton of energy.
“The girls should be arriving any moment now,” she said, beaming. “Just smile and look at the camera. That’s right,” she cooed, her hands busy adjusting this and smoothing that. She tilted his chin at just the right angle, then placed her hands on his broad shoulders and turned him slightly. “Okay, just stay put, it’s almost show time.” She gave him an overly bright smile and hurried off to yell orders to Hal and Tom, the show’s cameramen.
“Take it easy,” Tree murmured to her back. “It’ll be okay.”
If she heard, she gave no indication, suddenly picking up her heels and running for the entrance. “They’re here!” she called.
The show’s announcer, a pleasant looking middle aged man, called out the first girl. Tree watched as she walked across the stage towards him, a fake smile plastered on her heavily made-up face. He murmured something polite, decided she’d be the first to go, and turned to wait for the next one. A whole parade of artificial smiles came by, none of them making a lasting impression. Some insinuated that they were “available.” Others claimed to be virgins waiting for the perfect man. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was safe. None of these women was a threat to his bachelorhood.
They were almost to the end of the line when he heard a commotion. He strained his eyes, trying to see beyond the bright camera lights to where two girls stood. They seemed to be having an argument over who would come out first. At last, a saucy brunette emerged, hips swaying rhythmically to the beat of the Hawaiian music. She pranced up to him, put a hand around his neck and kissed him soundly on the lips. “Hello, Mr. Dream Man,” she said huskily, and then gave his butt a pinch with her other hand.
Tree’s eyes opened wide in surprise, and he gave her a second look. Her ebony eyes were dark with passion: seductive, materialistic, and sexy as hell. Things were looking up. He grinned and kissed her back, and then turned his attention to the last girl.
She walked nonchalantly towards him, her chin stuck up in the air. Tree felt the breath die in his throat as his heart began pumping double time and his… “Oh no, stay down, boy,” he ordered under his breath. Unlike the other women, this one seemed totally unaware of her charms and confident as hell at the same time. His gaze roamed over her body, itching to run his hands over every inch of it. She filled out the sarong perfectly with softly rounded hips and bosom, a tiny waist, and mile long legs. To top it all off, she had a healthy natural tan that let him know she enjoyed being outdoors. Her hair was the color of spun gold and swung freely about her shoulders. Then his eyes collided with hers. They were a dark lavender that reminded him of an exotic flower. A wave of hot passion shot from them, turning his insides to molten lava. She quickly lowered them, and when she looked up again, those lovely exotic eyes looked bored and uninterested, making him wonder whether he had imagined it.
Reaching him, she extended a neatly manicured hand and smiled politely. “Hi, I’m Kara,” she said in a silky voice. He ignored the outstretched hand and gripped her shoulders, pulling her against his chest. He heard her gasp just before he leaned down and his lips grazed that luscious mouth. The high heel that suddenly ground into his toe brought him back to his right mind with a jolt. She gave him a smile of pure innocence, murmured, “sorry,” and walked away to join the other girls, hips softly swaying.
Pinched by one and maimed by another. He didn’t know whether to rub his butt or grab his toe. He did his best to hide the pain behind a pleasant smile as the camera came in for a close-up. Then Noreen was there, sticking a microphone in his hand, and asking him questions.
“Cut,” she called, and then shoved a list into his hand. “These are points to consider when you qualify the girls. You won’t want to let them see it, so just take a moment to look it over, and then stick it in your pocket.” Noreen looked him up and down, patted him on the shoulder and then turned to yell directions to Hal and Tom.
Tree looked at the piece of paper in his hands. Points to consider huh? He scanned down the list. It sounded as if he was choosing a prized thoroughbred. This evening, he should approach each girl and determine her breeding, financial status, social standing, and morals. How was he supposed to remember all these details about twenty-five girls? Ah, but here came Noreen now, with a small PDA in her hand.
As if reading his mind, she held out the PDA and said, “You’ll use this to keep track of each girl’s qualities. After you talk to each girl, pull out your PDA, bring up her name, and enter the details. At the end of the evening, just total the points for each girl and the PDA will let you know which ten girls you’ve selected. Easy huh?”
Tree looked at it and frowned. A computer was going to choose his wife? “I don’t like this.” He turned the little PDA over in his hands, and then shoved it at Noreen. “I’ll talk to each girl and make my selections based on who I like best.”
Noreen tapped her foot and gave him an impatient look. “I don’t have time for this nonsense. Use the PDA. You’re the one making the entries. You’re the one making the decision, not the computer. It just keeps track of your thoughts so you know who you liked best.”
“Like a little black book, huh?”
“Yeah, like a little black book,” Noreen agreed. “Just remember, it’s confidential and top secret. Don’t let it out of your sight.”
Noreen rushed off, and Tree spent a few minutes familiarizing himself with his little black book. He pulled up Kara George’s name and read the brief biography. “Thirty-two years old from Murphy, Texas, Miss George owns and operates a successful cruise and tour business,” he read. “Miss George is hoping to find love and lasting happiness with the Stag, Tree Gunner.” He laughed aloud. No way did Miss George look eager to fall in love with him. Other than that brief moment when her eyes seemed to gleam with passion, she looked put out at having to be here at all. He pulled up the comment page and typed: “Keep this one around, no matter what,” snapped the PDA closed, and stuck it in his pocket, a smile of satisfaction on his face. He was going to make her pay for the feelings she had aroused in him, whether purposely done or not.
Cher Lane lives in Texas with her husband, four cats and a dog. She has three sons and one daughter, two step daughters, 15 grandchildren, and five step grandchildren. When she’s not writing, she enjoys working out, going for walks, swimming, sewing and cooking.