But I was still numb about what had just happened at Judgment. I couldn’t get past it, not yet. It was like a raw wound. I wasn’t hurt, but I was close. “So what happened back there?”
The assistant looked over at me, her brow wrinkling. “Back at the council? We won’t know until someone reviews the voting booth tapes for the show.” She shrugged. “Even so, seemed pretty obvious to me that you’d been set up.”
It seemed pretty obvious to me, too. But I wanted to know who had done it. Who had flipped the entire tribe against me so completely? And what role did Dean play in all of this? Had he voted with them, or had he been just as surprised as I was?
I wanted to trust him, to believe in him, but my mind kept focusing on that last day in camp. Of Shanna with her hands on his shoulders and Dean laughing. Dean winning immunity. Dean unable to spend a moment alone with me after the challenge. Dean with his head bent toward Lana’s after my vote, whispering madly.
It all left a sick feeling in my gut.
Eventually the production assistant—Jamie, I later found out—had me settled in at the cabin. There were a bunch of bunk beds and multiple rooms in the beautiful four-bedroom villa, with a wet bar and the biggest, most well-stocked kitchen I’d ever seen. There were even a few people on hand to cook for me and fuss over my skinny, bug-bitten body.
After a midnight meal in which I’d eaten a little bit of everything they’d tossed at me, I found myself alone in the villa. Jamie promised to show me the impromptu studio where the crew was set up, but in the morning. And then there were post interviews and all kinds of promotional things to go through for the next few days before the next person was voted off. But for tonight, it was just me, my chosen bed, and the shower I was dying to take.
The shower itself struck me as a palpable thing. Just like the cabin Dean and I had shared for a reward, this one had swinging wooden doors and a massive shower room. The reminder hit me hard, and I began to cry quietly before I’d even turned the nozzle on, and I let myself weep as I showered, soaped my body up, rinsed, and started the process all over again.
Stupid to get so worked up over a game. Stupid to cry about it. Stupid to think I wasn’t going to get voted off. Strangely enough, those weren’t the parts that bothered me. My restless mind kept circling back to Dean.
I’d fallen for the guy—hard.
And I was beginning to think he’d betrayed me.
What the f**k just happened?—Dean Woodall, Day 22
A bunch of hooting and whistling heralded my arrival when Jamie led me to the production crew. I gave her a puzzled look.
“You’re really popular around here. Everyone loves you, especially the producers.”
I blinked. “What? Why?” The looks they were giving me weren’t cheerful as much as they were… well, a bit too personal. I’d chosen to wear a new sarong for a skirt and my bikini top, and I was regretting that decision. I should have sprung for something a little more sedate… but after a month on the island, this felt dressy to me and almost too warm. My ankle was bound tight, and I wore a pair of slip-on sandals. My hair was in a pony-tail and I wore no makeup. Nothing to write home about.
“You and Dean,” she said gently. At my continued blank look, she went on. “You guys, uh, well… your romance was on camera. The producers like that sort of thing. Good ratings.”
I glanced at the cameramen, who were laughing and nudging each other as we passed. “Romance on camera?” Something wasn’t adding up. A moment passed before I began to get an uneasy feeling. “You mean…”
“Reeeeally on camera,” Jamie confirmed. “We sort of have shots of you two everywhere.”
I groaned and hid my face. “Oh my god. Oh my god. Tell me that you don’t have us hav**g s*x on camera.”
“Cheer up,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. “At least we’re not a cable network.”
I groaned even louder. This whole experience had just gone from bad to worse. “Shoot me, please.”
“Don’t worry. The network has a no-nudity clause. Anything we shot that isn’t family flavored won’t be shown.”
Somehow that didn’t help me much right now, as the crew was giving me rather knowing looks. My face was bright red and I had a feeling it would be for a while.
“There’s our first jury member,” a voice said behind me, entirely too cheerful for my tastes.
I turned and faced a familiar man, dressed like he was out on safari and not on an island. “Mr. Matlock,” I greeted, remembering the producer from our brief meeting in my boss’s office. “How are you?”
“Sad to see you,” he said, and clapped me on the shoulder with a big, callused hand. “Had no idea you’d turn out to be such an entertaining contestant, Miss Abby.”
I blushed, shocked beyond words that he’d bring that up to my face. “Um…”
“The production crew is a huge fan of that scene when you threw paint in Dean’s face,” Jamie interrupted smoothly.
I relaxed a little, though the blush remained on my face. “Oh. Wow, that feels like so long ago.”
“Three weeks,” Mr. Matlock agreed and tucked my hand into his arm. “It’s kind of a good thing that you’re our first juror. This will give us plenty of time to go over the articles that MediaWeek should run about the show, and you can spend the rest of the time getting interviews and reviewing tapes.”
“Great,” I echoed, faking enthusiasm. Crap. I’d totally forgotten about the book. How on earth was I going to write about the time I’d spent here and avoid the topic of my relationship with Dean? It didn’t seem right to write about it. That would just make everything… weird.
“That’s wonderful. Let me know when you’re ready to start on the tapes and I’ll show you the area we’ve set up for your viewing room.”
I glanced around the room. More of the smirking crew lingered, and I had a sneaking suspicion that they were waiting for Mr. Matlock to leave so they could embarrass the crap out of me. “You know, there’s no sense in waiting,” I said, keeping my voice cheerful. “No time like the present to start.”
Anything to get away, pronto.
To my relief, Mr. Matlock was more than willing to show me the screening room. A few metal folding chairs were set in a small, tiled room and I was allowed to view reel after reel of TV footage. After showing me all the different gadgetry that the show had been able to afford (which I appropriately oohed and ahhed over), I was allowed my choice of reels to watch, with minimal supervision. A guy was also in the room, but he was editing and had headphones on and barely glanced at me.
I selected one file listed as “Pre-show interviews” and saw my own at the top of the stack. Ugh. I didn’t want to see what I looked like on camera. I opted for the next one down—Alys. Her reel was rather short, but funny. It was odd to see her with ruddy, full cheeks and a face full of makeup. She also seemed to be rather high-spirited going into the game, which was surprising. My memories of Alys and her grimly determined face didn’t match the reel. I wondered how many other people didn’t seem to match their ‘game’ personality. After watching and making myself a few notes on a pad of paper, I reached for the next one and the breath sucked out of me. Dean’s reel. Overcome with a mix of emotions—shyness, uncertainty, dread—I couldn’t seem to stop myself from placing the reel in and hitting “Play.”
It was Dean, in a casual T-shirt (Nike logo) and a pair of jean shorts. His hair was ruthlessly short—a skull trim. The deep golden tan was still there, and I wondered idly what he did in real life. And that’s when I noticed the looping red and blue ribbons around his neck, especially when he gestured to them.
“You want to know about these?” he was telling the camera and laughed with delight, as if that were the funniest question ever. “Don’t you guys know who I am? Dean Woodall, two gold and one silver in the last Olympics. Swimming. Yup. Yup, that’s me. Money? I’m here for the challenge of the game.” He hefted one medal and held it next to his cheek, grinning and hamming it up for the camera.
That pose seemed really familiar to me. So familiar that my gut clenched. Where had I seen that before?
The interviewer was laughing. “That your SI pose?”
“Cover shot,” he agreed with the interviewer and let the medal fall back on his chest.
Oh god. Oh god. Oh god.
“Tell me about strategy, Dean. What’s your plan for the game itself?”
He gave an easy, lightweight shrug of those muscled, sleek shoulders, and my heart clenched at the familiar movement. “I’m looking forward to the competition. Test myself against elements… and the other players. Romance the ladies? If I need to. Anything to win, but I’m not specifically looking to meet a girl.
Romance the ladies? If I need to.
Anything to win.
Oh god. I was going to throw up.
This couldn’t be real. No way. I turned away from the footage as Dean continued to go into detail about how he planned on flirting with the girls to get ahead in the game. His casual laugh grated on my nerves, and I couldn’t take any more. My fingers fumbled for the pause button and I froze the screen. It highlighted on Dean’s face and his sleepy, laughing eyes. He looked sexy as hell.
I wanted to punch him in the face.
Two hours and a dozen of Dean’s interviews later, my heart had been shattered into a thousand pieces. The guy I’d slept with—the guy I’d gone crazy over—had used me. Every promotional interview was either about his past as a playboy Olympic Medalist or how he was going to be a major flirt in the game to use women to his own advantage, and when he didn’t see the advantage? He’d discard them.
And while I initially didn’t want to believe it, his words rang true over and over again.
“It’s my goal to hook up with a girl partner,” he told the camera with a laughing grin. “Preferably someone cute, but that doesn’t matter. I need her to trust me, and when I’ve got her wrapped around my finger, I’m golden. And then when she’s no longer any use to me?” He drew a finger across his neck in the classic gesture. “Done. Finito. It’s all about me in this game… but of course, the girls don’t have to know that.”
I was such a fool. I thought of the joke I’d made about a grown man being unable to look masculine in a Speedo. He’d given me such a puzzled look at the time. I’d had no idea why. Now I knew, I thought as I stared at the Sports Illustrated photos of him in a Speedo and his medals. My heart sank.
Depressed and unhappy, I spent the next two days with a carton of ice cream in my hands and making notes in my journals. There was a ton of work for me to do now that I was off the show—completing interviews, taping media junkets, answering questions, and taking notes on how the crew worked around the set. Since I’d be writing a ‘secret’ expose, I got behind the scenes information on just about everything—from how they came up with the challenges to how much influence the producers actually had. It was rather eye-opening.