Home > Hold Me Today (Put A Ring On It #1)

Hold Me Today (Put A Ring On It #1)
Author: Maria Luis

1

Nick

On a beach somewhere in Bali

Breaking hearts isn’t in my DNA.

Call me a pussy, a romantic, a believer in the unicorn of all emotions—true love—but I want the real deal. I crave what my parents have shared for thirty-something years; what my younger sister Effie has with her wife; what I almost had six years ago before my ex-fiancée dumped me at the altar with a half-hiccupped, “I’m in love with someone else.”

That someone else turned out to be her I-wear-pocket-protectors-like-a-douchebag boss, the bastard.

So, yeah, I’m talking about the white-picket-fence, make-love-even-when-you-haven’t-showered happily-ever-after. The kind that sinks into your bones and accelerates your heart rate and turns your hands into a clammy mess.

My hands aren’t clammy now. They’re ice cold despite the balmy weather and the fact that I’m wearing a Hawaiian T-shirt the color of puke and a pair of too-tight board shorts that hug my crotch the same incessant way my grandmother anxiously squeezes her stress-relief balls.

“Women will love that bulge,” the wardrobe crew assured me with a pat on the shoulder.

The women might, but there’s a good chance my ability to reproduce will die today.

“Gamóto.”

The Greek curse for “fuck” flies off my tongue, as it has since my teenage years when my Greek mother warned me and Effie against using English profanity in public. I’ve never been more grateful for speaking two languages than when I showed up on set for Put A Ring On It, a reality show that might as well be the budget-cut edition of the infamous The Bachelor franchise.

See: the Hawaiian T-shirt and board-shorts bit.

I shift my hips and pray for relief.

The small, velvet box burns in the front pocket of my shorts as I face down the production crew. Louder, in perfectly clear English, I grind out, “I can’t do this.”

“Buck up, Stamos,” rumbles Joe, the show’s director. He side-eyes me like I’m a caged animal clawing for escape, then casually claps me on the back like we’re best buds. I’d have to be tone-deaf to miss his hearty, fuck-you laugh. Prick. If I wasn’t determined to leave this island uncuffed, I’d throw a fist right at his pretty-boy, Hollywood face. “It’s only pre-engagement jitters. You love her, dontcha?”

It was easy to think so in the midst of orchestrated dinner dates and cameras being shoved into my face and producers pointedly asking, “How do you feel? You love her yet?”

I haven’t answered “yes” once. And now that it’s down to me and one other contestant, the questions have narrowed down to the most vital: “How are you gonna propose?” It’s all I can do not to ditch the wannabe-surfer outfit and make a break for it, away from the white, sandy beach where Savannah Rose is waiting.

She deserves better than what I can offer: nothing but a gut-deep awareness that marrying her would be the equivalent of getting hitched to myself. I like me—hell, I even enjoy my own company most days—but there’s a reason why my mom thanked the Good Lord that I didn’t turn out to be a twin, like the doctor first predicted. Thirty-two years later, she’s still pinching my cheek and praising her lucky stars like she won the MegaBucks.

So, yeah, me and Savannah? Despite the high hopes I had coming onto the show, we turned out to be the same blend of black and white, equally balanced in temperament, opinions, and our shared preference for the introverted, hermit life.

Savannah Rose is lovely, but I just don’t love her.

I open my mouth, ready to flay Joe alive with the reminder that, according to the contract I signed before embarking on this shit show of a journey, I can leave whenever the hell I want. Including on the last day of production, when I and the other runner-up are expected to get down on bended knee and propose.

Joe beats me to the punch. “Listen, Nick. Fact is, you gotta do it now, ’kay?” He thrusts a finger at the narrow cobblestoned pathway that leads from the cottage I’ve been sharing with my fellow contestant, Dominic DaSilva, to the beach. “Right there. She’s waiting for you right down there. You gonna disappoint her? You gonna let insecurities cloud your judgment? You said you loved her only last night!”

The hell I did.

“Joe,” I grunt, shoving one hand into my pocket to grab the engagement-ring box, “I’m not doing it. Not for you, not for TV, and definitely not for Savannah Rose. She came here lookin’ for love and I’m not going to be that asshole who lies to her for the sake of good ratings, you hear me?”

I slam the velvet box down on the entryway table to my right.

And, because the gravitational pull of the universe is a conniving son of a gun, the box skids as I let go, turning over onto its side and falling from the table.

Crashing to the floor.

Cracking wide open.

The diamond ring, which probably costs more than my restoration business is worth back in Boston, pops out from the box. It circles on the tile floor, once, twice, before teetering flat on its side. Sardonically, I lift a brow. “If that isn’t an ironic show of how this is about to go down, then I don’t know what is.”

Joe’s knees pop as he snatches the ring off the floor and shoves it back into the box. With a speed I don’t anticipate, he crams the whole thing into the pocket of my shorts and comes mighty damn close to fondling the family jewels.

Full confessional: there’s not much wriggle room in these things.

I arc my ass backward, away from his wandering hands. “Jesus! What the hell are you doing, man?”

“Earning myself a damn paycheck.” He jabs an accusatory finger in my face. “You’re going out there with this fuckin’ ring, Stamos, you hear me? You’re gonna get down on one knee and we’ll let Savannah know before filming rolls that you want out. She’ll do the dumping, not you.”

My jaw drops without ceremony. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I told you yesterday that I wanted to talk to her without the cameras. I don’t want to hurt her. She’s a great girl—”

“But she’s not the one for you.” Joe rolls his eyes and twiddles his fingers in the air like a complete asshat. “Yada, yada, yada. I’ve heard this shit before when I was working with Chris-fuckin’-Harrison on The Bachelor. You think this is my first rodeo? No, Mr. Adonis, it’s not. We’re doing this my way since it’s my goddamn show. And my way is letting Savannah land the proverbial kick to your balls. Capiche?”

“No fucking capiche.”

Savannah isn’t any more in love with me than I am with her, if the few lackluster kisses we’ve shared are anything to go by. And that was all before we unanimously agreed to skip the overnight date last week. The way I look at it, that decision hammered the final nail in our coffin. I’m no virgin, and she isn’t either, which leads to only one conclusion: neither of us are feeling the chemistry.

It’s disappointing, yeah, considering I showed up at the Put A Ring On It house with big hopes of leaving with the love of my life. Sure, I only ended up on the show because Effie was convinced that I was failing—epically—in the dating department on my own. She wasn’t wrong, much as it grates me to admit it. I have a bad habit of choosing women who, in the end, don’t choose me back. And maybe there’s something to be said for letting someone else play matchmaker for once. Clearly, I haven’t been doing myself any favors since Brynn stormed out of that church.

After I pulled my head out of my ass (and my sister chewed me out for being a stick in the mud), I gradually warmed up to the idea of meeting a woman I never would have crossed paths with in my routine, day-to-day life in New England.

Hello, my name is Nick Stamos and I’m a closet romantic.

Sue me.

End of the day: it didn’t work out. But that doesn’t mean I’m keen on ending the relationship with lies tripping off the tongue. My mom taught me better. My dad taught me better.

And, yet, ten minutes later I find myself being led, like a lamb to the slaughter, down to the beach. I spot Savannah Rose immediately—it’s hard not to. With her caramel skin, thanks to her Creole heritage, and her rich, dark hair, Savannah is a show-stopper. Tall and willowy, she dropped jaws throughout filming, whether it was when she stepped out in a dress for a night out on the town or put on a bikini while relaxing on the beach. She’s serenity personified, rarely raising her voice, though I’d have to be an idiot not to notice that her spine is laced with steel.

Like I said, the two of us are peas in a pod. Reserved. Sometimes shy. But with unwavering backbone—being taken advantage of isn’t a concern.

My molars grind together as Joe waves me forward from where he sits beside the camera crew. They’re camped out between two sky-high palm trees, as though the rotund barks are wide enough to provide some sort of coverage and conceal them from sight.

To provide us with the illusion of privacy.

My hands clench at my sides.

Do the right thing, I shout at myself. Get down there and do the right thing.

I’m not a bad guy. Hell, I’ve always been the good guy, if I’m being real honest about it. The guy mothers love. The one they have no qualms about their daughters spending time with because, “that Nick, he’s just such a nice person.”

I don’t feel all that nice right now.

Don’t feel all that good either.

My bare feet sink into the warm sand as I come to a stop before Savannah. She peers up at me through long, spiky lashes. I hold onto her dark gaze, trying to get a read on her. Has Joe told her a damn thing? Has he relayed the message that I need to tell her myself—that I don’t love her the way she deserves to be loved?

That I can’t propose forever with her, let alone the rest of today?

Her pink, glossy lips curl in greeting, offering a shy smile that sucker punches me in the gut.

She doesn’t know. No way in hell would she smile at me like that—or at all—if she knew how I really feel.

Ah, fuck.

I slide a quick glance over to Joe, who keeps his attention locked on the monitor set up before him.

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