Chapter 2 -
Heat scorches my cheeks as Liam smiles smugly at me from his two-storey height. My heels dig into the plush carpet. I'm not moving.
A cameraman swooshes around us, and the camera rises and falls.
Oh my goodness. This is a flipping nightmare. Wake up, Trina. This isn't real.
Liam gives a warm chuckle, places his other hand on my elbow, and leads me to the stage. Gasps and cheers come from either side of us, but all the faces are a blur. Lights pierce my vision. I must look like a startled squirrel on a caffeine high frozen in a comical pose, just begging to be turned into a meme. My legs are stiff, and my arms are wood. Liam is the puppeteer, and he snickers under his breath. He's doing this to get back at me. What a turd.
Well, that's not happening.
If only I could get my jaw to work. I'm an introvert at heart. I love my quiet corner and always have my head in a book. This. This TV crapola is not my jam. I hate attention. I love journalism–but on paper, not in front of America. I look into the camera lens. Melanie. Pam. Are my sisters seeing this? Get me out of this mess.
But this isn't live. Is it? I hope not. They have time to pick another lady. Start over.
The TV host greets me with a kiss to each cheek. "Congratulations." He twirls me to face the ballroom attendees. "Liam Ashley has selected his bride." He glances at the place where a name tag should be. "Tell us a little bit about yourself. Starting with your name."
I grit out a smile. What should I do? How do I say this?
Liam wraps his arm around my waist. "This is what attracted me to Trina in the first place. She's a little on the shy side." He kisses my forehead. "Take a deep breath, you can do this. For us."
My neck snaps in his direction and I use every ounce of self-control not to tear him to shreds in front of millions of Americans. No. He will not win. He will not have the upper hand and make me look like a fool on national TV.
I manage to moisten my mouth and free my tongue enough to speak. "Are you sure you know what you're getting into? This could all be a big mistake. I can get a little crazy at times." I let out a weird cackle feeling more than a little crazy.
He chuckles and looks at the host. "And she has a hilarious sense of humor. I'm one hundred percent certain that I've picked the right woman. The next six months are going to be marital bliss."
The host laughs. "Settle down, Liam. We have several challenges coming your way." He directs his gaze to the camera. "We're not going to make it easy on the newlyweds. We will put their new love to the test to see if an arranged marriage can work in modern America. Every week, a new challenge will interrupt their lives and a few unexpected ones when we need to shake things up a little. Tune in each week to see if Liam and Trina can stand the test of time. Starting from tomorrow, they have an intense week of wedding preparations. They must organize their wedding in seven days. Vote to the numbers on the bottom of the screen if you think Liam and Trina will survive their first week?"
As the host finishes his statement, a wave of panic crashes over me. Wedding preparations? Arranged marriage? This is not what I came here for. I stare at Liam, desperately searching for any sign that he shares my hesitation, but he stands there with a confident smile.
"Wedding preparations in seven days?" I manage to choke out, my voice trembling. "I think there's been a mistake." I squint out to the crowd and wriggle my finger. "Princess Leah. I mean, Lily. She'll make a better match for Liam than me."
Lily’s head perks higher at the mention of her name.
Liam's smile falters for a moment, and he places a comforting hand on my arm. "Trina, I know this is unexpected, but trust me, we can make this work. Don’t doubt yourself. We'll figure it out together."
The host jumps in, clearly delighted by the unexpected twist. "Ah, Trina, sometimes love finds us in the most unconventional ways. This is your chance to open your heart and give this arranged marriage a shot. This could be the best decision you've ever made. Life changing, even."
I'm trapped, caught off guard by the pressure of the situation and the millions of eyes watching my every move. I can't find the words to express my apprehension, and my mind is a whirlwind. I don't know how to get out of this.
The host's voice booms over the loudspeakers, "Well, America, it seems Trina is a little speechless. Let's give her some time to process everything. We'll see if she can find her voice and embrace this incredible opportunity. We will check in with the couple tomorrow. But for now, they have a romantic evening ahead of them." He turns to Liam. "Your limousine awaits you outside." He winks.
What the–? He winked. In front of my mom who's probably watching this show. This better not be live.
Like a tornado, I'm swept away through the crowd, hustled down corridors, and out into the brisk night air. My brain is fuzzy, but as soon as the driver closes the door behind us, I turn to Liam and let him have it.
"What the heck, Liam Ashley!" I yell so loud that my lungs hurt. My voice bounces off the thick tinted windows of the mobile palace. "Did you orchestrate this whole charade to get back at me? Are you really that petty?"
Liam's cocky facade cracks, revealing a hint of guilt in his eyes as he fumbles for an answer. "Trina, please. Let me explain. I wanted to prove to you that there's much more to me than what you wrote in that scathing article."
I narrow my eyes, not buying his excuses. "Oh, so you knew I was reporting tonight and decided to pick me for your revenge? Well, congratulations, buddy. You've managed to make a fool out of me on national TV."
He extends his hand toward me, attempting to appease my inner rambunctious beast. "Trina, it wasn't just about revenge. I genuinely wanted a chance to prove you wrong, to show you a different side of me. I hope at the end of this, you'll rewrite the article."
I scoff, pulling away from his touch. "Prove me wrong? By subjecting me to this ridiculous spectacle. Sorry, Liam, but your plan backfired."
My phone buzzes with a message, and I quickly check it. It's my boss, Mike, asking about the progress of the show. Anger surges through me as I realize Liam had colluded with the network to create this entire scenario.
"You manipulated all of this, didn't you? You and the network, trying to humiliate me for daring to write a truthful article about you." I glare at him, my voice laced with fury.
Is that remorse etched on his face? "Trina, I didn't–"
I hold up a hand. "I'm stuck in this mess. But I'm a woman of my word, I. Will. Not. Let. You. Win."
I dial my boss's number, my fingers trembling with the adrenaline pumping in my veins. "Mike, it's Trina. I've been setup, and I want out. Did you see the show?"
Mike’s voice on the other end sounds grave. "Trina, I had no idea this would happen. I'll see what I can do to rectify the situation. But if I can’t fix it, we could make this work. This could be a great opportunity for all involved."
I nibble on the inside of my cheek. Was Mike in this coo as well? “Call me back when you have answers. Thanks.” I end the call.
As the limousine rolls on, a mix of embarrassment, betrayal, and determination fuels my system. Liam may have set this trap for me, but I refuse to let him dictate the course of the next six months.
With a deep breath, I turn to Liam. "You thought you could get away with this? Oh boy, you're in for a wild ride. You'll be marrying a reporter who will dig all sorts of nasty dirt on you. You have awoken the Bride-zilla in me. If I have to plan a wedding with you, you are going to hate every second of your existence."
I cross my arms over my chest and face the streetlamps as they zip by.
The limousine is deadly silent and then I hear it. It starts off as a tiny back-of-the-throat grunt, then a second one. A snicker. A chuckle. A snort. Full-blown laughter fills the cabin.
I snap my head to Liam. He's collapsed in the corner, red-faced, and cackling himself silly.
I grind my teeth. He thinks he can laugh now. Just wait. Just you wait, Liam Ashley.