Heat burned her face and Paige suspected her skin matched the side of a fire engine. How could Aunt Bebe do that? Hadn’t she told her aunt she wasn’t interested in winning any men tonight?
“They’re waiting for you up on stage,” Aunt Bebe whispered, leaning close to her.
Paige looked first at her aunt, a woman she loved but at the moment didn’t particularly like, and then up at Scott Belmont and Rose on the stage. So far each winner had joined their bachelor on stage for a kiss and some photos before sitting back down in the audience together.
“I hate being on stage too,” another woman at the table said. “But you don’t have to stay up there long. A kiss, a few quick pictures, and you can bring Mr. Hottie back to the table.”
If going on stage was the only problem, she’d march up there now and get it over with. The fact she had to go up there, kiss a man she’d never even spoken to in front of hundreds of people while being photographed was the biggest but not the only obstacle holding her back.
“The sooner you go, the sooner you can sit back down,” Aunt Bebe said, patting her hand affectionately.
Leaning closer to her aunt, she whispered, “I can’t believe you did this, Aunt Bebe. You knew I didn’t want this.” She didn’t wait for a reply before pushing back her chair and standing. Thanks to Aunt Bebe she had no other choice.
Perspiration trickled down her spine and her legs shook, but somehow she managed to climb the stairs. Left foot, right foot, Paige mentally repeated as she forced herself across the stage toward the podium.
Either Scott was getting impatient, or he’d picked up on her apprehension because he met her halfway, something none of the other bachelors had done. Instead they’d all waited for the women to reach them. Of course, the other winning bidders had made their way on stage in no time.
Smiling at her, he took her hand. “Relax, we’ll be out of the spotlight soon,” he said, his voice low even though it was unlikely anyone in the audience would hear him. With his free hand Scott indicated to the photographer that he should move closer if he wanted pictures, rather than make them walk back toward the podium again.
Once the photographer was in position, Scott turned toward her and she knew what was coming. A kiss. Every bachelor and winner had shared one.
“It’s nice to meet you. We’ll have fun, I promise.” He lowered his mouth to hers, his barely-there beard rubbing against her skin.
Her ears burned as the heat from her face spread and her stomach twisted itself into a pretzel. She needed off the stage.
Scott’s lips left hers, and she took in a deep breath but couldn’t seem to unclench her jaw.
“Let’s go somewhere a little less crowded and talk,” Scott said, and she wondered just what kind of expression she wore. Actually, on second thought she probably didn’t want to know.
With the inside of her mouth coated in cotton and her tongue permanently stuck to the roof of her mouth, she could only manage a nod. Still holding her hand, he led her back the way she’d come and out of the spotlight.
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