He grabbed his phone and dialed one of his men. “Electronics problem on set. We could use your magical touch right about now, Rick.” He hung up. “Listen, Meagan.” He ran his hands down her arms. “You need to take a deep breath and ease up a little.”

“Sam, please don’t—”

“Don’t what?” he asked. “Worry about you? Ask what I can do to help? Care enough to be here with you, instead of somewhere else?”

She blinked at him and then pressed her hand to her face. “I’m sorry. I’m just…” She looked at him. “I’m a wreck. I swear this show has made me this way. I was never like this in the newsroom. You were right. I’m too close to this.”

“In a few minutes, what will happen, is what will happen. Whatever that final product is, embrace it and call it a success, Meg.”

She paused, considering his words, and then to his surprise, pushed to her toes and kissed him. She smiled at him and then disappeared back onto the stage.

Sam’s lips turned upward, his blood running hot for Meagan, who was driving him to the edge, he wanted her so badly. And though he was certain their time out of bed was working in his favor, helping him to get to know her, keeping her from hiding behind sex, he was damn ready to strip her naked and have his way with her. Or her have her way with him. He really didn’t care, as long as the end result meant they were together.

Tonight couldn’t arrive fast enough as far as he was concerned. In fact, tonight seemed a perfect time for pleasure in celebration of the success he was sure the show was going to have.

It was the prospect of holding Meagan, and making love to her, that led him through the next several hours of the show—including the tight security needs of a Pop star—with that smile remaining on his face. That was, until the last fifteen minutes of the show, when the bottom three dancers were announced.

Sam stood across the stage from Meagan, his eyes locked intently with hers. Derek, the host, called the first name. A dancer named Rena took her place next to Derek. The second name… Tabitha. Sam couldn’t say he’d be sorry to see her leave. But it was the next name that set the place into a purr of shocked “ohhhhs.” The final name was Carrie.

Sam watched as Meagan’s face paled. Yes, he knew she had a soft spot for Carrie, but beyond that, Meagan was a smart cookie. She was bound to be thinking the same thing he was. What were the chances that both Carrie and Tabitha would end up in the bottom three without some manipulation of the results?

18

MEAGAN FELT SICK when Carrie’s name was called. She did see Carrie as the underdog, which she’d always felt a bit herself. But then there was the coincidence factor. Had the judges been persuaded formally or informally to put Carrie’s and Tabitha’s names on the bottom three?

Kiki stepped to Meagan’s side, digging her fingers into Meagan’s arm. “We can’t lose Carrie or Tabitha. Please tell me we aren’t about to lose Carrie or Tabitha. We need them for ratings.”

Relief washed over Meagan. Kiki hadn’t played with the outcome of the judging. This second guessing Kiki thing was distracting her more than she thought.

“The first contestant that’s safe is…” Derek said, “Tabitha.”

Tabitha squealed and rushed to the bleacher-style seating where the other nine safe contestants were sitting. She flung her arms around Jensen’s neck. Carrie looked sad and disappointed, and suddenly Meagan felt as if she were on that stage with Carrie, about to hear her fate. She felt guilty for that, knowing this was emotional for the other candidate, Rena, as well, but it was Carrie whose moment Meagan was in.

“And the final contestant who is safe tonight is…Carrie!” Carrie burst into tears right along with the girl who’d just found out she would be the first to leave the show. Instead of rushing to safety, Carrie turned to her and hugged Rena. Meagan watched Carrie walk with the ousted dancer, talking to her, comforting her, and knew she was right about Carrie being a nice person.

Derek wrapped up the broadcast and the aftermath followed, the celebration and tears backstage. Meagan spoke to the celebrity judges and put fears of contestant tampering aside. These were people who took their roles seriously. The performances had been the deciding factor, and Carrie and Tabitha had spent too much time focused on Jensen, rather than on practicing, to come out on top.

When Meagan’s team, with Sam and his men following closely, arrived at the contestants’ house, they’d all vowed there would be a midnight swim. By the time they’d all quickly changed, a delivery of gourmet strawberry cupcakes arrived, donated by a famous chef who hosted a show on the same network. Everyone dug into the treats, even Rena, who seemed to find the indulgence welcome.

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