I shift in the saddle, getting hard at the prospect.
Lady Sarah Von Titebottum. A cute, odd bird with—from what I could tell in her well-fitted but drab black dress—a very fitting name. Pretty face, too: big, dark, long-lashed eyes that sparkled behind those prim glasses and a lush mouth made for moaning.
I’ve known girls like her before. The aristocracy is actually a very small group, and some of the families are all about keeping their offspring—particularly their female offspring—sheltered from the rest of the world. Hidden away in private, all-girl academies where they interact with only their own. It makes for reserved, intelligent, but generally plain and tediously proper young ladies.
Although she’s obviously the quiet type, Sarah held her own with me. She was clever, charming in a bashful way—different. People are so disappointingly predictable that being surprised by that shy slip of a girl feels almost . . . tantalizing.
“Just like that, Prince Henry,” the director calls. “That smile right there—that’s what we’ve been looking for. Whatever put that look on your face, keep thinking about it.”
Well, that’s not going to be difficult.
Unlike the show itself, the host of Matched is the genuine article. She’s authentically crackers. As mad as a box of frogs.
She’s Emily Rasputin, an American stage actress who was known as the Queen of Broadway in her prime. A notorious cocaine addiction, a hit-and-run scandal, and a contemptuous divorce in the nineties knocked her off her throne. But she reappeared a few years back as the host of television’s newest, hottest reality show. Her suspenseful hosting skills and the bold, prying questions she poses to the contestants have become as big of a draw as the show itself.
And everyone loves a comeback story. I should know.
But she’s a full-on nutter—a method hostess. She insists on doing only one take per scene and refuses to interact with anyone, unless it’s on film. Real emotion and reaction, according to Vanessa, is the hardest to capture, and Miss Rasputin thrives on it.
When I, fucking finally, make it up to the courtyard of the castle, where twenty ladies are waiting, the cameras don’t stop rolling. There are four . . . no, five cameramen so they can capture every angle and every interaction. They move between us like ghosts through walls, pausing and zooming in to catch something interesting when they find it.
But I ignore the cameras and instead focus on the expression of the lovely ladies all around me, smiling and adoring. Confidence that was once so familiar and has been sorely missing these last months surges back in my chest. This is the life I’m used to. And I think doing this show may turn out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.
“Here ye, here ye,” Emily calls into her microphone, wearing a shiny long gold coat, almost matching blond hair, and big hoop earrings that could fit around a wrist. “I present to you, ladies of Wessco, His Royal Highness, Prince Henry! He comes in search of true love and to make that true love queen of his heart and queen of his country.”
Emily lifts up her hand, clutching a group of necklaces with charms dangling from each one. “At the end of this night, Prince Henry will place a glass slipper charm on the pillow of each lady he chooses to remain here at Anthorp Castle. Only ten of you will be chosen. Then, each night after, one lady will leave until His Royal Highness bestows the diamond tiara on the one who will be his royal bride.” She looks straight into the camera. “Welcome, ladies and our audience at home, to Matched—Royal Edition!”
The first event of the show is speed dating. Before the cameras started rolling again, Vanessa told us to “be ourselves,” whatever that may be. To not hold back—that any conversation that doesn’t work for the show or isn’t fit for television can be fixed in the editing room later. I’m sitting at a table with a black-curtained partition across the middle. The curtain lifts and I get two minutes with each lady to see if, as Emily put it, we have an “instant connection.” Some of the girls I already know—one or two I’ve already screwed, not that I wouldn’t mind a repeat. But for the moment, I sip my scotch and enjoy the electricity that sparks in my veins from the excitement and the fun that practically lights up the whole damn castle.
And the first lady up is . . . the Duchess of Perth, Laura Benningson. I’ve known Laura for years; she’s beautiful, with thick light-brown hair and sparkly light-blue eyes.
She was engaged to Mario Vitrolli, a professional race car driver and a good man, up until last year when he was tragically killed in an accident on the track. Laura was pregnant at the time and lost the baby a few weeks after Mario’s death, though thankfully, that part was kept out of the papers.
I lean over the table and kiss her cheek. “How are you, dove?”
She gives me a smile still tinged with sadness. “I’m all right. This is a bit crazy, though, isn’t it? I don’t know how they plan to address my obvious non-virginity. Everyone we know knows about the miscarriage.”
“According to the producer, that’s the magic of reality television. A bit of creative editing and they can make any reality they want. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not a virgin either. They were shocked when I told them. Just shocked.”
Laura laughs, and it feels good to make someone really laugh for a change.
“Anyway, you can relax, Henry, I’m not vying for the throne—I think I’d make a terrible queen. I’m too lazy and self-absorbed.”