Chapter 8

 

The air in the Landry Team House was nearly impossible to breathe from the tension. Dominic Walker had been voted off the show. This was the first teammate to be eliminated. Reality had slapped them all in the face. Any one of the team could have been sent home. Any one, the consensus seemed to think, except Kendra.

She was feeling the resentment from her team, even Shera was treating her differently. She tried to tell herself that it was because the overall competition was getting tougher, but she knew the truth. As much as she tried to deny that she and Jax had connected on a deeper level, she was struggling to believe it herself. And she’d never been a very good actress so making others believe it was nearly impossible.

Dominic didn’t outright blame her, but the look he gave her said what he was thinking. Probably what everyone was thinking. They didn’t stand a chance at winning with her around.

Ken stood with everyone else on her team as the door closed behind Dominic, but it was Randi who turned first. She narrowed her blue gaze as she glared at Jax.

Her hair was frosty blue this week—a reflection of the ice-cold look in her eyes. “He didn’t deserve to go.”

“This is a contest,” Jax started.

“And you’re our coach, but you’re too busy flirting with Kendra to prepare us!”

Jax leaned back a bit, clearly not expecting that attack. His mouth opened once, closed, then opened again.

“That’s not true,” Kendra said calmly.

“Bull!”

“We each got an hour a day of Jax’s time,” she pointed out.

“And some of us got overtime by the pool in the middle of the night,” Randi taunted.

Kendra cocked her brow. “And some of us practiced singing instead of seeing how much cleavage we could show without getting censored.”

Okay,” Jax said holding up his hands.

Too late. Randi took a deep breath, clearly preparing herself for the inevitable confrontation.

The cameras moved closer, and Kendra shook her head. No. She wasn’t sinking to this level. She wasn’t going to make an ass out of herself on television. Turning, she marched up the stairs, ignoring the insults Randi was flinging at her back. Something about how at least she had cleavage to show. Jax’s smooth voice followed that, likely trying to calm the situation but Kendra ignored that, too. She slammed the bedroom door and threw herself on the bed.

And then she cursed because Randi wasn’t completely wrong. No, Jax hadn’t given Ken extra lessons or pointers, but they had spent more than one night out by the pool after everyone else had gone to bed. And the show was happy to splice together the highlights.

Very little about the thirty second introduction video to her last live performance had been about her or her music. The video had basically been a condensed version of every moment she’d spent with Jax. And there had been plenty. Crap.

Something had to give. Something had to change. And as much as she wanted to say she could stay away from that man, she knew better. He was like a magnet to her heart and the only way to stop being drawn into him was to put distance between them. That wasn’t possible in this house.

Or while she was still on his team.

Grabbing the phone off the stand, she pushed the button to call Martin. He’d been assigned to this mess of a team at the beginning and it was time he started doing his job and found a way to get Kendra out of this mess.

Jax sank onto the barstool with a beer. After battling it out with Randi as Shera and Pete silently took her side, he had sent them all away as if they were children. And in a way, they were. Very angry, disgruntled children.

He didn’t think he could handle much more of this. The stress of trying to keep his feelings for Kendra under control while letting them show just enough to keep the producers happy was a balancing act he was quickly beginning to resent.

To hell with them for putting him in this position. And he was lying to Kendra. He hated that. That was no way to start a relationship.

A relationship? Where the hell had that thought come from? Damn it. His mind was spinning like a windmill in a tornado. He needed to step back and get his head on straight before he blew this entire thing. Not just his friendship with Kendra and all the others on his team, but his attempt at a comeback.

The producers were all about their ratings. They didn’t care what would happen to him if the world found out he’d been forced to deceive Kendra. And they didn’t care that it could break her heart. Or his.

He was a pawn. So was she. Only she didn’t know it.

“You okay?”

He smiled at how Kendra’s gravelly voice instantly put him at ease. Turning, he toasted her. “This is helping.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

She sat next to him. “I shouldn’t have stepped in. Randi made me mad.”

“Me, too.”

She took a breath, held it, and let it out slowly. “I called Martin.”

Jax’s heart dropped to his stomach. “Why?”

“Because Randi is right. Everyone is right. It’s not fair.”

“Kenny.”

She lifted her hand. “We have a bond. Something you don’t have with the other members of the team, and it isn’t fair.”

“I’m not giving you special treatment.”

“I know that. But they don’t, and it’s having an impact on everyone.”

He couldn’t argue that point. He’d considered it more than once himself. “So what’d you say to Martin?”

She offered him a soft smile. “I asked to be moved to another team.”

“No. Kenny.” He pushed his beer aside. The cold drink was no longer appealing. “Don’t do that.”

“It’s the right thing.”

Maybe it was, but there was no way the producers would agree. They were seeing increased ratings and a growing fan base, presumably thanks to Jax and Kendra. “They won’t let that happen.”

Confusion filled her eyes. “Why? It’s best for everyone.”

He glanced at the cameras and realization lit her eyes. She didn’t need to know about the secret mission of the producers—to amplify the attraction between them—to realize that the drama in the house was good for the show.

She bit her lip and nodded. “Well, he said he’d see what he could do.”

Jax looked away, not wanting to look in her eyes as he lied. “I’m sure he’ll do his best.”

“In the meantime,” she slid off the stool, “I’m going to spend a little more time in isolation. Don’t take it personal, okay?”

He nodded, but he knew that’d never stand either. The moment the production team got wind of her plan, they’d probably put deadbolts on her door, preventing her from entering. He didn’t mean to, but he chuckled wryly.

“What?” Kendra asked.

He shook his head. “I was… You’re talented. And you’re a good person. And you deserve the best possible chance to win this thing. I hope you get that.”

She creased her brow. “So do I. Goodnight.”

He swallowed his guilt as he decided it was better to manipulate her on his terms than the networks. Reaching out, he put his arm around her waist to stop her from leaving. She was visibly shocked, but didn’t try to stop him from using her hip to turn her to face him.

The questions in her eyes were clear, and he had to swallow the urge to pull her even closer.

“No matter what happens,” he whispered, “I need you to know that I really do believe in you.”

She stared at him for several heartbeats before whispering, “What do you think is going to happen?”

With her standing this close, the scent of her lotion or shampoo or whatever the hell it was tickled his senses. He wanted to bury his face in her dark hair and breathe her in. Somehow, he thought the look in her eyes said she wanted that, too.

He kept his hand firmly on her hip as he shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess anything is possible.”

“I guess it is,” she whispered.

“I’d hate to see you lose just because we’ve become friends.”

Her lip curved slightly. “I wouldn’t call it a loss if I get to have you.”

Her eyes widened slightly and her mouth opened. She obviously hadn’t meant that to sound the way it could be perceived. He was tempted to tell her not to worry, he knew what she’d meant. But he chose to smile instead.

“You get to have me,” he whispered. “If you still want me when all this is over.”

She lowered her face as her cheeks turned an alluring shade of red. He was more tempted than ever to kiss her. Instead, he released his hold on her.

“Good night, Kenny. See you in the morning.”

She slipped away without another word, and Jax reached for his beer. Damn it. This was not going to end well for him.