Three Million’s A Crowd-Short Story Collection

From high-school, to work, to a crazy run on a reality TV show. From choices in love, to choices in life, to finding the real treasures in life. Would you make the same choices?

Three Million’s A Crowd (novella):
3 Million eyes, 2 desperate hearts, 1 second chance.
Munro Calliston needs to win a few million. Vivian Francis needs to win back Munro. The TV reality show ‘Treasure Seekers’ seems the perfect route to a win-win situation…But can two so very wrongs ever make things right?
Not That Kind Of Guy (romance): The new guy in the studio is like no-one else she’s ever met.
Spiked (flash fiction): Winning and sacrifices in high-school can make for some sport.
Slipped Up (Mystery): Someone’s stolen Cinderella’s priceless glass slippers. Will Fiona find the thief before the show begins.
Ride The Wave, Kiss The God: Her ex has a once-in-a-lifetime offer for her to survive the 2012 upheavals. But is his way the best way for her

Excerpt

Chapter One

“I’m sorry Mr Calliston,” said Raul Jones, “but you aren’t quite what we’re looking for this season. Next!”

“Wait!” Munro Calliston’s expression switched from charming to determined. “Whatever you’re looking for, I can be that. I’ve watched every episode of Treasure Seekers. I know you need ‘characters’ more than reality. So if you want me to be the guy nobody roots for, or the geeky fool, or the one who throws a tantrum at the slightest…” He stopped, waiting for nature to take its course.

Raul Jones, producer and presenter of the hit reality show, was looking at Munro, ignoring the next applicant hesitating at a respectful distance. Raul’s eyes lost focus, staring past the lanky man in front of him as if peering into the future. Then his eyes refocused on Munro.

“So you’re willing to deliver whatever I want?”

“Absolutely,” said Munro without hesitation.

Raul nodded. “Give me drama. Give me romance. The Singleton and Blind Love Or Not are stealing my audience over on the other network… Better yet, give me heartbreak! That will boost the ratings up towards the soapies for sure.”

“Will do.”

Munro hid his true feelings, knowing he’d impressed Raul. Here was his chance to show the world that Munro Calliston was still the kind of man who always delivered what he promised.

***

I was closing the gallery when FB pinged a message for me. Audrey again. What was it this time? She couldn’t have broken off with Mithin already?

Hi Viv! Got to talk! Meet me at Starbucks.

I’d been hoping to soak my feet at home, with a pizza and a good wildlife documentary but Audrey was my best friend. And whatever this new crisis was, it sounded serious if she needed to meet me for HotChoc instead of cocktails.

With a sigh, I sent a ‘see you there.’

Two hours later, I spotted Audrey immediately on one of the sofas, a Grande of HotChoc in front of her. I braced myself mentally and waved. This situation was a whole lot more serious than I’d thought if it rated Grande’s.

Audrey shifted her huge handbag onto the floor as I dropped down beside her and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Don’t you want to get yourself a drink first? The crush will start soon.”

She was right. In less than ten minutes most of the office-workers would queue for their homeward bound drinks. It was turning into a cold evening.

I opted for a choc-chip cookie with my HotChoc as I mulled over the many reasons Audrey needed a heavy dose of choc and cream. It was going to blow her daily calorie intake sky high and then there’d be the crash and recriminations and endless hours at the gym. Balance had never been Audrey’s strong point—nor mine either.

“So spill!” I said as I placed my cup on the low table.

Audrey took me literally as she set her mug down next to mine. “You’re never gonna believe this!” she began, then grabbed my arm for emphasis, or perhaps she was afraid I was going to run off. “Munro’s applied for Treasure Seekers! And Celia’s partnered with him! They were both accepted as a team. Can you believe it!”

I could believe it all right. They’d probably be the best-looking team on the show.

“Sweetie, are you okay?” asked Audrey.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Only you look all pale and sweaty.”

“I guess I’m coming down with something.”

Audrey giggled, then gave me a sober look. “Still not over him, then?”

I wanted to say no. But that would be a lie, and Audrey would make a big deal calling me out on it.

“Lucky for you,” said Audrey with her keen eyes on me and a small satisfied smile, “Celia has just broken her leg and had to drop out. She’d go on her crutches, you know, but with all the running around they’d have to do… So, I volunteered you!”

So the cream and HotChoc was more for my benefit than hers. I stared at Audrey for a full minute before my voice would work. “You what?”

“I volunteered you. I had a talk with the producer and Munro, and they both agreed you were the perfect replacement! I think the producer must badly want Munro on the show, and we both know why. You’ll say yes, won’t you?” She clutched my arm harder and gave me a concerned look.

Yes. Munro was drop-dead gorgeous with piercing green eyes, a nose like a ski-slope, and a cleft chin. Let’s not forget the dimpled smile and smooth voice, and the fact that I still loved him. I finally managed to focus enough to say, “But…”

“But it’s the perfect way to win him over again! Just think; you’ll be running around the place, working as a team, seeing the best and worst of each other, united by a common goal—twenty-four-seven! How could he not fall for you! I know I would!”

The answer was sadly too simple: Munro hated me even more than my sister’s Pekinese, Puffball, and Puffball still tries to tear my throat out on every visit.

“But, Sweetie, Munro agreed along with the producer. You’re the perfect partner for him on this show!”

There was that.

“Besides, even if you don’t win Munro over, you’ll still earn a small fortune. Maybe even enough to set up a gallery of your own and run it your way. After all, you know all the artists now and they trust you more than Gillson.”

The problem with Audrey on a mission was the difficulty in finding a flaw in her reasoning. And, I had to admit, if I didn’t let her talk me into these crazy undertakings, well…my life would be intolerably boring—and lonely.

How could I say no to any chance of winning Munro back? I’d tried, really tried for the past three years, only to go ricocheting back to yearning for him. Audrey was right. Twenty-four-seven with him on what would be the biggest adventure for both of us could have only two endings emotionally: either he would fall madly in love with me again, or he’d end up killing me. I had to try in hopes of the former outcome, or die trying. A bit over-dramatic, I know, but something had to give. My Munro cycle had gone on for too long.

***

“Here’s your special contract and recruiter’s fee.” Raul’s secretary, Aaron, produced both in the spacious production office and waited with practised patience. Munro read through the contract with care, double-checked the recruiter’s payment fee before nodding, and then signed on three separate pages.

Munro smiled as he left, saying, “I think I like doing business with this show.”

Aaron smiled back. “I’m sure you do.”

As soon as the door closed behind Munro, Aaron shook his head, almost feeling sorry for the man—almost, because he was fairly certain the guy deserved all that was coming to him.

Aaron squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head again. The things people did for money—he’d thought he’d seen them all, but this was low even for the likes of Raul. Munro Calliston would be the most hated contestant on the show. What kind of man would sign a contract specifying he forfeits all prizes if he didn’t break his team-mate’s heart in just two weeks?

***

Taking the elevator down to the lobby, Munro felt nothing but relief. He was fond of Celia, and now that providence had taken her off the show and miraculously introduced That Woman instead… Who was he to argue with the gods? Munro smiled like a tiger as he sauntered off. There was research and packing to be done. And a whole lot of dirt to dish out. He couldn’t wait to see That Woman again and give her just what she deserved.

His smile faltered as he drew farther away from the show’s offices. What if she wormed her way into his heart again? She’d done it before without even trying. It was fun hanging out with her. And she—

Munro caught his reflection in the tinted window alongside and gave himself a stern look. Focus, boy, focus! There was too much at stake financially to let his heart tumble at the thought of being with Vivian again. Besides, he hated her, didn’t he? How could he not after what she’d done?

***

I signed the contract with a light heart and a hint of trepidation. Aaron’s smile was a little forced, but he’d seen eleven other contestants ahead of me, including Munro who’d come in that morning. I wasn’t allowed to see or converse with him until we met at the starting line a few hours before the ten-day race began. Just ten days to collect the most treasures, or rather replicas of real treasure hauls.

I couldn’t resist reading the piece about the prize money again. I would be entitled to it if Munro and I made the top three: twenty-five percent of the total value of the ‘treasures’ we’d collected on the show minus our travel expenses. The previous season’s winners had taken home a cool four million dollars each, while the third place contestants had walked away with seven hundred and forty thousand each; plenty enough to start a gallery of my own, I hoped. It would feature only local artists, of course, and to keep costs down, I would set up in old Umhlanga down by the boardwalk or in Umdloti instead of up by Gateway which was too busy anyway…

“Ms Francis,” said Aaron, holding out a hand for the contract.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I blushed, something I do all too often. My hypnotherapist had tried alleviating my embarrassing tendency but the effect had worn off when I ran into Munro at the supermarket two weeks later. A shower of tin cans had narrowly missed me as I dived into another aisle after meeting his hate-filled eyes. I wish I didn’t turn into a klutz every time I saw him. He used to think it was cute. Would he still?

Why did I always have to mess up when it came to love?

Munro and Puffball typified all my relationships. It was a wonder Audrey had stuck around all these years. She thinks I’m adorable when my life is falling apart. Still, she’s the only one who ever tries to help me piece things back together. I had no idea what I’d do without her, and if she thought me winning Munro back this way was going to work…well, she tends to be right about love more often than me.

“Ms Francis?” Aaron, frowning slightly, was holding out a thick folder.

I went through the apology and blush sequence again.

“Please read through this and prepare accordingly. You and Mr Calliston will have to come to a mutual agreement about the order in which you’ll search for the treasures and the amount of time you’ll spend at each location. This is vital, I might add. Whichever team finds the most valued treasure first almost always wins. At the very least, they make the Top Three. And whichever team spends too much time searching for discovered treasure tends to lose.”

“Yes, I know. Thank you.” I raised an eyebrow as I read through the list of places we could be racing through. “Em, what happens if there’s an emergency or one of us gets diarrhoea?”

Aaron’s smile was just the right side of condescending. “We have medical and rescue teams for real emergencies. As for diarrhoea, contestants deal with that in their own way.”

“Right. Got it.” I sat there nodding, wondering how to bring up the question of the…em, bathroom facilities in the middle of the Namib Desert.

“Any questions, Ms Francis?” He didn’t quite hide his impatience.

“Em…no. No.”

I despaired of myself at times, I really did.

***

I’d packed and repacked my backpack. After keeling over, I removed half my stuff, including my camera, and repacked again. It was still uncomfortably heavy, but I tended to freeze once the temperature dropped below ten Celsius, so ditching my fleeces and woollen socks wasn’t an option. I prayed it wouldn’t rain and necessitate the testing of the rain/dust cover the backpack boasted. Munro had bought it for me in expectation of our backpacking honeymoon in South America. I’d never used the pack before.

I double-checked my passport validity date. The last time I’d needed it had been when I’d lost Munro. It seemed fitting that I now employed it to win him back. I was thankful Mauritius, with all its sour memories, wasn’t on the list of countries to visit.

All that was left to do was to get to the starting line and survive the first few hours at least.

I Find
Myself Charmed

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New cover I Find Myself Charmed by Leenna Naidoo
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