“You’re a fucking idiot if you think I’d even consider this,” Sandor said giving his friend the most exasperated scowl he could muster.
“Yeah, you’re right. I should’ve known you’d be too chickenshit,” Bronn replied with a shake of his head.
Sandor snorted at the obvious barb, though he could still feel his pride rankle a little as he said, “It’s got nothing to do with being chickenshit.”
“Sure, you tell yourself that,” Bronn shrugged, turning away from him, “Whatever helps you sleep at night, mate.”
His teeth ground together as his friend tried and succeeded at provoking him. “I am not fucking scared of some stupid reality TV show.”
“Oh? Are you just afraid of women then?” Bronn asked as he turned back and raised a brow at him.
“I’m not afraid of anything!” Sandor growled and threw his hands in the air, “It’s just so goddamn ridiculous.”
“Right, right. Ridiculous. I totally understand,” Bronn replied in a tone that suggested he did not believe Sandor in the slightest.
Sandor sighed sharply and pinched the bridge of his nose. After another moment he returned his gaze to Bronn and said, “Look, this is just some fucking scam. If you want your fifteen minutes of fame, then you go right ahead but leave me the fuck out of it.”
It was Bronn’s turn to laugh as he said, “Do you really think I’m just going on the show to get famous?”
“Yes,” Sandor answered without hesitation.
“Okay, fine. Maybe I’d like a few minutes of fame. It certainly wouldn’t hurt,” Bronn shrugged, “But more than that, I want a chance to find love. Real love.”
“I’m sure your Tinder dates have more then enough love to go around. What about that one who’s stalking you? I’m sure she’d appreciate a chance at ‘real love,’” Sandor said with a smirk.
“You’re certainly a clever one,” Bronn said, giving him a look, “This could be your chance, too, you know. You’re always saying you wish you could find someone without having your face in the way.”
“I’ve never said that.”
“It’s been heavily implied.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Look, I don’t want to do this by myself, alright? I’d like to have one of my mates there, and you’re my best mate,” Bronn admitted, though Sandor didn’t know if he was stretching the truth a little in a bid to manipulate him.
In truth, nothing he’d said had really appealed to Sandor more than the idea of getting to talk to women without the obstacle of his face standing in the way. At this point, he was used to it, but most everybody else wasn’t. Even when he’d been up front about it on dating sites—this was before he’d deleted his profiles out of frustration—there was always that same look: revulsion. There wasn’t a single picture that could really do his scars justice. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a second date.
Apparently his internal conflict had shown on his face, because Bronn clapped his hand on Sandor’s shoulder and said, “I can tell you’re considering it. If it makes you feel any better, there’ll be 13 other blokes on the show besides us. You probably won’t even get that much screen time.”
“Hell, they probably won’t even let me on the fucking show. They’ll take one look at my face and show me to the fucking door,” Sandor said with a roll of his eyes.
“Then what have you got to lose? Just come down to the studio with me. If you don’t change your mind by the time we get there, then I’ll leave you be.” Bronn made his way across their apartment and grabbed his keys, jangling them as he said, “Come on, then, mate. We don’t have all day.”
Sandor sighed and shook his head, but followed Bronn out the door anyway. It was like his friend said: What did he have to lose?
“San, can you believe it?” Jeyne exclaimed from beside her, “They want us on the show! We don’t even have to audition!”
Sansa—who had only been half listening to her friend—finally looked up from the bouquet she was arranging and said, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘we?’”
“Yes, I said ‘we!’” They absolutely loved you in my post about those hair gummis!” Jeyne unglued herself from her phone to give Sansa an exasperated look as she added, “Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Fun? What exactly about going on a reality TV show sounds fun?” Sansa replied, setting down the baby’s breath she’d been trying to find the perfect place for. “Have you ever seen The Bachelor? Or that other show where the people get married without meeting each other? They’re both so shallow!”
“Yeah, but this one is different, San. Love Is Blind focuses totally on the emotional connection. It’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to find true love,” Jeyne sighed as she put her hand over her heart.
“If it’s so focused on the emotional then why are they recruiting conventionally attractive social media influencers?” Sansa asked her with a raised brow.
Jeyne rolled her eyes and said, “Because we’re more open to experiences than other people and we obviously know how to have fun.”
“Right. Is that the line they gave you?” Sansa turned back to her flower arrangement, finally seeing where the baby’s breath would fit and putting it in its proper place. She picked up a length of ribbon and began to tie it around the vase, only to be stopped by Jeyne’s hand on hers.
When she met her eyes, Jeyne was giving her her best puppy dog look as she said, “Please, Sansa. It would mean so much to me if we could do this together. We always said we wanted to be in each other’s weddings, didn’t we?”
She doubted that had much to do with why Jeyne thought she should go. However, Sansa was a little tired of the dating scene. It seemed like no matter who she met, they either turned out to be a creep or a jerk. She wasn’t sure if she repelled all the good men, or if at this point they were already taken. Either way, she was ready to meet someone who took commitment as seriously as she did. Maybe this was the way to do it.
“Fine,” Sansa sighed which caused Jeyne to squeal in delight, “But only if I can get someone to watch the shop while I’m gone.”
“I promise you won’t regret it!” Jeyne said, throwing her arms around Sansa.
Sansa hoped her friend was right.
As it happened, finding someone to take care of her store was easy. Her assistants were more than happy to pick up extra shifts, especially when she told them why. There was something about running a flower shop that attracted romantics, and her employees were no exception.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Randa remarked, sipping her morning coffee.
“Yeah, it’s so unlike you, Sansa,” Mya agreed with a nod, “I thought you were done with love after Harry.”
“Well, Jeyne said—” Sansa began, but was cut off.
“Of course Jeyne is the one who roped you into it,” Randa said with a roll of her eyes, adding, “I wonder why she didn’t ask me.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t personal,” Sansa said in hopes of placating her assistant, “Besides, she said the recruiters wanted both of us. I guess they saw me in one of her Instagram posts.”
Randa shrugged and said, “I’m not really the commitment type anyway. It’s probably better if you go. Have you told your family yet?”
Sansa squirmed and said, “No, not yet. I’ve never been very good at lying, and I know Arya will be able to figure out something’s up. I wasn’t even supposed to tell you guys.”
“But won’t they worry?” Mya asked, her brows knitting together in concern.
“I still have time,” Sansa argued, “I just need time to come up with the right story.”
Eventually she settled on telling her family that she was going on a wellness retreat. She’d claimed that the pressures of running her own business were getting to her, and she needed a break. Both Ned and Cat had rushed to help her, offering her money or accounting services or more employees. However, she’d insisted she just needed a break and assured them once she got back everything would be fine.
All of this happened over the phone, as she was far too bad a liar to be able to convince them in person. Even now she felt a twinge of guilt at making them worry. However, if she managed to meet the love of her life, then she decided it would be worth it.
“Your fans going to be able to handle you being gone for a couple of weeks?” Bronn asked him as the shuttle they were in carried them to the studio.
“I pre-recorded some videos so they probably won’t even notice I’m missing,” Sandor shrugged. His online gaming persona, ‘The Hound,’ had garnered him quite a following, to the point where he’d been able to make it his full time job. This meant posting videos on a regular schedule, as well as streaming twice a week.
“Nice. Sneaky. Wish my job was that easy to get out of. I’m burning up all my vacation time on this show,” Bronn said with a sigh.
“Hey, this was your idea. I don’t want to hear any complaining,” Sandor said sharply.
“And I told you that you didn’t have to come with me,” Bronn replied, “No need to be so prickly. That attitude certainly won’t earn you any points with the women.”
Sandor snorted and rolled his eyes, still not sure he even cared what the women thought of him. Truth be told, he was shocked that he was even here at all. After Bronn had dragged him down to the studio, he’d fully expected to be shot down by the producers. However, they’d taken one look at him and said they’d love to have him on the show. Their reasoning: love is blind. He’d be the perfect candidate to prove the experiment worked if he actually found someone.
When they’d offered him a spot, he’d been prepared to say no. The word had been right on the tip of his tongue. However, when he’d opened his mouth to speak, the word ‘yes’ popped out instead. It was unexpected, and the only reason he could see for why he’d agreed was the vague guilt Bronn had left him with.
A much smaller part of him whispered that it was because he thought he might actually meet someone. It was a stupid idea, however, and one that he suppressed. The best he could hope for was to be edited out of the show completely. At this point, he was really only here as moral support for Bronn.
As the shuttle slowed to a stop, Bronn leaned over and looked out the window, saying, “Thought the place would be fancier. Like that apartment building they had on The Circle. Did you see that one?”
“No,” Sandor stated flatly.
“Right,” Bronn said, still looking out the window. He finally turned back to Sandor and said, “Well, hurry up, mate. We don’t have all day.”
The other men around them had already started to rise and proceed towards the exit of the shuttle. On their way out, one of the associate producers was standing at the door collecting people’s phones.
“Shit,” Bronn swore. He addressed the young woman, saying, “D’you really need to take my phone, love?”
“Yes,” she answered crisply, “We don’t want you to have any distractions from the outside world in the pods.”
Bronn sighed and handed over the device, muttering to Sandor, “You might’ve been right about this.”
Sandor suppressed a chuckle as he handed over his own phone, which rarely had any notifications for him at all outside of YouTube. He only hoped that the ‘pods’ or whatever had a decent place to work out. If nothing else, having something to read would probably get him through this experience.
As the men filed into the studio, he started to take stock of everyone they were with. It was a larger crowd than he expected. Most of the men were conventionally attractive, and none appeared to be older than 35. He was by far the tallest and oddest of the bunch, making him stand out like a sore thumb. There was only one man who was around the same size as him, but unlike Sandor, the man didn’t have any scars or other disfiguring marks.
Many of the other men threw looks his way, ranging from curious at best to disgusted at worst. All the scrutiny was already making him feel like a caged animal, and Sandor started looking for a way to make his escape.
Before he could, the doors shut behind him, sealing him in. The producers flitted about, herding them further into the room and telling them all to make themselves comfortable. “Nick and Vanessa will be in shortly. Just have some fun and get to know each other.”
Sandor could tell he didn’t really want to get to know any of these guys. Also, weren’t they supposed to be getting to know the women who were somewhere around here?
“I bet you not even half of these guys is gonna walk out of here with someone,” Bronn said quietly from beside him.
“I could’ve told you that before we even walked in here,” Sandor muttered back, his eyes still scanning the room.
The other men appeared to be following instructions. Handshakes were happening all around, and the room eventually filled with the din of friendly, albeit polite conversation. Sandor wondered if anyone would approach them, and was satisfied when people appeared to be too intimidated to try.
When he thought he was about to die from boredom, the hosts of the show finally made their appearance. They were enthusiastic, with wide grins and bright eyes. As they explained the process, Sandor’s unease mounted, culminating when they threw out the word, ‘marriage.’
His head swiveled to Bronn and he scowled down at the man as he hissed, “Marriage? I thought you said this was some kind of dating show.” If there weren’t any cameras around, he would have wrung Bronn’s neck.
“Technically you are dating someone. Just with the intent to marry them,” Bronn replied flippantly. He waved a hand in Sandor’s direction and continued, “Now hush. I’m trying to listen.”
The urge to escape only grew stronger within him, and he decided that he was going to leave. Meeting a woman was one thing, dating another, but marriage? He had no intention of getting married to someone he met on a reality show.
Before he could flag down one of the staff, they were once more being herded like cattle, this time to a hallway off the main lounge. Sandor tried and failed to get the attention of one of the production assistants, but to no avail as they were made to stand outside the doors that lined the hallway.
Just when he thought he’d finally caught someone’s eye, all the staff left the hallway, and he had no choice but to either enter the doors in front of him or stand out there like an idiot.
With a heavy sigh, Sandor pushed through the door and into the pod.
Sansa tugged at the hem of her dress once more as she took stock of the other women who were there besides her and Jeyne. There was a glamorous looking blonde, though Sansa could see from her dark roots peeking through that it wasn’t her natural color. Along with her was another blonde, though her hair was so light it was almost white. Her violet eyes were enchanting, and Sansa wondered if she’d be able to stand out in comparison.
“I bet none of these girls have as many Insta followers as I do,” Jeyne whispered to her.
Sansa shrugged and replied, “Does it really matter? They’re all gorgeous.”
“So? We are too, babe. Let’s go make some introductions,” Jeyne said, grabbing her hand and leading her across the room to where most of the women had gathered. Several were seated on the plush couches and chairs, but the majority were clustered around the kitchen island.
“Hello ladies!” Jeyne called as she strutted up to them. There were choruses of hellos in return as they joined the group. “I’m Jeyne, and this is my friend, Sansa. Who might you all be?” Sansa gave them a small wave, feeling her face flush slightly at the scrutiny as their gazes turned to her.
“I’m Margaery Tyrell,” said the bottle blonde, “Pleasure to meet you.”
“And I’m Daenerys,” added the platinum blonde, “But you can call me Dany. Everyone does.”
They chatted politely with one another for a while, which allowed Sansa to learn more about the women she was stacked up against. In doing so, she actually found herself much more at ease. Perhaps she had a chance after all, even if she was the plainest among the girls.
Eventually the hosts of the show came through and explained how everything would work. “The only time you’re going to interact is in one of the private pods. You’re going to be separated by one thin wall. You won’t ever get to see each other.”
Sansa’s heart started to race as the male host continued, explaining that they could choose who they wanted to spend time with, and it would ultimately lead to a marriage proposal. Only then would they see the person they’d chosen to commit to for life.
Her head was reeling as they were led to the pods. Sansa turned to Jeyne and said, “You never said anything about marriage!”
“It’s not that serious, San! You don’t have to actually say, ‘I do!’” Jeyne replied with a roll of her eyes.
“Right. I’ll just be the bitch who left her husband at the altar on television,” Sansa said, dropping her voice to a whisper as she noticed the curious looks from the other women.
“Sansa, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Are you really going to throw it away just because you’re afraid of a little commitment?” Jeyne crossed her arms and scowled at Sansa as she waited outside one of the doors.
“I’m not afraid of commitment!” Sansa argued, “I just don’t see how you can marry someone you’ve never even seen.”
“Well, if you go through that door, you might find out. If you want to leave, then leave, but I’m staying,” Jeyne said, disappearing into one of the pods.
When she did, Sansa realized that she was alone in the hallway with a decision to make: stay or go. She stared at the door she was supposed to have entered, wondering whether or not she would be making a mistake if she left.
What if her soulmate was waiting for her on the other side of that wall?
Even if marriage wasn’t what she’d intended, she knew deep down that Jeyne was right. With a sigh, she opened the door and entered the pod.