Hello world! (Or more than likely only the five people who currently subscribe to my site. heh.)
This past August I set out to build this website and my other various social media sites. After doing some preliminary stuff I decided to concentrate on finishing my book Virtual Reality Bites first. I couldn’t exactly share and promote a book that didn’t exist beyond an idea yet.
Aaaand so here I am seven months later with news … finally! Virtual Reality Bites is done and ready to release on April 19th!!! It has a cover and a blurb and buy links and everything! Whoot-whoot!
What happens when a romance author agrees to test romance tropes in virtual reality?
Following divorce number two, Zoe Woods is jaded, bitter, and unable to write her latest novel. For an author whose brand is all about finding true love, that’s kind of a problem.
Desperate to revive her romantic optimism, Zoe accepts an offer from an unlikely place to beta test virtual reality romance tropes. Unfortunately, Zoe jumps in too fast, and instead of a fun romp in virtual Romancelandia to rekindle her creativity, she finds one debacle after another.
Regretting her choices, Zoe realizes nothing is ever what it seems when it comes to love and romance and fantasy vs real world. The only thing she does know for sure is that virtual reality definitely bites.
*Audiobook is currently in production*
Yes, I’m super pumped about all of that. But, well I was thinking, no one in the book-y world really knows who Ava Wixx is, and as someone who is a shy introvert, (those two are not the same thing contrary to popular belief) who would rather lurk in the shadows on social media … How exactly do I go about interacting in said book-y world? Because I want to, but at the same time I don’t. Aaaah! The anxiety about all of this is real!
In the meantime, while I’m being angsty and trying to figure out how to navigate social media with a balance that I’m comfortable with, I decided to share the first two chapters of Virtual Reality Bites here so that people can get a feel for my book and possibly me as a writer. That way I can post some cute pictures on the socials and open myself up to maybe, quite possibly, be a bit social myself. So check out the chapters which you can download as a PDF (down below the chapters if you’re looking for it) or just read right in this post. Your choice. Also, if you see me on social media, please give me a virtual wave and try to ignore my awkwardness if that’s possible. 😉
“Alana.” Zane’s deep baritone penetrated her concentration, and she whirled as the spell she’d been working slipped from her grasp.
She blinked, the shock of his presence freezing her in place. “I thought … I thought you were lost to me.”
I stopped typing. Something wasn’t right about the scene. Gnawing on my bottom lip, I considered it, my gaze flitting over each word repeatedly. After a few moments of abso-friggin-lutely nothing even close to clarity, I decided to make a note to fix it later.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes …
Zane closed the distance between them, sweeping her into his arms.
“Are you sure?” Alana swayed within his embrace, her chin trembling.
I paused again. Do I like the name Alana? Or Zane for that matter? Ugh. Okay. I made a note to possibly change those details as well.
Zane swore under his breath as his grip on her tightened. “How can you ask me that? I’ve never been surer about anything in my life. You and me, us … together forever. Nothing else matters. Nothing.”
My fingers stilled once more, hovering over the keyboard.
Nothing else matters? Yeah, right. I barely contained my snort as I glanced around the coffee shop over the top of my laptop.
There was a time when I would have delighted in my surroundings, living in a world of my own making, seeing, well …
Billions of tiny connections, like brightly colored strings dancing through the air, weaving in and out and around each other, forming links between people designed by the fates themselves. I used to imagine one string or another tugging me steadily toward this guy or that one, kismet surrounding the circumstances of our meeting.
Intellectually, I’d known that I would never walk into a coffee shop, inexplicably pulled there to find the man of my dreams, our gazes colliding across the room, our string taut between us. If not love at first sight, then infatuation, a burning need to get to know each other, mind, body, and soul.
But I’d friggin’ wanted it. More than anything else in the world. Yeah, I knew it wasn’t necessarily modern thinking or whatever, to put the desire for a romantic relationship above all else, but I didn’t care. Because, sure, I had friends and family who loved me, but a hole existed in my heart, a craving for that ultimate connection—the other half of my soul. To be entwined in understanding and intimacy, to be—
Fuuuuck. Here I go again. I’d learned my lesson. More than once. First with Jason, ex-husband number one. And then with Jared—
My vision wavered, my surroundings distorting for an instant, leaving a dull headache to bloom across my temples as the anomaly passed. I blinked several times, my mind circling back to the thoughts left dangling in my brain.
Yep, I’d learned my lesson. With both ex-husbands, Jason, and then Jared. My ridiculous notions of destiny and fate had left me nearly broke, jaded, and with a massive case of writer’s block. What good was a romance author who no longer believed in what she was selling? Sure, witches, vampires, werewolves, fae, and some of the more fantastical creatures who lurked between the pages of my novels weren’t exactly realistic, but the sentiments that formed them were. True love was my brand … or at least it had been. Now my ideas seemed like fevered dreams of an adolescent. Billions of tiny connections? Bitch, please.
Slamming my laptop shut, I growled under my breath.
“Careful. You wouldn’t want to hurt the poor thing.”
“What?” I glanced to the right, staring at the guy sitting at the small table next to mine, venti coffee cup, muffin, and iPad displayed in front of him.
He grinned, brown eyes twinkling as he motioned in my general direction. “I was merely pointing out that you should be careful about the misplaced animosity you were directing at your MacBook.”
Pursing my lips, I gave the guy a quick once over. Dark, disheveled hair, bronze-toned skin, good teeth, strong jawline, smart dresser … all of his superficial trappings adding up to make him quite attractive. In the past, I might have thought this our meet-cute, the moment when me, a love-obsessed romance author, finally met her soulmate and was made to believe again just when she was about to give up entirely. There certainly was potential … but nope. I simply couldn’t muster one single give-a-damn. I was done with all the bullshit.
Rolling my eyes, I stood abruptly, my chair scraping loudly across the floor. “Not happening.”
The guy’s smile wilted around the edges. “I mean, yeah, sure, I just wanted to—”
“We both know what you just wanted to do. And I’m saving us both the time and heartache by saying not happening.”
He grumbled something unintelligible as I stalked away from him. I rolled my eyes again as I beelined it to the front door of the Starbucks. Luckily, my coffee chain of choice existed in legion, a shop on almost every block in every major city in the country, so not coming back to this one for a while wouldn’t be a big deal.
A wall of heat smashed into me as I stepped outside, the sun blinding. Sliding my dark shades on, I scurried to my car, setting the AC on full blast as soon as I managed to clamber inside. Closing my eyes, I rested my forehead on the steering wheel, the cloth wrap on it protecting me from getting burnt. I hated summers in the south. Raleigh, North Carolina to be specific. But Raleigh’s proximity to both the beach and the mountains almost made up for the sweltering months. Plus, my friends and family were nearby, so at least my misery had plenty of company.
My phone blared to life in my bag, and I dragged it to my ear, groaning demonstratively. “What do you want, brat?”
“Is that any way to greet your favorite brother?”
“You’re my only brother and still not my favorite. What does that tell you?”
Adam chuckled. “Whatever, dork.”
“If I’m a dork then—”
“Can you two not do the whole sibling banter thing right now?” Adam’s wife chimed in, letting me know I was on speakerphone. “Shouldn’t the two of you have outgrown that by now?”
“Spoken like a true only child. Just wait until your girls get older.”
Tina sighed dramatically. “They’re going to be best friends.”
Adam and I both laughed.
“Maybe, but only after they nearly kill each other during their teen years.”
“Okay, so yeah, I called for a reason,” Adam spoke up. “I wanted to remind you that my twenty-year high school reunion is this weekend.”
“Yes, yes, I know. I do possess this marvelous wonder called a calendar. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
“Cal-en-dar?” Adam drawled out. “Nope. Never heard of it.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” I retorted.
“Okay, Adam has to help me do … well, a whole bunch of stuff before this weekend, so I’m hanging up for him. I’m extremely nervous leaving my babies alone with someone for the first time, even if it is you. We need to make sure everything is ready.” There was a crinkling sound and a pop. “Ah, I don’t know if I can do it. No, no, no, it’ll be fine. Thank you so much for sitting for us, Zoe, we really appreciate it. And let me know if you want any specific food at the house before I go grocery shopping this afternoon.”
A part of me wondered if Tina would in fact be able to leave her twins for the reunion. I knew if it were up to her, she’d skip the event. However, I didn’t voice my doubts and ignored the ramblings of a neurotic first-time mom. “If you could pick up some ice cream, that would be great.”
“Chocolate, chocolate chip?”
“You know it.”
“Planning on eating your feelings?” Adam asked, hitting a bit too close to home.
“Shut up,” I snapped. “I will eat what I want without judgment.”
“Okay, bye, Zoe!” Tina cut us off, the call abruptly coming to an end.
Twenty years. Twenty friggin’ years since my baby brother graduated from high school. I felt ancient. Granted, I was only two years older than him, but I was also in my forties, while he lingered in his thirties. I’d crossed the imaginary line in the sand of aging. I was officially over the hill, while Adam technically was still considered young-ish.
I slumped back in my seat, staring at my car’s roof. Forty years old. I expected my life to be completely different by now. Instead of being happily married to my soulmate with a successful career, I was … pathetic. Utterly pathetic. Adam’s life was enviable in almost every way imaginable, and he hadn’t even wanted all the things I not-so-secretly coveted. I couldn’t count how many times he informed me that romance wasn’t his jam and that he would be a happy bachelor until the day he died. Now, I swear I could see hearts forming in his eyes every time he looked at Tina. And she clearly felt the same for him. Together, they’d built a life filled with all the things I—
No. Stop. You’re happy for him … them. It’s just that— Nope. Don’t go there.
God, I hope Tina buys a shitload of ice cream.
* * *
“Where the hell is my Westley?” I mumbled around a mouthful of ice cream. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and I choked on the combination of chocolatey goodness and snot. I was well aware of my current hot mess status. Thankfully I was alone, the twins peacefully slumbering away in their room while I entertained myself until Adam and Tina got home.
I reached for a tissue with one hand while shoving another heaping spoonful of Chocolate Therapy into my mouth with the other. No one can ever say I’m not a pro at multitasking.
“Princess Bride, huh? I never thought of it as a tear-jerker before.”
Screaming, I hurled my half-full Ben & Jerry’s pint in the direction the unfamiliar masculine voice had emanated from. It hit the wall, splattering ice cream all over the intruder, just as I leapt over the back of the couch, brandishing the spoon in one hand and the remote in the other.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Zoe, put the remote down.” He cocked his head. “And spoon? What were you planning to do with that?”
It took my brain a moment to process the fact that the intruder knew my name. “Gouge out your eyes … of course.” Shuffling back a step, I let my gaze skitter over him, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on sparking recognition. Dark hair, even darker eyes set in an angular face with full, pouty lips, a scar bisecting his left eyebrow.
I blinked. That scar … No, it can’t be. “Xander? Xander Tashiro?”
He grinned, showing off a set of perfect white teeth. “Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize me.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t have almost popped your eyes out of their sockets with a spoon if I had.”
Xander motioned to the distance between us with a flourish. “I wouldn’t say almost with most people, but …” He grimaced, tapping the scar in his eyebrow for effect. “You aren’t most people.”
It was my turn to grimace. “How many times do I have to tell you that I didn’t mean to hit you? I was aiming for Adam. I can’t help it if your big head was in the way.”
“Three stitches. I had to get three stitches.” His eyes glinted with mirth. “I was traumatized.”
Despite our topic of conversation, I stared unabashedly at Xander. The man standing in front of me, covered in chocolate ice cream, was drop-dead gorgeous. Something else my brain had been slow to process but was more than happy to acknowledge now that I wasn’t terrified for my life. And I was quite familiar with Xander Tashiro, simply not in his current post-glow-up form. I was sure it defied the laws of genetics, or physics, or all laws in science combined in some manner that he’d somehow gotten more attractive. Short, spiky hair had transformed into a stylish cut that left it slightly longer on top, his thick, wavy hair cascading haphazardly across his forehead. His cute, and yet kind of roundish face had matured to be cover-of-a-magazine worthy with razor-sharp cheekbones and … and those lips! They once had seemed too big for him proportionally, but now were works of art. In fact, everything about him had morphed from a Crayola drawing to a masterpiece. No. Stop. This is Xander Tashiro. Your younger brother’s best friend. No ogling allowed. Unless you want to up your pathetic level. Plus, don’t forget how annoying he always was, and clearly still is.
Yep, Xander Tashiro was Adam’s best friend and had been all through school. The last time I’d personally seen him, though, was before I left for college. Sure, I still heard his name mentioned over the years, and maybe recognized his face from some of my brother’s pictures, but I hadn’t put the two together. Nope, I had been completely unaware that Adam was harboring details of the massive changes in Xander’s appearance. A part of me expected him to somehow have remained the same, just have aged a bit. Maybe if Adam and Tina hadn’t eloped then I would have had some kind of clue. But—
But what? None of it matters.
Adam stumbled in behind Xander, taking in the chocolate explosion and my awkward standoff with his friend. “What’s going on?”
Xander chuckled, the sound doing things to my insides I simply refused to acknowledge. “I startled Zoe, and apparently she was planning to distract me with a chocolate bomb before gouging my eyes out with a spoon, then probably beat me to death with the remote.”
Adam scowled at me. “Why are you being an asshole to Xan?”
After marching past the two of them into the kitchen, I deposited my subpar weapons on the counter and grabbed some cleaning supplies. “He startled me.”
Tina chose that moment to appear, obviously having been upstairs checking on the twins. “And the moral of the story is, don’t startle Zoe.” She swiped the pack of wet wipes from me. “Don’t worry, I’ll clean up the mess. We should have texted to let you know we were on the way home with a guest in tow.”
Adam propelled his clearly intoxicated self to the couch, flopping down with a loud oomph. “Hey, Tina, do we have anything good to eat?”
She rolled her eyes at him in my direction, snatching up the remote I’d abandoned. “We have some miscellaneous leftovers.”
“How about pizza? We have any pizza?”
Their conversation fell into the background as my focus zeroed in on Xander, who had made his way into the kitchen, his proximity flustering me a bit. He must have sprung up a good foot since the last time I’d seen him as well, and it wasn’t a lanky tall either. I could see his lithe muscles clearly defined in his undershirt, now that he’d removed his chocolate-soiled button down. But it wasn’t merely his physical changes that were leaving me off-kilter, it was his energy, or aura, that undefinable something that made a person special. It was as if his presence had ballooned past the space of his body and had kept expanding until Xander commanded his own gravitational pull. One that I was currently fighting not to get yanked into.
I cleared my throat, attempting to concentrate on the dishes I was putting away. “You don’t seem drunk like my brother.”
His lips curled up as he glanced over his shoulder just as Adam pulled Tina onto the couch, his boisterous laugh filling the room. “He drank my share of the alcohol at the reunion. Pretty sure he downed Tina’s, too.”
Pausing to study Xander, I quirked an eyebrow. “I expected a sober Tina because she hardly ever drinks, even before the twins, but the Xander I knew would have been Adam’s partner-in-crime.” It was odd talking to the boy I used to know since he was clearly a man now. He was familiar, and yet somehow a stranger. I only knew who he used to be and not who’d he’d become.
He leaned forward, resting his forearms on the island countertop. “Things change.” His gaze slid over me, one side of his mouth lifting. “But not everything.”
Instantly defensive—and not sure why—I stood ramrod straight, hands automatically going to my hips. “And what’s that supposed to mean, Alexander Dai Tashiro?”
He staggered back dramatically, clutching at his chest. “The full name attack? Low blow, Zoe. You know that activates some kind of Pavlovian reaction in pretty much everyone who had, well, parents.”
All humor drained from his face, and his jaw muscles jumped slightly as he grimaced again. “Why are you being so touchy? You know I didn’t mean anything by what I said.”
I sighed, staring down at the small bowl in my hands. “Sorry, I’ve been out of sorts lately.” Understatement of the year. More like complete and utter emotional wreck with almost no hope for rebounding to normal.
His voice broke low as he rushed to respond, “I heard about … well, your divorce, there’s no easy way to say it. And I know you’ve been struggling to get your next novel written, but I—”
I threw my hands up in the air. “Isn’t that just great? Adam blabbed to you about everything.” My skin heated with embarrassment. Xander and I had always kind of flirted, more him with me since I couldn’t get past the two-year age gap and the fact that he was my little brother’s best friend, but I still didn’t want him to pity my life decisions. Especially now when I was having a mid-life crisis.
“He’s worried about you. Despite how he does, or I guess, doesn’t show it, he loves you.”
Before I could respond, Xander pushed a business card across the counter at me.
“What’s that?” I stared at it like it was a snake that might jump up to bite me at any moment.
“Fantasy Life, Inc. Have you heard of it?”
“The company that specializes in virtual reality technology?” I’d read an article about them a few months ago, but all I retained was a vague sense of what they did.
He nodded. “It’s mine. Fantasy Life, Inc. is my company, and I have a business proposition for you. It’s why I came back with Adam tonight. I told him I wanted to talk to you about it.”
Was that why he decided not to get completely sloshed with Adam? Because he was coming here to talk to me? Clutching at granite, I swayed slightly, the abrupt change of subject and bizarre info drop jarring. “A business proposition?”
“Just stop by the address on the back of the card anytime this week and ask for me. I’ll explain everything then.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “I would have preferred to do it tonight, but things haven’t quite panned out the way I hoped.” With that, he shuffled into the living room to say his good-byes to the two giggling idiots on the couch.
My fingers danced over the stark white card with black lettering, my eyes unfocused on the text, confusion filling me to the brim. The only reason Xander would make any kind of business proposition to a romance author in relation to Fantasy Life, Inc. was definitely out of a misguided sense of pity. He’d admitted to knowing about my set of rather unfortunate life events thanks to my big-mouthed brother.
Well, things just took a turn for the weird. I hadn’t even had time to process Xander’s sudden appearance and glow-up reveal, let alone the rest. But of course, I already knew I would go to Fantasy Life, Inc. to hear him out, if only to get some answers for my insatiable curiosity. Because seriously … what could I possibly do for his company?
A kaleidoscope of colors exploded behind my eyes as they struggled to form any kind of image. It was like my retinas had been scorched by staring directly into the sun. And then there was the ringing in my ears I couldn’t dislodge no matter how hard I shook my head.
Strong, steady hands threaded with mine, squeezing gently. The small gesture was comforting and slowed the erratic beating of my heart. Between one breath and the next things abruptly normalized.
I blinked Xander’s face into focus. He smiled. “There you are. It takes a minute to adjust.”
“Adjust to what?” I squeaked, my head swiveling wildly around to take in my environment. I was in a small, nondescript room, empty except for the overstuffed, brown leather chair I was reclining in. “How … what—”
“Let me explain.”
“Let you explain what? I don’t know where I am or how I got here.” I squinted, unable to locate any doors or windows. That can’t be right.
“This is the orientation stage of the Fantasy Life program.”
Jumping to my feet, I threw my arms in the air, waving them frantically. “What are you talking about?”
“Zoe, calm down so I can explain.”
I sucked in ragged breaths, the room beginning to spin. “I can’t. I don’t know what’s going on.” If I didn’t find a door fast, I was in danger of leaving a Zoe-sized cutout in the wall. “I need to get out of here.”
Xander caught me as I staggered forward, his fingers digging into my shoulders. “You know me, Zoe. You’ve known me a long time, and you know I would never let anything bad happen to you.”
I clutched at his shirt, my anxiety not caring where it got comfort from. “Except for that time you and Adam switched out my hair dye.”
He chuckled, the sound rumbling under my ear as I leaned farther into his embrace. “That’s not the same thing.”
“My hair was bright orange until I could get it fixed professionally. And even after that, there was an undertone until it grew out.”
“Zoe,” he chastised. “Are we really going to rehash this now? We were kids. And Adam swore it wouldn’t be permanent. I thought it would be just a bit of fun.”
“I can’t help that it popped into my head when you said you’d never let anything bad happen to me. That was next level traumatizing to a teenage girl.”
He sighed heavily. “Fair enough. But you know what I meant.”
Random thoughts continued to ricochet around in my brain, most of them centering around Xander and our shared past. At least it gave me something to concentrate on beyond the impending feelings of doom bubbling up from my gut.
“Zoe, listen to me. You’re safe. You agreed to this. You signed a contract.”
Shoving away from him, my mouth fell open. “Whaaaat?” I understood the words, but not their meaning or concept. I agreed to what exactly? And sign a contract? I don’t even know where I am let alone remember any kind of contract.
“No. This isn’t right.” I shook my head rapidly, dizziness threatening to overtake me again. “The last thing I remember is thinking about coming to your company to find out what I could possibly offer you as a romance author.”
“And you did. We talked for hours. Literally. You definitely made me work for your signature on that contract. I had to explain that me wanting to use you for the testing of this part of the program wasn’t born out of pity. I even had to quote parts from your blog post about how romance novels are an important part of feminism and how I support your views on the matter. Finally, we saw eye-to-eye.” Xander spread his arms wide. “Hence the Fantasy Life orientation program.”
“But I don’t remember anything!” He read my blog post about the tie-in of feminism and romance novels? And he agreed with my points about the shaming of the genre … him, Xander? Nope. Not buying it.
“As per—” He sighed heavily, rolled his eyes, and leaned forward to say, “Totopuppapubbis.”
My mouth snapped shut, and I ground my teeth together. “Adam told you about that.”
Xander ran his hand through his already tousled hair. “You told me your ridiculous safe word. You said you’d probably freak out once you were in here and it would be the only way to calm you down. I hoped you’d be wrong, but here we are.”
I considered the situation. Totopuppapubbis was what I’d chosen as a child for the family password to use in case of an emergency. It had become a joke over the years, and still, it lingered in the back of my mind as a special kind of secret. One that I would most definitely use in a situation like this.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “Explain then. You have five minutes before I start down panic attack road again and make an exit ala Mr. Kool Aid.”
Grinning, Xander snapped his fingers, and a mirror appeared directly in front of me. I let out a startled yelp. “As you can see, we’re already in the Fantasy Life virtual reality setup, otherwise known as Orientation.”
My mouth fell open for the second time in the last few minutes. “None of this is real?” I gazed at my reflection, my wide, green eyes running from the top of my long, blonde hair with freshly dyed blue streaks, down my familiar curvy body, all the way to my sneaker-covered toes. Reaching up, I pinched my bicep. Ouch.
My mind was reeling. I couldn’t tell the difference between virtual reality and the real thing. I’d always associated VR with a big, goofy headpiece, eyewear, and other miscellaneous bulky equipment. Something that could potentially be cool for a video game, but fool me into thinking it was actually happening? Not so much.
“How is any of this possible?” I swallowed around the lump in my throat. “Holy shit, the Matrix could actually happen.”
“You’re not the first who went there. Just please don’t start freaking out again. This is meant to be fun. Not some kind of facsimile of a bad acid trip.”
“Fun.” I shuffled closer to the mirror, inspecting myself closer as I twisted back and forth, even peeking briefly down my shirt. My D cups were encased in a blue sports bra, which I at least hadn’t had to wrangle myself into. So bonus, I supposed. I also appeared to be about my normal slightly taller than average height. Everything seemed to be in its proper place. Even the parts I wished weren’t, like that stubborn tummy pooch hiding my six-pack abs. “Right. Okay.”
Xander sidled up beside me, our gazes clashing in our shared reflection. “So, there are a few rules you need to be aware of. The Fantasy Life program is kind of like a video game in the sense—”
“This mirror is stupid. I feel like I’ve been forced into one of those romance novel clichés where the character’s description is revealed when he or she looks in the mirror. The only part missing is—”
Screaming, I scrambled to cover my suddenly naked body as I stood dripping water onto a bathmat like I’d just gotten out of the shower that now was reflected behind me. “What the hell is going on?” I danced from foot to foot as if I could keep my private bits blurry by not remaining still. In theory, it could work, but I was pretty sure I’d have to do my little embarrassed jig a lot faster.
Xander cupped the back of his neck, his eyes darting everywhere but on me. “I was getting to this part. To simplify it for you, this is like the setup part of a video game where you get to pick your main outfit for your avatar, gear up, and—”
“I don’t play video games! I’m not you and Adam! Just tell me how to not be naked right now, Xander!” It might have been virtual reality, but I didn’t want to be standing around sans clothes regardless. It simply felt too real, which meant the accompanying mortification was as well.
“Picture yourself in clothes.”
Squeezing my eyes shut, I imagined my favorite comfy jeans and a soft, navy-blue T-shirt.
“Are you doing it?”
“Yes.” I glanced down the length of my still very naked body. “Why isn’t it working, Xander? Are you … you’re punking me, aren’t you? This is like that time you walked in on me when I was getting out of the shower when I was seventeen.” Anger surged through my veins, heating my blood, scorching away all traces of embarrassment. Balling my fists at my sides, I marched toward Xander. “This is not funny. At all. Asshole. And I swear on all that is holy that if you don’t—”
“It’s not my fault!” Xander stumbled back a few steps. “You have full control of this!”
“Then why am I still naked? Huh?”
“I-I don’t … hold on a second.” He pixelized briefly before vanishing.
I spun in a circle. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” I stood there naked and alone, not exactly sure if the alone part was an improvement. “I should have at least gotten a towel,” I grumbled. “Not even romance heroines drip dry straight out of the shower. There’s no way I did this to myself.” I wrung out my hair, the simple act miraculously evaporating all moisture from my tresses. Huh.
Xander reappeared, clothes draped over his arm. “Here. Put these on.”
After snatching them from him, I tugged on the very same jeans and T-shirt I’d been imagining. I scowled. “So far this virtual reality thing bites.” At least for me. Xander probably was getting a ton of amusement from my humiliation. Of course, he’d been the only one to see me make a fool out of myself. Unless there was some way to record the debacle.
“Apparently your brain prefers to do things the old-fashioned way.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means we’re going to have to do things differently with you. But it’s good. Don’t worry. This is precisely why we need to test the program before making it widely available to the public. We need to see how all types of people react and how we can adjust to serve those needs as well as the needs—”
“I don’t care. Tell me what I agreed to.” Exasperation had replaced my anger and skepticism. If I was there to do a job I would do it and quickly.
“You’re going to run through different romance tropes for the program.”
“And how will I do that exactly? We’re going in circles, Xander. Just spit it out already so I can get going on whatever this is.”
He nodded slowly, staring at me like I was an insect under a microscope. “My research team has a list of pre-approved popular romance tropes that you will enter into as if you are the main character. You will tell us what works and what doesn’t. That’s it. Our goal is to have all sorts of Fantasy Life options in the future. Some for escapism, some for working through trauma, some for adrenaline junkies to get their fix without the danger … the possibilities are endless. You are merely helping us with an area you’re considered an expert in.”
“I’m going to roleplay in romance tropes?” Now it was making sense why I would agree to this. I could help Xander while hopefully getting my author mojo back. It had the potential to be win-win if the whole naked thing wasn’t an indicator of things to come.
“Roleplay? Yeah, that’s one way to look at it.”
“How else would I look at it?” And how far was this program going to take things? Because although I enjoyed reading and writing about sex, I wasn’t sure I could throw myself into something that felt as real as Fantasy Life did. Then again, it had been a while since—
Ew. What am I thinking? You are not having virtual reality sex. That’s just weird. Aaaalthough—
Xander winked. “You’ll see.”
“See what?” Did I miss something while I’d been off musing about virtual reality sex?
Grabbing my shoulders, Xander spun me to face a red, wooden door that hadn’t been there a moment ago. “Executive decision,” he declared with a dazzling grin.
The door swung open, and Xander shoved me through. “You can thank me later.”
“Xander! What the hell?” I stumbled forward into pitch black.
If you took the time to read the small Virtual Reality Bites sample of the first two chapters, whether you liked them or not … Thank you! (Although I do hope you did enjoy it. Obviously. 😉 )
And well, I guess that’s it for now.
Until next time … love to all of you!