Emily Henry, “The Bachelor ”and “Fleabag” Unite in “The Villain Edit”: Read an Excerpt! (Exclusive)

When a novelist goes on a dating show to revive her career, what happens next is the stuff of reality TV dreams

<p>Avon Books(2) </p> Laurie Devore (left), <em>The Villain Edit</em> cover

Avon Books(2)

Laurie Devore (left), The Villain Edit cover

What do you get when you take an Emily Henry-esque summer read, add a Fleabag-style mess and set it all on a Bachelor-type reality TV show? The Villain Edit, Laurie Devore's new novel, which follows a writer seeking to revive her career by going on a dating show.

Romance novelist Jacqueline Mathis’ career is on the downswing, and she's moved back to her South Caroline hometown to regroup. That's when she hatches a plan: She'll appear on hit reality TV dating show the 1, using her writing skills to nab a meet-cute and create a spicy plotline.

Once there, Jac quickly becomes a frontrunner for bachelor Marcus’ heart, but then she discovers her last one-night stand, Henry Foster, is a producer on the show. And they can't keep their hands off each other. To make matters worse, Jac is getting cast as the villain, leading to her plan falling apart before her very eyes.

Read on for an exclusive excerpt of this summer's hottest read for reality TV fans.

<p>Avon Books</p> <em>The Villain Edit</em>

Avon Books

The Villain Edit

About an hour later, we pull up to a big field. I take a look out at the vast emptiness, and then look back at Henry. “Not exactly California glamour.”

“The budget’s for later in the season, so try to be enticing.”

I sigh. “Try not to humiliate me.”

“No promises,” he says, walking off to where the production team is gathering. I momentarily keep my eyes trained on his back until I spot Charlotte watching me. I wave at her and smile, going off with the other girls.

“What do you think’s going on?” Rikki asks, catching up to me from the other van.

“Where’s Marcus?” Candy says. She’s unbelievably short and is bending her neck at a strange angle to try to see around Aaliyah.

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Grace-Ann sighs. “I’m soooo f------ jealous of Shae getting the first one-on-one.”

“Why?” I ask. “Did he give you some indication he was into you?” She scoffs. “Didn’t he give all of us that?”

I shrug. Kendall smiles her Cheshire-cat smile. “Not as much as Jac,” she says, nudging me. I’d think it was playful if I didn’t know better.

“Don’t you want to make sure this is real before you jump in headfirst, Kendall?” I answer with as much pleasantness as I can.

“I always jump in headfirst,” she tells me. “It’s my most charming quality.” She winks, a game of one-upmanship.

“Ladies!” Charlotte yells, getting all of our attention. “Marcus will be here momentarily. Look alive. Smiles!” she says, pointing at me specifically.

I try.

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“Great! And here comes our leading man!”

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The girls go wild as Marcus gets out of a car, with a small blond woman in jeans on one side, and Brendan the host in an over-the-top patterned green sweater on the other side. Marcus is casual in jeans that hug his hips and a solid white T-shirt, accentuating the solidness of his body. The woman with him veers off to the producers, hugging Elodie and then putting an arm around Henry, grinning up at him.

She’s Janelle, Marcus’s producer, and she’s fine. It doesn’t matter. None of it really matters.

I turn away, focus all my attention on Marcus, who looks to be joking around with Brendan, laughing openly. For a moment, I think he looks right at me as he approaches our group with a charming smile.

“Hello, girls!” he says. Girls. That word again. We all smile up at him like he’s the sun. “You all know I’m here to find my future wife and, well ... I thought a little push might go a long way with that,” he says, pointing at the white tent to our left. “Inside, I’ve picked out some wedding dresses for you all — but what I need now is to see which you’ll pick out for yourselves.”

The girls scream at this, going into a frenzy. So many of them have been dreaming of picking out their wedding dress from conception or whatever — maybe just since they got cast on the show.

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The producers encourage us to “act excited” as we head into the tent, which seems to be code for “try to kill each other so we can show women as animals desperate for marriage.” In protest, I enter the tent last, which does not go unnoticed. One of the production assistants makes me have a staged conversation with Aaliyah about putting on wedding dresses and they get a clip of me saying the whole thing feels a little archaic to me. The things I shouldn’t have said on camera are starting to pile up.

I go through the aisles, touching the fabric of each of the dresses. It feels too cliché for me to go with one that isn’t white — I bet Kendall would get a kick out of that — so instead, I decide to go for an unexpected shade of white. What I said is true — I haven’t spent much of my time thinking about wedding dresses. My entire life, I’ve lacked serious boyfriends and any desire to play into the blushing bride stereotype. It’s a part of myself I don’t much prefer to examine because it says something about my wanting so desperately not to conform that I turn into something I hate, which is a person who hates things just to hate them and won’t let other people enjoy them.

Still, I hate these girls and their love for these wedding dresses, and I think it’s wrong that they don’t hate themselves, too.

“You should wear this one,” Henry says, touching a dress as he walks over to me and pulling it off the rack. It’s light gray, off-color and off-kilter but still elegant, an intricately laced top with a chiffon skirt tumbling down into an almost-black ombre. Henry is watching me thoughtfully as I run my fingers down the fabric of the front.

"Why?” I ask him.

One half of his mouth goes up. “Because I said so and I’m in charge?” he suggests, his eyes twinkling.

“So, that’s what you think of me, I shouldn’t wear white?”

“No,” Henry says wisely. “That’s what you think of yourself.”

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“I’m not like the other girls in that way, am I?” I do like the dress, I think as I look at it. It’s a dress that doesn’t give a f--- but it doesn’t feel flagrantly anti-conformist either. “They look like they should be wearing white, but Jac — maybe we put her in something else.”

“But then again,” I say. “You being in charge? I need a better reason than that.”

He looks down at the dress, really letting his eyes linger on it, and then back up at me. “Marcus will like it,” he says. “And who knows, I might, too.”

I’m taken aback by that, letting myself believe it’s real. I’m struck by him all over again then, his soulful eyes, the way his forearms in T-shirts are almost obscene to me. “Are you allowed to flirt with me?” I ask him.

Simply, he says, “It’s my job.”

I can’t help the way I feel my lips curl at the corners, my cheeks going up in protest to what I want to say. “Well, you suck at it,” I tell him.

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“Okay,” he says simply, putting the dress back on the rack. “Bye, Jac.” He turns easily and waves at me without a second glance, complimenting Rikki on the tastefulness of her ivory jumpsuit as he goes by her. She gives me a wry smile and winks.

“He’s right,” Priya says, from the other side of the rack, where it appears she was listening to our conversation. I jump at the sound of her voice, feeling like I was caught doing something wrong. “That’s one of the nicer dresses we brought. Charlotte wanted you to have it.”

“So she sent Henry to try and flirt me into it?”

“Yeah,” Priya says, “and me to tell you what she wanted so you’d actually do it. We’re about ready to get started, so get it on,” she says, and then takes off, talking into her walkie-talkie.

I look up at Henry again. He’s tousling one of Kendall’s curls with a smile.

F------ Hell.

I put on the dress.

In front of the mirror, I take the time to admire myself for a moment. While the dress hasn’t been tailored to fit me, it still hugs my body nicely with a dramatic effect I like the look of. I’m beautiful. Charlotte knew me well, something I have the foresight to find scary.

Ten minutes later, we all line up in our wedding dresses, the nine of us on this group date, varying heights in various shades of white. Marcus is looking at all of us with appreciation.

“Wow,” Marcus says, “how crazy is it to know my wife could be out here dressed in one of these dresses.”

The girls beam.

The stupid thing is, despite myself, since arriving here, I really want Marcus’s attention. I came here with a plan, and the unwritten rules I’d signed up for were to be a clown in a wedding dress and laugh along with the audience at the ridiculousness of it all so they might be charmed by me. I’d flirt with Marcus and he’d kiss me in front of fireworks and then quietly send me home before the hometowns episode, wherein my hundreds of thousands of social media followers would feel awful for me and buy my books. But I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about Marcus, about how much I liked his eyes lingering on me and how sure I was Charlotte had told him to let his eyes linger on me. I would allow myself to have fun but no more than that. I would not become another victim of the 1’s Stockholm syndrome.

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“Marcus obviously wants someone who will look great in a dress. Think we’ve nailed that, don’t you, Marcus?” Brendan asks him with a laugh. He returns the smile.

“Without a doubt.” Marcus looks out at us again. “But my life isn’t all glitz and glamour. I love to get back to basics and” — he shrugs — “I like to get dirty.” One of the girls releases a quick groan. She’d probably already gotten too attached to that dress. “So,” Marcus says, “I’m putting you all to the test.”

Brendan points at the woods behind him. We follow as the entire crew moves in that direction until we see a 10-foot or so climbing wall headed into the woods.

Brendan, looking gleeful in an evil sort of way, announces, “Welcome to the first ever the 1 wedding obstacle course.”

I stare over at the producers as Brendan explains how the course will have us fighting off exes and mother-in-law obstacles and some other things that make me weep for humanity. The producers and their assistants aren’t even listening, already they’re plotting together.

I don’t want to do this, but I’m going to do this. That’s what I’m thinking.

Excerpt from THE VILLAIN EDIT by Laurie Devore. Copyright © 2024 by Laurie Devore. Used with permission by Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

The Villain Edit is out July 2 from Avon Books and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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