I am so excited to bring you the second part of my Frolic Original novella, Meet Me Off Camera! This is a New Adult contemporary romance, and here is the synopsis:
When Emory was seventeen, hotshot TV star Caden Khanna broke her heart. Despite their on-set fling, he’d never be seen dating a Z-lister like her. Now, four years later, Caden is out of the spotlight, washed up…and guest starring on her show. Can Emory leave the heartbreak of the past behind and find her Hollywood HEA?
Read Part One HERE!
Meet Me Off Camera, Part 2: Summer, 2015
I park my car in the lot and try to breathe normally. I’ve been to the office before, of course, when I had my final callback, but that was different. I was just meeting the director and producer, not the rest of the cast. The Globe Theory is the hottest thing on TV right now. How am I supposed to blend in with superstars like Kady Parker and Hannah Kim?
More importantly, how am I supposed to keep my composure when I’m kissing Caden Khanna? I knew that he was on the show when I auditioned for the part, but I hadn’t known I was auditioning to be his love interest. I certainly hadn’t expected to land the role. It was only my second audition, for God’s sake! I don’t think for a second that I was the best one who tried out. I think I had the look they wanted—glasses, long straight hair and more than a few freckles on my pale skin. I’m textbook nerd-girl, and lucky for me, that was exactly what the producers were looking for.
My phone beeps, reminding me that I only have five minutes before the table read starts. I check my bag again—script is still there, highlighters are still there, gel pens are still there. I have everything I need, except my composure.
I spy my anxiety medicine at the bottom of my bag. I curse under my breath. I put it into the bag this morning so I’d remember to take it, but then I forgot. I take it now, washing it down with water. Being an hour or so off schedule shouldn’t affect anything, but with my nerves today, being a second late seems catastrophic.
“Get it together, Emory,” I tell myself sternly. I check my reflection in the shiny black surface of my phone. “They’re just people.” Just very attractive, successful people. One of whom you have to kiss!
And I just have the script for the first of my three episodes. Who knows what’s coming in the next two?
My phone beeps again. My three-minute warning. I hike my bag onto my shoulder and hightail it to the conference room.
I’m not the last one there—not even close. A dozen seats ring the circular conference table, each with a placard in front of it. Over half of the seats are empty. The producer, Mari, hops to her feet when she sees me.
“Emory, hi,” she says, walking over to pull me into a hug. “I’m glad you found it okay.”
I smile and return her hug. Mari is very good at her job, but also a total sweetheart. Her notes on my audition were probably one of the reasons I got the part.
I look past her to the series director, Ahmed Khatri. He nods at me, but then returns to his own, note-covered script. He’s quiet, but as far as I know, hasn’t directed a bad shot in his life. The fact that he wants me in one of his projects is intimidating to say the least.
“Who’s missing?” Mari asks her assistant. The girl, who’s pretty, with glasses like mine, mutters a few names under her breath.
I drop into my seat, noticing that my seat is right next to the name card that reads Caden Khanna.
Before I moved to LA last year, I spent most of my time doing two things: performing in community theater and watching Caden Khanna on television.
Before he was cast in The Globe Theory, Caden was cable’s number one IT boy. He got his start on kids’ shows, but now, at eighteen, he had three TV movies under his belt and two whole seasons of Globe Theory. Half Malayali and half white, with dark skin and curly brown hair to die for, he’s on posters on more than a few of my friends’ walls.
In our defense, we were fifteen when the posters went up. And seventeen is a perfectly acceptable age to have a celebrity crush. At least that’s what I tell myself as I sit in this black leather swivel chair, waiting for him to arrive. And that’s what I’ll tell myself when I kiss him on camera.
People trickle in as the set meeting time comes and goes. I’m introduced to the rest of the cast, all of whom seem pleasant but under varying levels of stress. For the first episode, I’ll only have scenes with Caden and Sara Mathew, who plays his sister in the show. Soon, only Caden’s seat remains empty. Mari, normally very composed, looks pretty pissed. I tap my pen against my script nervously. Where is Caden? Is it normal for him to show up late to things?
Finally, fifteen minutes past call time, Caden strolls into the room. He’s wearing dark jeans and a bright blue polo shirt that dips below his collarbones. My mouth is suddenly incredibly dry. After all these years of watching him on my television, Caden Khanna is right here in front of me.
God help me.
“Hey,” he says when he realizes people are staring. He drops into his seat and looks sideways at me. His eyes linger on my face. He looks me up and down, and a smirk spreads over his lips.
I just look back at him, eyes wide.
Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.
“You must be Lacey,” he says. And I can’t. Stop looking at his lips. Especially because he’s looking at my lips, too!
“Uh, Emory,” I stutter. I think about shaking his hand, but considering how sweaty my palms are, that’s a very bad idea. “Lacey’s my—”
“Character, I know.” Caden drops into his seat and leans towards me, his elbow on the table. “Hey, don’t be nervous.”
“I’m not,” I say. I try to smile, but it wavers. I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been, even when I stepped off the plane at LAX with just my suitcase. My aunt, the one who found me my agent, picked me up at the airport and drove me to my new home—her Santa Monica apartment. I’ve been living there ever since.
“Hey, it’s okay.” Caden puts a hand on my knee.
I suck in a breath. I can’t help it. And if I can’t help but turn to mush after taking to the guy for three seconds, how on earth am I going to make it through three weeks of shooting?
“Alright, now that Caden has decided that this is worth his time, let’s get started.” Mari gets to her feet, and brief introductions are made. I pretend not to know everyone’s names already, but I do. I re-watched every single episode of The Globe Theory the second I found out I had the part.
We flip our scripts open, and the table read begins.
For the first half hour, everything is fine. My character, Lacey, meets Caden’s, Wyatt, in the woods. They—we—share a night together running from the monsters his evil stepbrother is sending after him. Wyatt doesn’t realize it, but I’m one of the monsters, too. I have to get close to him and trick him into trusting me so that I can snatch the pendant from his neck. I don’t know much about what happens to Lacey after this episode, but I’m guessing she dies.
In this episode, however, Wyatt saves her life and they end up kissing near a bonfire after he patches up her hurt arm. I falter, ever so slightly, when we get to this part. No one else seems to notice, but I see Caden glance sideways at me, like he knows it’s not just acting. Like he knows I’m scared out of my mind to try to seduce anyone, even if it’s just pretend.
I don’t know why I’m so scared of it. I’ve never even been in love. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just scared to fall in love, now.
I shake the thoughts away and pour the fear into Lacey.
Everything goes off without a hitch, which is a small miracle considering they didn’t bother to screen test Caden and me before I was cast. Maybe he’s so good that he’s guaranteed to have chemistry with anyone they put next to him up there. That certainly rings true so far. His hand on my knee felt like it was going to melt my whole body into goop. I really need to get a handle on that before we shoot this weekend.
After a second read, Mari and Ahmed are satisfied. I say my nice-to-meet-you’s and hightail it out of there. I’ve managed to play it cool thus far, but I’m freaking out inside.
Caden Khanna is the cutest boy I’ve ever seen.
And he’s following me.
“Hey, Emory,” he calls. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Oh.” I turn. “Uh, yeah. No problem.”
Caden grins. He circles around me for what seems to be the express purpose of pressing a hand to the small of my back as he leads me down a hallway and onto a patio I haven’t seen before. The weather is beautiful, like it always is in LA, and the breeze that sweeps over our faces is cool and sweet. I blink into the sunlight, staring out at the skyline. The Hollywood sign glints in the distance.
“You did good in there,” Caden says finally, grinning at me. “Even if you were nervous.”
I roll my eyes. “Fine, I was nervous. Happy?” I ask. “This is my first role. Cut me some slack.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Caden says quickly. “We’re going to be working together for a while. I don’t want you to be scared of me.”
I sputter. “Scared of you? Why would I be scared of you?”
I’m completely terrified of him. Of his face, his energy, his charm. I’d normally run away from guys like him as fast as I could.
“Come on,” Caden laughs. “I know I can be intimidating.”
“Sure,” I say quickly. Where on earth is this conversation going?
“You were nervous in there,” Caden says for like the fifth time. “And,” he holds up a hand before I can interrupt. “I can tell you’re going to be nervous on set, too.”
“What gives you that idea?” I say defensively.
Caden moves towards me until there’s less than a foot between us. He smirks down at me and I could stand on tiptoe and kiss that smirk off his face if I wanted to.
And God, do I want to.
I swallow, hard.
Caden clicks his tongue. “Listen, Emory, if you get this anxious when I’m just standing close to you, how do you expect to keep it together on camera?”
I bristle and step back. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Caden’s smirk drops away. “No, I didn’t mean you can’t—I know you’re a good actress, that much is clear.”
“But I couldn’t handle kissing you because I’ll definitely fall head-over-heels in love with you?” I suggested.
“Well…” Caden shrugs. “Kidding!” he says when I sock him in the arm. “Look, Emory, I just brought you out here to say…well, I think it would help if the first time we kiss isn’t in front of a bunch of cameras.”
I mouth soundlessly at him. Did Caden Khanna actually just ask me to kiss him, here and now? I needed time to prepare for this. Mentally and physically. I practically fall over with relief when I remember that I was chewing a piece of mint gum throughout the read. Because if I have all of this right, Caden Khanna is going to kiss me. Right here, right now.
“We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he says quickly. “The scene will look great either way.”
So, he’s just offering to kiss me, then? This is so confusing. Is this a trap? If I say yes, am I just another conquest of the uber-cool, uber-hot Caden Khanna? If I say no, am I some stuck-up, cowardly Z-lister?
“Emory?” Caden asks. “Do you want to?”
“I—I guess,” I say. “Yeah. Sure. Let’s.”
“Okay,” Caden says, moving closer to me again. He reaches up to my face and tucks a piece of hair behind my ear. His fingers brush the frame of my glasses and linger on the side of my face. My heart is pounding now, faster than I can remember it going, like, ever.
Our eyes meet. I nod, and then he’s kissing me and man oh man do I wish this was real. I wish that he was tangling his hands in my hair after our first date. That I could wrap my hands around his waist instead of just standing here trying not to make things awkward.
I ball my hands into fists at my sides and open my eyes quickly when Caden breaks the kiss. My lips are tingling. He smirks at me again. “You can touch me more than that, you know.”
I sputter. “I didn’t touch you at all!”
“On camera, you’ll have to.”
“We’re off camera,” I remind him. My cheeks are burning bright red. I bet he does this to all his costars, just to prove he can seduce anyone he likes.
“Being off camera can have its advantages,” Caden says, his voice low. He steps towards me again.
I step back automatically. “I think we should stick to acting from now on.”
“You weren’t acting back there?” Caden teases.
“I…of course I was,” I sputter. “I was just—you suggested this.”
“Then stop laughing at me!” I glare at him. God, is that smirk tattooed on his lips or something?
Caden actually does laugh at this. “I wasn’t laughing at you.”
“Well, you’re staring at me,” I mutter.
“What’s wrong with that?” Caden asks innocently. “You’re cute. I like looking at you.”
I roll my eyes. “Is this what you do with every girl who walks on set? Just because you can?”
“What gives you that idea?”
“You’re doing it to me.”
I shake my head. “I’ll see you on set.”
“You don’t want to make out some more?” Caden calls after me as I turn away.
I look back at him, eyebrows raised. “Are you being serious?”
Caden’s smirk falters for the first time all afternoon. “About what?”
“Do you really want to make out with me?” I ask bluntly.
Caden looks me up and down, and his smirk sneaks back onto his face. “Do you?”
I bristle. “I asked you first.”
Caden considers me for a moment. “I do,” he decides.
“That’s a bad idea,” I say immediately.
Caden just grins. “I know.”
“Bad idea,” I repeat, but I keep stepping closer to him. It’s like we’re two ends of a freaking magnet. Or maybe he’s just a black hole, sucking me in with an irresistible gravity.
I bite my lip, hard as I look up at him. “Just kissing.”
“Just kissing,” he agrees. And then he kisses me again, right there in front of the Hollywood sign.
End Part 2
Thanks for reading Part 2! I hope you’re loving this step into Hollywood. Part 3 is available now! In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts with me on Twitter at @am_i_write. I also wrote a book one time and you can check it out here.