I am so excited to bring you the fourth 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!
Or, catch up with Part Two here.
And Part Three!
Meet Me Off Camera, Part 4: Summer, 2015
When I got offered the role of Lacey Harris on The Globe Theory, I screamed. Literally. Aunt Lucy ran into my room to see what was wrong. After that, I Skyped some friends from back home and we all yelled a lot more.
“Can you get my him to autograph something for me?” Wendy asked breathlessly. I could see the red tint in her cheeks even in her tiny group-chat box.
“No,” I scoffed. “I want to give him the illusion that I’m a tiny bit normal.”
“You’ve got his poster on your wall,” Shana pointed out.
“I took that down when I came here,” I argued. But poster or no poster, I was a Caden Khanna fangirl through and through.
Which is why the last place I expected to find myself, in like, life, was alone with him in his trailer.
Yeah. Caden Khanna has a trailer.
After our…incident on the patio, I did my best to put Caden out of my mind. We’re just actors. And even if feelings go beyond that (I know mine do), they won’t leave this set. This isn’t real life, it’s summer camp. And as hard as kids all over the nation try to hold onto those last precious days of summer, they have to run out sometime. The clock is ticking, and there are only fourteen days left on it. In fourteen days, I’ll be wrapped, Lacey will be dead, and I’ll never see Caden Khanna again.
But for now, I’m standing awkwardly in Caden Khanna’s doorway as he ruffles through a drawer, looking for something. Finally, he finds his script, grabs it, and sprawls out on the bed. He’s wearing sweats and a t-shirt, wildly different clothes than he was wearing this morning as Wyatt. No, this morning, he was dressed from head to toe in black: black jeans, black jacket, even black eyeliner around his eyes. It’s drifted a little since the shoot, giving him the illusion of overly dark circles under his eyes.
“So,” he says.
“Uh, so,” I echo. I scuff my shoe into the floor. “How did you think this morning went?”
Caden waves a hand like it couldn’t possibly matter. “Same old, same old.”
I’m torn between being offended that he thinks I’m just the same old, same old and flattered that I did well enough to blend in opposite him. I compromise by clearing my throat loudly.
“Caden, why am I here?”
Caden laughs. “So we can go swimming, why do you think?” he ruffles the pages of the script. “Want to go through it some more?”
“Uh, yeah, of course,” I say quickly. We have a few hours before our next call time, and then we’ll shoot the final scene of the episode. The one where we kiss. On camera.
I’m going to kiss Caden Khanna again, and in front of people this time.
“You want to sit down?” Caden asks. The corner of his mouth twitches.
“I’m good here.” I lean back against the doorway.
“Suit yourself.” Caden yawns and flops back on the bed. “Where’s your script?”
“I don’t need it,” I say.
Caden sits back up to fix me with a skeptical look. “You don’t need it?” he repeats.
“I memorized it.”
“What if you choke?” he asks.
“Then I’ll do that during rehearsal and not on set.” I cross my arms. “The first line’s yours.”
Caden sits back up and fixes me with a glare, snapping into character in the blink of an eye. “I don’t trust you.”
If I hadn’t remembered to brace myself for it, I would’ve been thrown by the intensity in his voice. But I’ve watched enough footage of him over the years to know just how intense he can make the simplest of lines.
I swallow and take deep, shuddering breaths, letting the fear wash over me. And the determination. “You may not trust me, but I’m your best chance of getting out of here alive.”
Caden laughs under his breath. I step towards him and raise my eyebrows. “Why don’t you trust me, huh? Everything I’ve done since we met has been to try and keep you safe.”
Caden gets to his feet and gets right in my face. “I don’t trust anyone that tries to seduce me.”
My heart’s beating like crazy, but that’s an Emory problem, and I can’t let the Emory problems show on Lacey’s face. So I smirk up at him. “Is that what I’ve been doing, Wyatt?”
Caden inhales sharply. His eyes click to my lips and then back to mine and it’s a wonder I’m still standing, because that gaze turns me to absolute mush. “Yeah,” he whispers.
And it’s so convincing that I start to wonder if he’s still in character or not. But I just keep looking up at him with the same devious smirk on my face. “Is it working?” I ask.
I move a hair closer to him and close my eyes. I can feel his breath on my lips and the tension in the air between us.
I wait for him to kiss me.
I open my eyes and he’s smirking. “Good job,” he says mildly.
“You too,” I say automatically, and it’s all I can do to keep from stuttering. He didn’t kiss me. All that fuss on the patio and he didn’t kiss me when we were meant to be running the damn scene!?
Caden’s watching me carefully. “You alright?”
“Of course,” I say. All at once, I feel very, very stupid. I can’t be daydreaming about kissing a coworker. That’s a recipe for both heartbreak and disaster.
“Wanna run it again?”
“It’s like seven lines, Caden. I think we’ve got it,” I say. My voice is icy. I can’t help it. But as I say that, something clicks and I frown at him. “It’s like seven lines. You really asked me to come here to run seven lines? “
“You really showed up here to run seven lines?” Caden mimics.
I glare at him and he laughs. I can’t stand how much I like the sound of his laugh. “I came here out of professionalism.”
I swear his eyes actually twinkle, like it says in romance novels and stuff. “Oh, please. You’re here for the same reason I asked you here.”
I cross my arms. “And what’s that?”
“You think I’m cute.”
I scoff at him. “Your self-esteem must be really low if you’re trying to goad a co-star into complimenting your looks.”
“I’m not goading you into anything. I’m calling you cute,” Caden says.
I blink at him, running it back in my head. “I guess that tracks.”
“I called you here so that we could have a real conversation, away from everyone. Away from the cameras,” he explains.
An unexpected warmth flutters in my chest. He asked me here to talk instead of make out. It’s confusing to say the least. But I’m not complaining. So, I uncross my arms and soften my voice. “Really?”
“Really, Emory.” He offers what looks like his first genuine smile all afternoon. “You think I invite all of my co-stars to make out with me?”
“The pretty ones,” I quip.
He shrugs. “Fair.”
Caden reaches for my hand. “Seriously. Come here.” I hesitate, for just a second, and then relax my fingers against his. It’s been a while since I’ve held hands with someone, and it feels nice. Normal. Like something I could get used to.
Yeah, I could definitely get used to holding Caden Khanna’s hand.
We sit together on the bed, close enough that our knees are almost touching.
“So, Emory,” Caden says, taking on an unnecessarily formal tone as he turns to face me. “Where are you from?”
“Okay, um, I’m originally from Indiana, but I moved here a few months ago to live with my aunt. She’s a producer,” I explain.
“Oh, so you got this role through nepotism. That makes a lot of sense,” Caden teases.
I smack his leg with the back of my hand. “She’s a film producer, asshole, and all she did was introduce me to my agent. I landed him on my own.”
“What made you want to leave Indiana?” Caden asks, and I have to keep reminding myself that he’s not acting, he’s genuinely interested in what I have to say. It’s hard to tell with him. I wonder if it ever gets any easier.
“Caden, have you ever been to Indiana?”
“You know why? Because no one wants to be in Indiana. Indiana doesn’t even want to be in Indiana,” I laugh and shrug. “I know what I want to do. When the opportunity came to move here, I took it. Simple as that.”
“That’s brave,” Caden says.
“People chase dreams out here all the time.”
“Not many smart people,” he says.
“You’re saying I’m dumb?” I ask, eyebrows raised.
He laughs and brushes his fingers against mine again. “I’m saying you’re the exception. You’re one of the only people I’ve seen out here that might actually make it.”
“I thought you wanted to talk. So far, you’ve just complimented me,” I tease. “What about you? Where are you from?”
I know where he’s from. I’ve googled him. But it seems polite to ask.
“Always lived here,” he answers. “Started acting when I was ten and never looked back.”
“Do you love it?” I ask.
Caden shrugs. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
That’s not a yes. I wonder if I should press him. If he wants me to press him. Because I want him to like me, right? And if he does already, I don’t want to mess that up.
“What if you weren’t?” I ask.
“Acting. What do you think you’d be doing?”
“Attending high school, for one.”
“As a career,” I say, bumping his shoulder playfully. We’re still holding hands, and there’s a tug as he pretends to be bowled over by the force.
“Writer,” he says without hesitation. He looks sideways at me. “People don’t usually ask that.”
“They don’t?” I ask. It seems like one of the first basic getting-to-know-you questions that everyone secretly loves getting asked.
“Well, I get asked in interviews all the time,” Caden says. There’s the smallest note of bitterness in his voice.
I look away. “I—sorry,” I say.
“No, hey,” Caden says. His other hands grazes my cheek, coaxing me to face him again. “What I meant was that it was nice to be asked something by someone who’s not trying to get something out of me. An exclusive. A story. A selfie.”
My face falls. “You mean we can’t take a selfie?”
Caden rolls his eyes, but a laugh escapes from his mouth. “You think you’re funny, don’t you?”
“Oh, I know I am.” I smirk at him, suddenly more comfortable than I was a moment ago. Caden isn’t just some mega-star that I had a poster of on my wall. Not just someone to read about in magazines and retweet photos of. He’s also a person. And how can you expect people to like you if you don’t show them who you are?
“You know what I think?” Caden shifts to face me and puts a hand on my knee. “I think you’re just trying to get me to kiss you again.”
“That is a wild accusation,” I say. “No more kissing until we’ve learned at least three more things about each other, each.”
“Just three?” Caden asks. He meets my eyes and it’s like looking into the sun.
“Three,” I whisper.
“I love frozen yogurt, I fell out of a tree when I was four and I’ve always wanted to learn to rollerblade,” Caden says. “Your turn.”
I take a deep breath. “I’ve terrified of spiders, I hate chocolate milkshakes, and I want to be famous.”
“Famous,” Caden echoes. “You’re on television already.”
I shake my head. “I want to be big. I want to affect people.”
Caden frowns. “It’s not all it seems to be.”
I shrug. “Nothing ever is.”
“But this is different,” Caden insists. He pulls his hand out of mine. “Not everyone can handle this.”
“I thought you said I was one of the smart ones,” I say.
“And I think you are,” Caden says. He sighs and puts his hand on my face again. “That’s why you’re going to realize that this life won’t give you what you’re looking for.”
“And what am I looking for?” I ask, a bit heated.
He shrugs. “You tell me.”
I look at him for a moment, my face caught between consideration and anger. What am I looking for?”
“Let me ask you this. If you were given the choice, right now, between love and fame, which one would you choose?”
“Why can’t I have both?” I ask.
“Because you can’t. Red pill, blue pill. You find love, you’ll never be famous. You’re famous, you’ll never find love.”
I shake my head and look away. There’s no rule that says I won’t find both of those things. I’m seventeen, for God’s sake. But his question still bothers me. If it really came down to it, what would I choose?
“Let’s set some parameters here,” I say. “Who is it that I’m meant to be falling in love with?”
“Why does that matter?”
“It affects my quality of life,” I argue.
Caden laughs again, and I can’t tell if he’s amused or exasperated. “Me,” he says finally. “You get to fall in love with me.”
My mouth drops open. “I—”
“Don’t overthink it,” Caden says. “You wanted a face to the thought experiment.” He points to his chin. “Here it is.”
I roll my eyes, trying to ignore the way my heart is stuttering in my chest. “Well, now I can’t say love.”
“Sure, you can.”
Tension zaps through my gut as I look back at him. I lean close to him. My lips brush his ear as I whisper. “Fame.”
It’s only a second before his lips find mine again. His hands are on my waist and it’s so toxic, so very unprofessional, but I couldn’t stop kissing him back even if I wanted to. The pull I feel towards him is electric. Exhilarating. Unstoppable. I’ve never felt anything like this, and something tells me that this is the only place I’ll find it. Right here, right now. In this squeaky, dimly lit trailer with Caden Khanna’s hands in my hair and my neck and—
Caden’s phone chimes and we break apart, struggling to catch our breath.
“I want to take you on a date,” Caden whispers. “Soon as we wrap. You, me, frozen yogurt.”
“And who said I like frozen yogurt?” I trace my thumb over his lips.
“You like me,” is his answer.
I don’t say anything because, damn it, he’s right.
“We’ve gotta get to makeup.” Caden stands and pulls me to my feet. “Hope you saved your best for the cameras.”
“I’m sorry, am I not a good enough kisser for you?” I ask indignantly.
He kisses me again, and suddenly I want to say screw the cameras, screw the fame, screw all of it. At this moment, everything I want is here in this trailer.
“Hmm,” Caden says, his hand hooked around the back of my neck as he looks down at me. “There’s some room for improvement.”
I hit his chest. He just laughs and catches my hand, and together, we walk to the makeup trailer.
Thank you for reading! Part Five will be released Wednesday. Do you ship Caden and Emory? Tweet me, and let me know!