I am so excited to bring you the first 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?
Without further adieu…
Meet Me Off Camera, Part 1: Fall, 2019
The new intern looks terrified.
It’s kind of cute, actually. She stumbles into the room holding our coffees, looking like she’s just had the worst ten minutes of her life.
“Sorry, Jen,” she gasps, looking at our executive producer, Jennifer Lim. Jennifer just smiles encouragingly.
I smile at the girl too, as she sets my coffee down in front of me. “Thanks. I like your necklace,” I add, pointing to the pendant around her neck. It’s a mini camera. She definitely wants to be a director or producer one day.
“Oh my God. Thank you,” she breathes, looking at me like I’m the Mona Lisa or something. I glance at Jen uncomfortably. The girl can’t be a year or two younger than me, but she’s clearly starstruck.
“Calm down, Ammie,” Jen’s assistant calls from the other side of the table, sounding bored. “We told you Em was going to be here today.”
“Nice to meet you, Annie,” I say, trying to make her feel at ease.
“Ammie,” she says quickly. “Short for Amila.”
“Ammie,” I correct.
Ammie smiles again. A few of her flyaway black hairs settle around her face and stick to her glasses.
“Do you want to watch the auditions?” Jen asks, immersed in her script. We shoot the first episode of season two in just a few days, so she’s been multitasking like crazy lately.
Ammie’s dark skin pales very slightly. “M—me, watch auditions?”
“Yes, you,” Jen’s assistant calls. He winks at me across the table, and I return his smile. We have a bit of a weird relationship. I asked his name three weeks ago, forgot it, and now it’s too awkward to ask again. Luckily, I’ve avoided having to use his name thus far.
“Come on. There’s a seat here.” He pats the plastic chair beside him, and Ammie nearly trips over every single one of us on her way there. I stifle a laugh. I see a lot of myself in Ammie—I remember being that starstruck. I still get that way around some people, but for the most part, I’m over it. Especially when I’m sitting at a long plastic casting table prepping for chemistry reads with the shortlist of guys selected to play my next love interest.
When I landed the lead role on the TV show Bomb Squad two years ago, I never expected that we’d make it past the pilot. I didn’t expect it to get picked up by a major network and I certainly didn’t expect to make it to season two. But I guess something about three badass girls chasing pyromaniac bad guys all over the country stuck with the audience. My co-stars, Kenna and Jaz, aren’t doing chemistry reads this time around. Their characters lock lips just about every episode, which we all know is just fine by them, even if no one says it. I think we all secretly like seeing the looks K & J share between takes—I know I do. But until they come out and say, “we’re together” and everyone pretends to be surprised, I’ll just wink at them from afar.
The first slot is just a few minutes away when our director, Rob, rolls in. He ruffles my hair as he passes me. I swat his hand, but I’m smiling even as I smooth the blonde strands down again. Rob was the one who fought for me to get the part the first time around. Since Mom and Dad are back in Indiana, he’s kind of like a second father to me.
“Who’s up first, chief?” I ask. I stretch and get to my feet, walking around the table so I’m standing in front of all of them.
“Landon Briggs,” Jen’s assistant calls. “Just finished shooting some limited series on Netflix.”
“Fancy,” I say. “We have a headshot?”
Jen pushes it to the edge of the table without looking at me. He’s cute. Really cute, actually. I feel butterflies already. It’s like I’m on the bachelorette or something, with all these guys competing for my hand. But of course, they’re not competing for me. They’re competing for a six-episode stint on Bomb Squad.
“That’s him, now,” Jen’s assistant calls. “You want to go get him, Ammie?”
“Get Landon. I can do that!”
Ammie knocks over her chair on the way out. It’s honestly pretty adorable.
I rock back and forth on my heels while I wait for Ammie and Landon to get here. I shouldn’t be nervous—why am I nervous? We’re going to be handed scripts, and we’ll read them. They’ll take a look at our body language. See if there’s that spark in the room—that spark that shows up on camera and makes all of America swoon.
Rob shoots me a thumbs-up, and I realize why I’m nervous. It’s because every time I’ve stood up in front of a long table, I’ve been the one auditioning. I think my brain’s forgetting that I already have the part. And the hearts of a lot of people on Twitter, for that matter. And the dozen or so people who slide into my Instagram DMs weekly proposing sex or marriage.
Sometimes I read the messages when I need a confidence boost, but those people don’t want to do any of that with me. They want Emory Miller, the actress. Or my character, Hailey Ryder. Either way, those people love a character. Not me. But that’s for the best. Because when people get to know the real me? When I let them see it? I get burned.
I’m too busy to get burned these days.
A few moments later, Ammie shows Landon into the room. She’s so starstruck now that her eyes are literally glazed over. It’s not hard to see why—Landon is the very definition of tall, dark and handsome. He shoots me a dazzling smile and walks right up to me with the confidence of a guy who just finished shooting a Netflix limited series—which, of course, he has.
“Nice to finally meet you,” he says, shaking my hand.
I smile at him, and we accept our scripts from Rob. I have a general idea of what’s going to be in mine, but it’s my first time saying the words out loud. Landon is clearly very good at what he does—clearly, he’s more than just a pretty face.
The reading goes well. We fight. We draw closer. We end up inches from each other. The tip of his nose brushes mine. His dark skin is smooth and his breath smells like peppermint. If I wanted, I could kiss him. But that would be unprofessional.
And as good as he is, as good as I am, it’s not there. The spark. And it’s not something we can make out of nothing.
“Thanks, guys,” Rob says, raising a hand.
I drop my hand to my side and step back. The pages of my script flutter against my jean-clad thigh.
Landon grins at me, but I can tell we’re thinking the same thing. We were reading lines, not feeling them. Just reading won’t get you anywhere in this town.
“It was nice to meet you, Emory,” Landon says.
“See you around,” I say.
The next three auditions go about the same way. I’m starting to get seriously frustrated by the time the third one leaves the room.
“Sorry,” I mutter to Rob, kicking at one of the table legs as I walk over to down the rest of my latte.
“Stop it,” Jen chides. “All part of the process.”
“Sure,” I say.
“Come on. Maybe the next one’ll be it,” Rob says encouragingly. “Don’t give up on me now, doll.”
I stick my tongue out at him and roll my neck. Come on, Em. You can do this. You’ve felt chemistry before.
Yeah, right. Just once. And that was years ago. Years and years ago with a stupid boy who broke my stupid heart. I close my eyes for a second, trying to remember how it felt before it all came crashing down. The first time we saw each other. The first time he touched me when he didn’t have to. The last.
Why am I thinking about him right now? Ugh.
“Ammie, can you get me another coffee?” I ask. I feel bad kicking her out of auditions, but I really, really need it.
“Yeah, no. Ignore that.” Jen’s assistant puts his hand on Ammie’s shoulder, pushing her back into her seat. “Emory doesn’t need any more caffeine.”
“Yes, Emory does,” I mutter.
He just laughs, and I really, really wish I knew his name.
“You ready for the next one?” Rob asks.
I nod, grimacing.
“Let Ammie up, will you, Max?” Jen says, looking pointedly at Max’s—I file his name away—hand, which is still on her shoulder. “Thanks, sweetie,” she says as Ammie scrambles back out the door. “I have a good feeling about this one. You’ve worked with him before.”
“I have?” I frown, confused. Before I landed Bomb Squad, I’d only scored minor roles on other teen sci-fi shows. “Is it Henry?”
Jen shrugs. “Wouldn’t want to kill the suspense.”
But as she says that, the suspense is killing me. My palms are sweaty for the first time all day, which is a very bad sign, considering how nervous I was before Landon’s audition. My heart thumps underneath my tight purple t-shirt.
It can’t be him. There’s no way it’s him. Someone would’ve warned me.
I hold my breath as the door opens, and Caden Khanna strolls into the room.
It’s good luck that I’m an actress, because if I didn’t know how to corral my emotions, my jaw would be on the floor.
Caden Khanna. Caden Khanna is auditioning for my television show.
I pinch the skin on my left hand. Hard.
Nope. Not a dream.
“Thanks for coming in, Caden,” Jen says. I remember that, even though I’m frozen, time is still moving forward at its regular pace. That the globe didn’t stop spinning because the guy who broke my heart four years ago just walked into the room. And short of me stalking out, or a meteor strike, there won’t be any stopping this audition, either.
“Pleasure’s mine,” Caden says, but his eyes are fixed on me. I can’t help but stare. He’s every bit as hot as the second I first laid eyes on him. His skin is tawny and flawless, like it always is. His hair, a touch lighter than black but nowhere close to brown, is styled in a way that makes it look completely effortless even though I know he spent a lot of time on it this morning. It strays onto his forehead, grazing his eyebrows. I swallow, hard. I remember running my hand over those brows, down to his lips and—
“I think we’ll give Em a break from the sides,” Jen says, referring to the lines I hold in my hand.
“Uh, excuse me?” I say. What the hell does she mean, give me a break from reading the lines? That’s how auditions work. You read lines.
“You guys just…chat. About whatever,” Jen says. She looks at Rob. I look at both of them, fuming. What are they playing at? They think a few on-screen kisses between Caden and I when we were seventeen means we’ll be able to banter like it was yesterday?
“I’d rather read the sides,” I say bluntly.
“Oh, come on, Em,” Caden says. He joins me in the middle of the room, in front of the table. “It’ll be like old times.”
I turn towards him, furious. “You want to relive old times? Maybe you should leave, then. You’ve got a whole bunch of practice with that.”
Caden just smirks at me. “That’s not really what you want.”
He’s wrong. He’s wrong. I want him to leave. I never want to see his stupid, smug, handsome face ever again. And I definitely don’t want to see how good his biceps look under his tight black t-shirt.
“I—would—I—” I swallow, completely flustered as I meet his eyes. Those eyes are where all the trouble starts. Every bit of it. He flashed them at me, day one, and I was a goner. No matter what my head said.
“I think you want me to grab you and kiss you like the last two years didn’t happen,” Caden continues. He steps closer to me, and I don’t step back. I’m frozen. The air is thrumming with electricity, and I can’t feel anything else.
“But they did happen,” I whisper. “A lot…” I stutter, “…happened.”
Without warning, Caden closes the last of the space between us and, ever so slowly, tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. His eyes draw me in like magnets. I can’t look anywhere else, but I also can’t breathe.
Caden leans into me and my eyes flutter shut. I can’t help it. It’s a reflex. Left over from those three magical weeks oh so long ago.
His lips brush my ear. “Your breath smells like coffee,” he says.
I shove him back, the spell broken.
“Cut, you guys,” Jen calls.
I glare at Caden. Caden just laughs. He even has the audacity to wink at me. I’ll show him winking. I’ll make sure he never sets foot on a set that anyone I know is working at ever agai—
“Good working with you again, Emory,” Caden says. “I really thought we played off each other well there.”
I step back, at a loss for words. The arrogant prick tricked me into ad-libbing with him.
Kiss you like the last two years didn’t happen.
It happened four years ago. He changed just enough detail so that no one would pick up on the fact that our words were dripping with reality.
I curse under my breath.
Caden is chatting with Rob now, and I can barely make out what they’re saying. But I do hear him say “we’ll be in touch,” which is Rob-speak for “you’ve basically got the part.”
This can’t be happening. I don’t want Caden Khanna or his perfect lips anywhere near me, or my show.
“Thanks for the opportunity,” Caden says to Rob. He gives me a salute, and I want to cross the room and punch him in the face right then and there.
But I don’t.
“I don’t like him,” I say the second the door closes.
Jen laughs. “You’re joking, right? You guys would be Nielsen gold together.”
“I’m Nielsen gold all by myself,” I say stubbornly, knowing full well that it takes a lot more than just my face to get viewers to tune into the show every week.
“Of course, you are, sweetie,” Jen says soothingly. “But that right there? I haven’t seen anything like that in years.”
“Rob?” I say desperately.
Rob shakes his head, smiling. “Come on, kiddo. You know what that looked like from here.”
And I hate him, because he’s right. Caden Khanna and I have it. Chemistry. Lightning in a freaking bottle. But there’s a reason for that. One I’d rather keep buried.
“Come on, doll,” Rob says soothingly. “I want your blessing, but you know I don’t need it.”
“Gah!” I yell. I storm out of the room. Later, I know I’ll cave, call Rob, and apologize for being such a brat, but that’s later. Right now, I’m going to lock myself in a bathroom stall and tear all of my hair out, strand by strand.
I call Jaz once I’m inside.
I call Kenna.
I remember that they’re in New York, at fashion week.
I scroll through my address book. Liya’s in Orlando, filming. Charles and Matt are—honestly, probably making out somewhere. Everyone I want to call is busy, but I need to call someone. This is burning me up from the inside. All of the pain I’ve buried for years smashed into me like a tidal wave back there, and I hate it. I hate feeling swept away by anything, least of all by a jerk like Caden Khanna.
For a while, I just lean against the bathroom stall, feeling sorry for myself. When I finally leave the bathroom, Ammie is waiting for me in the hallway.
“Uh, Jen wants to know if you’re okay,” she says tentatively.
I stare at Ammie. “How old are you?”
She blinks. “Twenty.”
I cross my arms. “You have a fake?”
Ammie stutters. “Uh, what?”
“Never mind. You won’t need one.”
“Uh, Emory? What should I tell Jen?”
“Tell her to hire Caden Khanna, and that you and I are going out for drinks.”
End Part 1
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first part of Emory’s story! Part Two 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.