I am so excited to bring you the final 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.
Meet Me Off Camera, Part 6: Fall, 2019
It’s around seven o’clock when Kenna calls. I pick up, unsurprised when both she and Jaz appear on my screen. I roll over onto my back, holding my phone above my face. “Hey.”
“What’re you up to?” Jaz demands, her eyes alight with an energy that means she’s about to tell me what I’m up to.
“Nothing much,” I admit. Except for lying in bed and replaying my recent conversation with Caden Khanna, wondering what the hell it meant.
“You’re coming out,” Kenna declares.
I laugh and nod. I wouldn’t expect anything less. “Fine. When and where?”
Jaz rattles off the name of some club I’ve never heard of, but I’ll just uber there anyways. We have a whole day before shooting officially starts, so I’m guessing they want to use this as a last hurrah. I quickly agree, already planning my outfit out in my head.
“Oh, let me invite Ammie,” I say. Even though she’s a bit younger than us, she’ll make a great addition to our girl gang.
“Max, too,” Kenna says, tugging on Jaz’s sleeve. I grin. Max will like that, and I’m guessing that Ammie will too. I couldn’t be happier to be fifth-wheeling a group. I’m in desperate need of a night on the town.
“Oh, invite Caden, too,” Kenna says, waving at me like I might’ve gotten distracted and needed reminding that I was having a conversation.
I hesitate. Jaz nudges Kenna.
“What?” Kenna says defensively. “They went out to the balcony earlier, alone.”
“You don’t have to invite him,” Jaz says tiredly. They really work so well together: Kenna’s untamed energy matched with Jaz’s unparalleled ability to stay calm.
I bite my lip, considering. If Caden was serious about putting things behind us, then inviting him out would be a nice gesture. And that’s all it is—a gesture. Definitely not a less-than-subtle way to see if he’s changed as much as I have. To get to know the person he is now and see if there’s anything there.
I’m over Caden Khanna. And we can be friends. Right? And if I don’t invite him, I’ll have to go through the exhausting work of re-telling the whole story. I don’t want the that weird mystery hanging over them all night. So, I take out my phone and text Caden Khanna.
I’m a little afraid of going out with so many members of the cast, all together, but as usual, Jaz knows what she’s doing. I catch up with them on the sidewalk of a nonchalant little place in DTLA. Music spills out of the front entrance, along with strobing neon lights. Jaz, Kenna and Max all look very, very hot.
“Get over here!” Kenna pulls me into the circle. “We’re giving Max advice on how to talk to Ammie.”
“Ooh, count me in,” I laugh, throwing an arm around Jaz’s bare shoulders. Her dark skin is silky smooth.
“Guys, stop,” Max groans. “I can’t ask her out. It’d be unprofessional.”
I chuckle at that. “Asking her out is nothing. Trust me. I’m the queen of unprofessional.”
Three pairs of eyes swivel to me. Kenna’s mouth twists into a grin. “Do tell.”
“Yeah, Em,” a voice says from behind me. “Do tell.”
I start but manage to keep a straight face as I glance behind me. Caden’s dressed in black jeans and a white polo with just enough buttons undone to make sure everyone knows he’s a douchebag.
“Hi,” I say, ignoring the brush of his hand across the small of my back as he joins our pow-wow. “We were just talking about Max.”
“I think we were talking about you.” Kenna flashes her eyes at me and I glare at her. She winks but thankfully decides to drop it.
“Hi, guys,” Ammie says, appearing at Max’s shoulder. He jumps but recovers quickly and the two fall into what seems to be comfortable, flirty small talk. Jaz grabs Kenna’s hand, and they lead the way into the club. Ammie and Max follow right behind them, which leaves Caden and me, coupled up.
I really didn’t think this through.
I offer a somewhat uncomfortable smile and together, we step into the music. The club is dark, but neon lights of a hundred different colors pulse through the air, shining spotlights on our faces and shimmering off of the glittery black top I’m wearing. I’m wearing eyeliner again tonight, channeling Hailey as much as I can. I’m even having a good skin day, and my anxiety, usually in overdrive with crowds, is actually keeping to itself for once. It’s shaping up to be a great night. A perfect night, even.
Someone buys shots. After just one, Ammie is dancing with Max, grinning from ear to ear. Either he found the confidence to ask her out already, or he’ll have it after this. I watch them, grinning as I sip another drink. Jaz and Kenna are right in the middle of the dance floor, doing some moves that they clearly invented themselves. Only Caden and I settle away from the middle of the dance floor, taking a breather before we get into it.
Caden leans back against the bar next to me, watching Kenna and Jaz, same as me.
“They together?” he asks, pressing his lips right up against my ear so I can hear him over the din.
“They pretend not to be,” I yell back. I sway to the music. The alcohol is loosening me up already, which is both good and bad. I close my eyes and run my fingers back through my hair. It’s wavy and smooth. I wonder if Caden’s watching me and wondering what it would be like to have his hands in my hair again.
His lips press back against my ear. “Wanna dance?”
I open my eyes and look sideways at him. “With you?” I ask stupidly.
“No, with Max.” I meet his eyes, and see his smile shining at me. He holds out a hand. “Come on. Chug it and let’s go.”
I look at the half-full glass in my hand: bourbon and lemonade, and I down the whole thing like a shot. Caden does the same with his, and before I know it, we’re on the dance floor.
Bodies jostle around us, but all of my focus is zeroed in on him. I keep my hands to myself at first, dancing like everyone’s watching, but after one too many flirty looks, I find my hands linked around Caden’s neck. His hands circle my waist, tugging me closer and closer.
Caden Khanna’s hands are on me. In public. Not on set, but in a real place where other people can see us and where he might be recognized. Where I might be recognized. And neither of us care.
Caden grabs my hand and twirls me around, catching me when I fall against him, dizzy. A laugh bubbles from my mouth as I steady myself against his chest. Slowly, Caden takes my hand and presses it to his lips. The neon lights reflect off of his dark eyes, turning them into mesmerizing kaleidoscopes that pull me in like gravity.
I stare into those eyes. Into him. It’s like I’m flying through the past, through everything we had and didn’t have and all of the heartbreak and attraction and pain and landing right here in front of him. We’re together, four years later, sweaty and out of breath in this hot, stuffy dance club and my eyes are locked to his like we’re connected by an invisible string that won’t let us stay apart for long.
His eyes flick to my lips and back to mine. His hand curls around my waist, bringing me closer. I just stare at him, lips parted, waiting for something to happen. He leans in. But instead of kissing me like my lips are burning for him to do, he shouts in my ear. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”
I don’t want to talk. I want him to kiss me. And not in a boredom-induced bout of passion inside his crappy trailer. Not around the corner from set when we both get to take five. Certainly not on camera. I’ve had enough kissing on camera to last me a lifetime. No, what I want in this moment, more than anything, is for Caden Khanna to pull me closer than humanly possible and kiss me until I can’t think straight.
But he doesn’t. I realize I’ve been leaning forward on my tip toes and slump back to the ground. I shrug bitterly and nod. Caden takes me by the hand, lacing our fingers together even though he totally doesn’t have to. He takes me down a hallway, where the music is dulled enough for us to hear each other, but he doesn’t stop there. He yanks open a rusty door at the end of the hall, revealing a narrow set of stairs.
I look up at him skeptically. He just smiles. “You’ll thank me. I promise.”
I can’t picture myself thanking Caden Khanna for anything, but I still follow him. Cool air brushes across my face as we climb the stairs, eventually emerging on the rooftop. The music fades to a dull thump beneath our feet, so faint it could be a heartbeat.
Caden stands at the edge of the roof, staring out at the view, and I can’t help but join him. The city is a web of white and yellow light, all shining together like a web of earthbound stars. Skyscrapers reach to the clouds against the dark grey sky. It would normally be midnight black at this time, but the moon shines bright, spilling a silver sheen over everything. It’s beautiful. Mesmerizing. It’s just the rooftop of some dingy club in DTLA, but from here it looks like so much more.
“Wow,” I say softly.
“Told you,” Caden says.
“How did you know about this?” I ask.
“I used to come here a lot after filming,” Caden answers. He scuffs a toe into the ground, like there’s more to that that he doesn’t want to get into.
“Globe Theory?” I ask.
“Yep.” Caden looks at me. “Listen, I wanted to talk before you got too drunk.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I ask defensively.
Caden raises an eyebrow. “Episode two wrap party?”
Right. That. That was not a great night for me. “Fair,” I say.
“Why did you invite me out tonight?” Caden asks.
I frown. “What do you mean?”
“It’s a simple question, Emory.”
I stare at him, lips fluttering, looking for the right words. Why did I invite him out? There were a dozen reasons. To make things seem normal for Jaz and Kenna. To be nice. To make things right. To maybe, just maybe, get drunk enough to kiss him. Just to see if there’s any shred of hope that things could be different.
“Simple question,” Caden repeats, but he doesn’t sound mad. His voice is soft and so is his gaze as he steps towards me.
I shake my head. It’s not simple. It’s the furthest thing from. All it took was two days with Caden for me to fall right back into him. Into everything I felt four years ago.
“You’re going to make me say it?” Caden asks, his voice tinged with amusement.
“Say it?” I repeat. My mouth is suddenly incredibly dry.
“Fine,” Caden says. “I should’ve said this this afternoon, but I chickened out. I’m sorry, Em. About all of it. I’m sorry that I led you on and got both of us in over our heads. I’m sorry that I used you. That I wasn’t honest. I’m sorry about a million things, but mostly, I’m sorry that we never got a real shot.”
I look up at him, eyes shining. My hair drifts across my face, but I’m too frozen to brush it away.
Caden takes a deep breath, like he’s about to jump into an icy-cold pool. “I want another shot,” he says finally. “You might not believe this, but I didn’t know what it was for when I took this audition. I was just as shocked to see you as you were to see me.”
He’s right. I don’t believe him. But why would he lie now?
“And I handled it awfully, as you saw,” Caden says. “I thought if I flirted with you a bit, I’d be able to prove to myself that everything we had back then was gone.”
“And?” I whisper.
Caden meets my eyes. “It’s not.”
I hesitate. “How do I know you’re for real this time?”
Caden frowns at me, annoyed. “You think I just said all of that for my health?”
I can’t help but chuckle. “No, I guess not.”
“So?” Caden asks. His voice is tinged with hope.
“Can I kiss you now, or what?”
Caden’s only been back in my life for a few days. I barely know anything about who he was then, let alone who he is now. But I can’t deny that even after all this time, I feel connected to him. I trust him. And I really, really want him to kiss me. I grin.
“No more kissing,” I say, “until we’ve learned at least three more things about each other.”
Caden rolls his eyes and steps closer to me. “Fine. Go,” he says. He brushes my hair out of my face for me and it takes all of my self-control to keep from pulling his lips to mine right then and there. I bite my lip and grin up at him. “I’m writing a screenplay, my favorite band is still the Maine, and I really, really love frozen yogurt.”
Caden laughs. “Okay,” he says, stepping closer until there’s barely a breath’s worth of space between our lips. “I spent the last two years getting my associate’s degree in culinary, I own a dog named Nugget, and,” he breathes, “I thought about you all the time.”
There’s no more time for talking. Caden closes the space between us and kisses me. I kiss him back again and again, until the moon is high in the sky and the music below us fades away.
Two Weeks Later
“Episode threeeeee!” Jaz squeals, grabbing my arm and jumping up and down. I jump with her, grinning as my curly hair bounces around my face. In today’s episode, we infiltrate a gala, making small talk with the party-goers before thwarting the bad guys’ plans. And my character’s date to said gala is none other than Caden’s character, Ethan. My heart’s skipping a beat just imagining how he’ll look in the suit and tie wardrobe’s picked out for him.
Ammie joins Jaz and me, wearing a headset and clutching a clipboard. “They’re ready for you, Em,” she says. After some minor mistakes and meltdowns during episode one, Ammie has set work down to a science. I kept my promise, insisting that she be taken on as a set PA, and she hasn’t let us down yet.
“Go, bitch,” Jaz says, giving me a knowing look. I’m shooting the kissing scenes with Caden now. I told Jaz and Kenna the full story during some down time on the first day of shooting.
They laughed and gasped in all the right places, and they left me with vows that if Caden Khanna ever broke my heart again, he’d have them to answer to. Somehow, I’m not too worried.
I wave goodbye to Jaz and follow Ammie though the maze of trailers to today’s set. She eyes me curiously. “Need me to get the spray bottle?” she asks.
I laugh, remembering our conversation. Last week seems like a lifetime ago. A lifetime in which Caden Khanna and I hadn’t been on a first date or been talking on the phone nonstop for over a week. A lifetime in which we didn’t have a second chance.
But we do have a second chance, and I’m not going to waste a second of it.
“I think it’s you and Max who need the spray bottle,” I say mildly, laughing when Ammie sputters. “Kidding!”
We’re both laughing when we arrive on set to find Caden sitting in his chair, looking over his script. I resist the urge to wrap my arms around him from behind and press a kiss to his cheek.
Professional, Emory. Be professional.
“Morning,” Rob calls. “We’re just about ready.”
Ammie scrambles to stand beside him and fetch anything he needs. I watch her with a smile, and settle into my chair. The one next to Caden’s.
“Hi,” I say, grinning. “My favorite vegetable is asparagus, those McDonalds that serve omelets freak me out, and you look really good in that suit.”
Caden chuckles, not looking up from his script. “That last one wasn’t a fact about you.”
“Are you complaining?”
“My favorite shade of blue is Cyan, I love wearing hoodies, and I can’t wait to kiss you again.” He finally looks at me, and my heart speeds up even though I tell it not to.
I grin and lean close to him. “Good thing I save my best kissing for the camera.”
Caden pecks my lips, and my head goes fuzzy. “I sure hope not,” he whispers so no one can hear but me. “You’d better save the best for me.”
And as I return his grin and Rob calls us to places, I know I always will.
Thank you so miuch for reading! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Hollywood romance. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.