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!
Or, catch up with Part Two here.
Meet Me Off Camera, Part 2: Fall, 2019
I take Ammie to the Gaslite. It’s this super divey karaoke bar in Santa Monica with a few red leather booths, a small stage complete with tinsel backdrop and, best of all, a well-stocked bar. It’s cheap, too, and no one really recognizes me once the overhead lights are dimmed and drinks are handed around.
Jaz and Kenna brought me here for my twenty-first birthday last year. I don’t remember much about that night other than it was freaking awesome—I may have kissed a stranger or two—and I’ve been attached to the little place ever since. And one of the perks of being here so much is that the bouncer knows me and doesn’t even bat an eye when Ammie and I breeze through the door.
I march straight to the counter, which is empty at this time of day, and order bourbons for both of us. I tell the bartender, a skinny man in his 30s, to open a tab. I would like to be very drunk, and very right now, please.
I can’t believe that Caden’s back.
He fell off the radar for a while, there. After The Globe Theory, he disappeared from the circuit. Literally. His last credit on his IMDB page is season four, episode twelve. Wyatt Covington was the role of a lifetime—Globe is nothing short of a teenage girl cult classic. Caden was pretty freaking cocky the first time I met him, so I can only imagine how four years of being fawned over by an entire fandom has gone to his head.
It took me a few years to finally bring myself to watch the whole series from start to finish. After my character, and our relationship, bit the dust, it was just too much. Seeing Caden thriving. Seeing him kiss other girls with the same look in his eyes he’d once had with me. It was acting then, and it’s acting on the screen. Simple as that. Caden Khanna doesn’t know how to fall in love.
“Drink up,” I say, clinking my glass against Ammie’s. “I’ll get you a car wherever you need to go.”
“Oh, uh, thanks.” She looks nervous. Insanely nervous, actually, like she did this morning. She reaches for her drink and takes a tentative sip. She tries to hide it, but I see her grimace as the bourbon hits her throat. I sigh and take mine as a shot. Screw this entire day.
I look at Ammie. “You dating anyone?”
Ammie looks startled. “Um, no?”
“Ever been in love?” I ask. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this line of questioning. I just know that after that, I need to talk, to someone. About something.
“No,” Ammie says again. She twists her rings around her fingers, looking remarkably uncomfortable.
“I’m just a person,” I sigh. I start sipping my second bourbon. “You don’t need to be scared of me.”
“I’m not,” she says quickly. “I’m just a…”
“Yeah?” I say.
“A little confused about why I’m here.”
“Because you seem cool,” I say simply. And she does. She’s here, trying to make her dreams happen, just like me.
“Oh, uh, thank you,” she says breathlessly. “You do, too. I mean, you know that. I’m sorry. I’m a big fan. I’m sorry.”
I sip my bourbon. “It’s fine.”
“So?” she prompts again.
“Believe me, I’m thrilled to be hanging out with you, I just don’t…was there something you wanted to talk about?” she asks, leaning forward on the bar stool.
I laugh under my breath. “You could say that.”
“Is it because of Caden Khanna?” Ammie blurts.
I drag a hand over my face, not caring that I’ve definitely just smudged my eyeshadow and mascara. “Was it that obvious?”
Ammie tilts her shoulder in a sympathetic kind of way. “Kinda.”
“Great. Fantastic,” I mutter. I tilt my glass towards Ammie. “Don’t have flings with celebrities. It’s not worth it.”
“I mean it,” I say sternly. “You’re pretty. You’re smart. They’re going to flock to you.”
“And you can have fun with them. Have fun. But don’t let them convince you that…” my voice slips along with my glass. It clatters against the counter, unharmed. Flecks of whiskey splash onto my hand. “Don’t let them convince you that it’s real.”
Ammie looks at her hands. I can tell she’s wondering what to say. I’m definitely not making it easy. God, could I be any more embarrassing? First, I have a meltdown in the chemistry read in front of everyone, then I drag some office PA away from her job to come drinking with me.
Caden Khanna brings out the absolute worst in me. I can only hope that he won’t bring out any bad acting. I certainly won’t have to dig deep to find the anger I’ll need for our scenes. Or the heartbreak. It’s the love I’ll have trouble finding.
Caden playing my love interest again. His hands on my waist again, his fingers in my hair again, his lips on mine again… the memories are almost too much to bear.
“What happened between you two?” Ammie asks tentatively.
I don’t reply. I just stare at the ice at the bottom of my glass like some sad sap from a pop punk song.
“Was it during Globe Theory?” she presses.
I sigh. “Yep.”
“He broke your heart.”
Ammie looks at me, clearly thinking hard. “You should tell them. You shouldn’t have to act with him.”
I laugh. “Thanks, Ammie, but that’s not how it works.” I rake a hand back through my hair. “It’s going to happen all over again.”
Ammie frowns. “What’s going to happen all over again?”
“Nothing much. Just he’s going to break my heart.” The second his hands are on me or he meets my eyes, I’ll be a total goner. I know it, and I’m totally powerless to stop it. Caden is like a magnet that I can feel pulling me even from here.
“No,” Ammie says. “He’s not.” She grabs her bourbon and takes a sip. She doesn’t flinch this time. Instead, she smirks. “I don’t know what happened between you and Caden, but you aren’t going to let any washed-up man mess with your career.”
“Sure, I’m not,” I say, knowing full well that Caden Khanna could ruin my life all over again and I’d probably end up thanking him.
“You’re not,” Ammie insists. “I’m a production assistant. So, I’m going to assist in making sure that you don’t let Caden mess with your head.”
“How are you going to do that?” I ask.
Ammie shrugs. “Reminders. Threats. I could get a spray bottle and spritz you every time you think about Caden.”
“God, I’d be drenched by noon,” I laugh.
Ammie shrugs. “Seriously. I think I could help.”
“Aren’t you an office intern?” I ask.
“Not if you tell them you need me on set,” she says slyly.
I grin at Ammie. “You want to be on set?”
I raise my glass. “You see me looking at Caden when a camera isn’t rolling, and I expect to be spritzed with water. Or acid. Your choice.”
Ammie clinks her glass against mine. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”
I last half an hour.
Ammie and I drink some more, which is probably a bad idea considering it’s like two o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, but we’re on top of the world. Emory and Ammie—or maybe Ammie and Emory—dream team. I don’t usually make friends this quickly, but as I flop onto my bed, tipsy, I’m giddy with excitement. There’s no way I’m letting Caden mess with my head again.
And then he texts me.
I deleted his number years ago, to make sure I wouldn’t be able to drunk text and say something stupid. But before I did that, I wrote it down in a notebook, just in case.
And memorized it. So, as soon as I see the message, I know who it’s from, no saved contact required.
After all these years, all he says is “Can we talk?”
I want to say “no, Caden, we can’t talk, you broke my heart, you inconsiderate jerk,” but I don’t. Instead, veins buzzy with bourbon and ice, I text him back.
I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Oh, come on. You were good in there today. We were good together.
I got the offer this afternoon.
Am I supposed to congratulate you?
That’d be nice.
Well, being nice isn’t really on my list of priorities these days.
I hesitate before I hit send. Is this really who I want to be when I reunite with Caden? The standoffish brat who can’t get past something that happened four years ago?
Yeah. I do. I hit send.
It takes Caden a few minutes to reply. I stare at the screen, willing him to text me back. Oh, God. It’s been less than half a day, and I’m already waiting by the phone for him.
Nice, Emory. Nice. Where’s Ammie with her spray bottle?
Caden replies just a few minutes later.
What are you up to these days? Other than being mean?
Little busy making a wildly popular television show, if you hadn’t noticed.
I know, Em. I’ve seen the show.
I stare at my phone. Caden watches the show? As good as Bomb Squad is, it’s definitely not a show I see Caden sitting down and watching for fun. So why does he watch it?
It can’t be because of me. Nope. I won’t even entertain that possibility.
I mean, what have you been doing besides brightening up television screens everywhere?
It’s called having an acting career, Cade.
Ignoring my better instinct, I use my old nickname for him. And then, against an even stronger, even better instinct, I double text him.
You should try it sometime.
His reply is immediate. I’ve been busy.
Doing what? Back when we were…whatever we were, Caden used to talk about getting out of the business. About retreating to a cabin on a lake somewhere in the woods to write novels. I couldn’t see him willingly leaving the spotlight then, and I can’t see it now. Caden, give up camera flashes and screaming fans and flings with guest stars for a life of mosquitoes and allergens? Not a chance in hell.
You know, living life. I needed a break after TGT.
I can’t imagine why.
You only saw a few episodes. You have no idea what it was like the rest of the time.
I mean it, Em.
Didn’t you say you wanted to talk about something?
Didn’t you say we couldn’t talk?
I look at my phone, nose scrunched up. Is he flirting with me? Again? Am I letting him? Tipsy Emory can’t tell. I’m certain that sober Emory will look at these messages tomorrow and be absolutely mortified. But that sounds like a problem for future Emory. So I text him back once again.
Depends what you want to talk about.
I want to know that what happened four years ago isn’t going to make things weird on set.
It was four years ago. Why would it be weird?
You weren’t happy to see me earlier.
To be fair, is anyone ever happy to see you? I huff out a laugh, even though the pain of rejection is already stinging. Caden doesn’t want to talk about what happened back on Globe Theory. He wants to protect his career.
Which is fair. I want to protect my career too. But how could I stop myself when I saw him walk into that room? How could I stop myself from imagining that he auditioned for the show purely because I was on it? That this was our chance to reunite and get our sappy romance novel ending? Some part of me, some stupid, fairytale-chasing part of me, thought that Caden Khanna showing up at that audition was a sign.
How ridiculous of me.
For real, Emory. Are we going to be able to do this?
I stare at his reply, chewing my lip like taffy. Am I going to be able to do this?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Caden, but this is my show. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t do to protect it.
Including make out with me?
If that’s what it takes.
He doesn’t say anything else, and neither do I. But I stare at my phone for a long time after that, wondering if we’ve danced in circles around the real question until we ended up right back where we started.
Thank you for reading! Part Four will be released Saturday, and it’s definitely my favorite of the series. Do you think Caden still has feelings for Emory? Tweet me, and let me know!