Good morning! We’re just a week away from the release of Meeting the Star, so it’s time to share the first two chapters!
You can pre-order the ebook here.
The paperback will be available July 28th as well.
“My best friend is a movie star.” Eliza looked around the trailer with a grin. It wasn’t anything overly fancy, but it was nice. And it gave somewhere for Maya to stay instead of on the futon in Eliza’s small apartment. Which was now occupied by their friend Jax while his little sister slept in the spare room the size of a walk-in closet.
“I still can’t believe it…” Maya sighed and sank onto the dark blue couch, patting the cushion next to her.
With a grin, Eliza walked over and sat down. She let out a small moan as she leaned back, closing her eyes. It was the most comfortable thing she’d ever sat on. “Okay, how about you take my apartment and I stay here?”
Maya chuckled and got back up.
“I’m serious,” Eliza said. “I’m never leaving this couch. This is where I live now.”
“So, you don’t want to see the rest of set?” Maya asked. “Maybe meet a certain actor…”
At that, Eliza’s eyes snapped open. “He’s here?”
Maya nodded, her smile growing. Eliza almost cried. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she covered her mouth with one hand. Lucas Warner was here somewhere. The man she’d had a crush on for as long as she could remember. Since he’d first appeared on Ella’s Place as a child—her favorite show when she was like five. He was here. On this set. At her school.
“Come on.” Maya grabbed her arm and tugged her to her feet. “Stop panicking. He’s just a guy.”
Eliza dug her heels into the plush gray rug. “Just a guy?”
“Yes,” Maya said, facing her. “He’s a nice, normal person.”
“Wait… you already met him?” Eliza all but screeched.
“We’re co-stars; of course I’ve met him. I mean, it was brief, just in the screen test, but yes.”
Eliza shook her head, letting her friend drag her into the bright sunshiny day. It was strange seeing their campus transformed into a movie set. She’d been given strict instructions about where she was and was not allowed to go since she was working at both the student center hotel and writing center all summer. The other remaining students received similar emails, she was sure, but there were also signs and gated-off areas everywhere.
They walked along the sidewalk, Maya pointing to where they would film various scenes. Everything looked the same for the most part—cleaner and quieter, but it was still the same campus she’d lived on for the past nine months.
Although, now, she lived in a small two-bedroom apartment a couple blocks from campus with her other best friend’s boyfriend and his sister. When Kaley asked about Jax moving in until the end of the school year so that his seven-year-old sister could live with him, Eliza hadn’t hesitated to agree. Their parents had died in a tragic car accident, leaving Jax with two options: send Sierra to live in southern Indiana with their aunt or take her in himself. After seeing how close the siblings were, Eliza hated the idea of them being separated. School ended over a week ago, but she’d insisted they stay until after baseball season so Jax didn’t have to commute from their parents’ home just north of Indianapolis each day.
“And over here,” Maya said, pulling Eliza around the corner of the nearest building, “is where the big confession in the rain takes place.”
Eliza grinned. She couldn’t help it. She was a sucker for romantic comedies and grand gestures… and Lucas Warner movies. Seeing him run through the rain after the woman he loved was going to be perfect.
Releasing Maya’s arm, she ran up the few stairs of the residence hall. At the top of the landing, she closed her eyes, imagining what it would feel like to be in that sort of magical moment. Twirling on the spot, she let her arms fly out as she tilted her head back to the sky.
But it wasn’t enough to keep her balance.
As she stumbled, her foot slipped off the top step. She screamed and tried twisting to minimize the impact.
Before she hit the ground though, a pair of strong arms caught her. The person turned, and they tumbled to the ground with her against them. She landed with an “oomf.”
Maya ran over, asking, “Are you two okay?”
“I’m fine,” Eliza said. A firm chest vibrated with laughter beneath her fingertips as she pushed herself up. “I am so sorry.”
She straightened her dress before reaching a hand down and froze. All of the oxygen fled from her lungs. Every word, every thought, vanished from her mind as dark brown eyes met hers. Eyes she’d know anywhere.
Lucas Warner took her hand, and she released a breath that sounded more like a squeak. Out of instinct, she pulled him up. She didn’t seem able to let go of his hand, and his grin widened.
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, his deep voice sending a shiver down her spine.
Eliza opened her mouth, but nothing escaped.
“This is my best friend, Eliza.” Maya draped an arm across her shoulders then whispered, “Breathe.”
Feeling her cheeks blaze red, Eliza dropped his hand and took a deep breath. “S-sorry.”
“All’s good,” Lucas said. “I’m just glad I walked by when I did.”
Eliza nodded. “Thank you.”
“The pleasure is all mine. We wouldn’t want that pretty face hurt.”
She was going to die. This wasn’t happening. There was no way she was standing here talking to Lucas freaking Warner—that he was flirting with her. Not that he was. She was sure he was just being nice.
“I was showing her where some of the scenes are going to take place,” Maya said. “I hope that’s okay.”
Lucas finally broke their eye contact, glancing to Maya, and Eliza felt like she could breathe a little easier. He nodded and said, “Of course. It’s good to see you again, Maya.”
“How are you feeling? Ready to get started?”
Maya lowered her arm from Eliza. “I’m excited. Nervous, but excited.”
“Nerves are normal, especially for your first movie.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned against one of the posts of the nearby stairs. “You have nothing to worry about though. You were great in auditions. That’s why I asked for you.”
Shock filled Maya’s features. “You asked for me?”
“I did,” Lucas said with a warm smile.
Eliza’s head reeled. She knew her friend was talented, but for someone else to acknowledge that—someone so established in the industry—it meant a great deal. Sliding her hand into Maya’s, she squeezed her friend’s fingers. She was so proud of her for following her dreams.
Maya beamed. Of all their friends, she was the least shy. She was confident in a way Eliza could only admire.
“So, I’ll see you tomorrow?” Maya asked. “We should get going. This one has to get to work.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you bright and early.” Lucas looked back to Eliza. “It was very nice to meet you, Eliza.”
“You too,” she managed to whisper.
He winked, and Maya grabbed her arm to pull her away.
When they were around the corner of the building, Eliza tugged her to a stop. “I don’t have to work for a couple hours.”
“I know, but you looked like you were about to faint.” Maya shrugged. “I figured small doses of Lucas would be better for your lungs until you’re more comfortable.”
She doubted that would ever happen. “I just met Lucas Warner.”
“You did,” Maya said. “And you barely said more than two words to him.”
Eliza buried her face in her hands and groaned. “How bad was it?”
Maya put a hand on her shoulder. “You looked like a deer caught in the headlights.”
“No…” She wanted to crawl into a hole. Walking down the sidewalk again, she extended her arms. “Well, that’s it, I can never show my face around set again.”
Laughing, Maya caught up to her. “Don’t be so dramatic; that’s my job, remember? Besides, both of your jobs are practically on set, so how are you going to manage that?”
“I will go to work, but otherwise, I’m not leaving my apartment until you’re done filming.” The light at the corner switched, and they walked across the street toward the student center. She was in desperate need of some ice cream to make it through the embarrassment.
“Eliza, how long have we been friends?”
She looked over at her friend with a raised brow. “Like eight years?”
“Right, so I know you,” Maya said, grabbing the door. “And I know there’s no way you’re going to just stay away from the man you’ve had a crush on for nearly twice as long.”
Biting her cheek to keep herself from grinning, Eliza headed toward the ice cream station in the far corner of the dining court. Maya was right; she had a rare opportunity, and she didn’t plan on wasting it. She told her friend this as they piled toppings onto their dishes and headed toward the cashier.
“Of course you’re not.” Maya handed over her debit card, insisting she pay. A pang of guilt rang through Eliza, like it did every time one of her friends paid for her. She knew they did it out of love, and she appreciated it, but it still made her feel bad.
That was why she picked up the second job at the hotel over the summer. She needed the extra income for her rent now that she wasn’t living on campus. In the long run, the apartment would save her money though. She wouldn’t have to accept more student loans just for the dorms. And at least for the summer, Jax was there to pay half the rent, which was a tremendous help.
While sitting at the hotel desk most nights didn’t sound exciting, she looked forward to the quiet time. Not that the writing center didn’t also offer her peace, especially during the summer with sparse students needing help, but she felt more motivated to work on her books at night. And living with a seven year old meant there wasn’t a lot of quiet time at home right now.
“Besides, I saw how he smiled at you.” Maya pointed to a table on the other side of the spacious room.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eliza said, taking a bite of her vanilla ice cream with a heaping spoonful of M&Ms as they walked through the maze of chairs and tables.
“I still can’t believe you’re going to be in a movie,” Eliza said to change the subject. They sat down near the windows overlooking campus. The student center consisted of a large dining court, conference rooms, and a computer lab for students. But attached was a hotel primarily used during football and baseball seasons by alumni, and it was like stepping into an entirely different world—a more pristine and professional one.
“I know. I can’t either.” Maya took a bite of her own ice cream and cookie dough bits.
“What are you most excited about?”
Maya shrugged as if it was obvious. “Everything. I mean, this could really lead to big things.”
It could. Eliza knew that. And though she was excited for her friend, she also feared what it mean. Maya was bound for Hollywood.
But where did that leave her?
“How bad was it?” Eliza asked around the corner of the tall brick building.
Lucas grinned as he slowly approached, peeking around the wall. She and Maya had taken off so fast they didn’t notice he was heading in the same direction.
“You looked like a deer caught in the headlights,” Maya said.
“No…” Eliza groaned. She began walking down the street, flailing her arms dramatically. “Well, that’s it, I can never show my face around set again.”
He snorted then quickly slapped a hand over his mouth. Luckily, they were far enough not to hear. Shaking his head, he continued his walk. He’d wanted to relax and see the campus. It was quiet with barely anyone around. According to his director, classes had ended a week ago and summer courses didn’t begin until tomorrow. The school had reassured them the number of students would be low in the summer, and there wouldn’t be a problem filming in some of the unused classrooms and dorms. He hadn’t expected to see his co-star on his walk.
Or her cute friend.
Unlike many he knew in the industry, Lucas loved meeting fans. He had no problem stopping for selfies or autographs. It got exhausting at times, but for the most part he didn’t mind. After all, without them, he wouldn’t have a career.
Though, lately, it was that part of his life he struggled with most—the acting. Retrieving his phone, he shot off a text to his best friend. Instead of replying, Xander’s face appeared on the screen a second later.
Lucas swiped to answer the call, rolling his eyes with a chuckle. “Why won’t you just text like everyone else?”
“And miss the chance to hear that snark in person?” Xander asked. “But to answer your question, I won’t be there until the end of June. I have a week and a half off before the last leg of the tour, starting with a couple shows near there, and then I’m heading to the east coast.”
Lucas sighed, running a hand over the top of his head. “Good. I need some entertainment if I’m going to be here for the next three months.”
“Eh, I’m sure by the time I get there, you’ll be friends with half the cast and crew. You won’t even notice when I arrive.”
Lucas expelled a bark of a laugh. “Yeah, right. You’re probably going to make some ridiculous grand entrance.”
He knew his friend too well to think he would actually do something like that. Xander didn’t do ostentatious. If anything, he’d just bring some sort of scandal to set. But that was a conversation for later.
“Oh, absolutely.” Amusement filled Xander’s sarcastic tone. A car drove by with blaring music pouring from its open windows, drowning out his next words with one of his own songs.
“Sorry, what was that?” Lucas asked, rolling his eyes once it passed.
“Where are you? Whoever that was has great taste.”
“Walking around campus until I can check into the hotel.” The only flight from L.A. that morning made him show up early, but it gave him a chance to take in the location. “I still have a couple hours.”
“Hotel? Trailers aren’t good enough for you anymore?” his friend teased.
“Funny,” Lucas deadpanned. Xander was one of the few who knew his family had lived in one until he started bringing in money. After all, his friend had a similar history. He shook his head, not wanting to think about his parents who’d had no problem exploiting their own kid to change their lifestyle.
They might live in a nicer home now, but they had never become nicer people.
“I found out there is a hotel right on campus, so I decided to stay there instead.” Some of the crew was staying there too, but most opted for one of the dorm buildings. The other actors, like Maya, had requested a trailer as usual. He probably should have too, but if given the opportunity, he stayed elsewhere. They might be scattered about, but the campus was small enough that it wasn’t remotely an issue.
In the background, someone called for Xander. He mumbled, sounding as if he held the phone away from his face. When he returned, it was with a sigh. “I have to go. Apparently, I am having a late lunch with the opening band.”
“How awful for you,” Lucas joked.
“Nah, they’re cool. I was just really hoping to take a nap.”
Lucas paused on the corner of the street, wondering which way to head next. “Late night?” he asked as he turned toward a shaded quad. He could just relax there while he waited.
“You have no idea.” Xander laughed, and Lucas believed him. His friend had a reputation. A well-deserved one. Lucas couldn’t keep up with that lifestyle, nor did he want to. He’d been in Hollywood most of his life; he’d seen the good, the bad, and the horrible. Not that he didn’t have his own fun. He just didn’t purposely present that image of himself to the world like Xander did every chance he got.
Lucas said goodbye and ended the call. Sliding down the trunk of a large oak tree, he pulled his AirPods from his pocket and began scrolling through TikTok. When that didn’t hold his interest, he turned on music and searched for The Lost Legends on Twitter. The series adaptation was working on casting, and he wanted to know more. He’d loved the books and was excited to see it made into a show.
Fans had started posting their dream cast, and seeing himself on a couple lists made him grin. He liked the posts but refrained from retweeting or replying. If he did, people would assume it was confirmation he was involved in the series, and despite how much he wished it was true, he was not.
Wasting time on his phone was never an issue until he wanted it to move quickly. It seemed like an eternity later when he put the earbuds back into his pocket and stood. He walked in the direction he thought he remembered the hotel being, hoping they allowed early check ins. If not, it was attached to a food court of some sort, so maybe he could find a way to entertain himself.
He meandered through campus until he came across the student center. His assigned personal assistant for the movie, Chris, had sent him a map, but he didn’t feel like searching for it. Stepping into the cool, air-conditioned building, he froze. The doors led to a large open room. Light streamed through the multitude of windows and a second-story opaque dome. Dozens of tables and booths filled the area, and several muted TVs were scattered on the walls throughout. In the corner, he saw a computer lab on the other side of a glass wall. The building was so much bigger and more modern than he’d anticipated. For some reason, when he heard about universities, all he pictured was old, brick buildings with dark, warm interiors meant only for studying.
An embossed sign on one of the tall columns indicated the hotel entrance was toward the right. He headed to the open double doors on the far side of the room that led to a cozy lobby. This was more like he imagined, though it was still lighter. Between the bright plants, cream-colored furniture that offset the various shades of gray on the walls, and the bubbling fountain, Lucas almost didn’t notice the girl at the front desk.
And she definitely didn’t notice him as she spoke on the phone. “I’m telling you, I looked like a complete idiot.”
Her back was angled toward him as he walked closer.
“Yeah, I completely knocked him to the ground,” she went on.
Grinning, Lucas moved to lean against the waist-high, dark cherry wood desk topped in gray marble.
Eliza still hadn’t seen him. With a chuckle, she said, “No, he’s better looking in person, and he seemed nice in the five seconds I stood there speechless. Thank God Maya was with me. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been if it was just me?”
Guilt coursed through him for eavesdropping. He straightened and took a step backward, planning to make noise as he re-entered. Except he backed into a Ficus, nearly knocking it over. Cursing under his breath, he grabbed it before it could fall. Eliza squeaked as she whipped around, her eyes going wide with recognition.
“I have to go,” she whispered before hanging up and standing. Stepping around the desk, she tucked a piece of her platinum blond hair behind one ear. “A-are you okay?”
He nodded. “Yeah, sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going…”
“How long have you been here?” Her face began to turn red. It was adorable, but he still felt bad.
They stood in silence for a long beat. Crossing her arms, Eliza asked, “What are you doing here?”
Lucas moved closer, slowly like he would a frightened animal. “I was hoping to check in early.”
Her eyes widened even more. “Check in? Here?”
“Is that a problem?” He inched forward.
“N-no.” She quickly headed back around the desk. “They said the director and some of the crew would be here but not… you.”
When she began typing on the computer, he stood in front of her. Resting his forearms on the desk with a smile, he asked, “Don’t you need my information?”
Her cheeks turned crimson once more. She really was cute, with her big hazel eyes and soft features. As she met his gaze, he realized he was staring and cleared his throat, looking away.
“I just needed your name,” she said with a shrug. “There’s already a card on file, so you’re all set.”
The producer’s card, he assumed. He nodded, but she was already glancing at the screen again. She typed in a couple more things before moving to get his keycards. While she was busy, he looked around. The building was more than he’d expected. A notebook beside an open laptop on the desk caught his attention. He couldn’t see the laptop screen, but he could just read the first few lines on the paper. Then, Eliza returned, noticed where his eyes were, and flipped the notes over.
“You’re in room three-seventeen.” She held out an envelope with the hotel’s name stamped on the front in bold red letters. “Where’s your luggage?”
“One of the PAs will bring it in a bit,” Lucas said, taking the keycards. He pointed toward her belongings. “What are you working on?”
“Nothing,” she said too quickly. He raised a brow, and she sighed. “It’s a new story idea.”
Her tone was nonchalant, but he knew the topic was anything but. “You’re a writer?”
She nodded, staying quiet, not giving any more information. That was fine though. He’d spooked the poor girl enough for one day.
“Thank you,” he said, holding up the cards. “Elevators?”
“Oh, right.” She held up a finger, indicating the opposite side of the lobby. “To the right.”
“Thanks.” He turned away, but her soft voice stopped him.
Want more? Meeting the Star releases July 28th!
Pre-order the ebook here.