Casting Her Crush
Author: M.C. Vaughan
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Release Date: May 10, 2021
Series: The Charm City Hearts #4
Genre: Contemporary Romance, Rom-Com
After she entered a code into a cypher lock, she opened the door. “Step into my office.”
He entered her…office? Shelves, buckets, and brooms surrounded them. The sharp scent of various cleaning products tickled his nose.
“A janitor’s closet?” he asked.
She shut the door. Up close, she was even prettier…and more obviously annoyed.
“People can spy on us everywhere else. It was this or the tech booth, and that’s my sacred space. Now, first thing’s first. No one here knows about my childhood illnesses or surgery. The hospital visit stays a secret. Got it?”
The close confines forced them close together. Mere inches apart. Inches that old Max, fueled by booze-soaked courage, would’ve tried to eliminate. Sober Max knew better than to hit on someone while asking for a favor. Instead, he’d double-up on his charm to persuade her to go on camera with him.
“I get it. Your journey is personal.”
Melinda groaned. “It’s not a journey, a path, a battle, or any other hippy metaphor. Unlike you, I don’t leave my business out on the street. Tell me you understand, and we can proceed.”
There must be a way to film her without referencing her surgery. He riffled his hair. With Spencer’s careful edits, maybe they’d end up with a compelling five minutes. The set of her stance told Max that Melinda wouldn’t budge.
“I get it,” he said.
“Good.” She relaxed her shoulders. “Now, how did you find me? There must be dozens of Melinda Coles in the United States.”
“There aren’t many Davettes. Your mother, and her name, are tough to forget. She called my mother when the Grant-a-Wish program took too long to process the request.”
“I’m aware,” Melinda said. “She tells me every anniversary of my surgery.”
Her frustration was adorable.
“Which is coming up, right?” He kinked his knees to stare into her dark-brown eyes. “That’s why I’m here. I found your parents’ number. Your mom told me where you worked.”
“My mother told you where I worked?” Melinda dragged her hands down her face. “On God, I need to talk to her about not getting me murdered.”
“I’m a pretty normal guy.”
She gestured to the shelves. “Does this seem normal to you?”
“Come on, it’s not like I’d murder anyone with cameras around. Wait,” he said, as Melinda backed into the industrial shelves laden with lemon-scented wood cleaner. “I heard how that sounded as I was saying it. I wouldn’t murder anyone, period.”
She furrowed her brow. “Back to the original question—why are you here? Don’t you have some fancy celebrity life to lead?”
The tight squeeze of the janitor’s closet loaned the situation a confessional vibe. Or maybe he was high on the bouquet of chemical smells. Whatever the cause, the truth poured from him.
“Fancy? My career’s in the toilet. The best gigs my agents scrounged up are local commercials, voice-overs, and a competitive dance reality show.”
Melinda pursed her lips. “Dancing with the Stars?”
“If only. No, it’s the low-rent version, Like No One’s Watching.” “Oh. That one’s not good.” She grimaced. “Sorry. Did you take it?”
Max shook his head. Melinda’s taste was on point. The show wasn’t good, true. More importantly, the idea of a live broadcast made him want to vomit. Guaranteed he’d spin his dance partner right into a cameraman while hurling harder than the kid from The Exorcist.
“I declined it. We—my buddy Spencer and I—thought it’d be inspiring to highlight the Grant-a-Wish program. The idea is we make a feel-good series. Around the anniversary of the original visit, I’ll check in with kids whose wish I granted back in the day. It’ll show people I’m sober and haven’t always been an asshole. Maybe then, they’ll give me a second chance.”
“More like a fifth chance.” She raised her eyebrow, a tidy gesture that cut through bull, fast.
“You follow my press, huh?”
She rolled her eyes. Right. Moving on.
“I’ve made mistakes and burned a ton of bridges. I’m hoping to repair some of them.”
Many people he’d met in rehab, people he held deep in his heart, were convinced they’d f**ked up beyond redemption. No one could love them, so there was no point in trying.
There was always a point. Everyone’s worthy.
Well, not Nazis and Klansmen, but now was not the time to list the exceptions. Silence bubbled between them again. Melinda dragged her plump bottom lip between her teeth. He shouldn’t notice her lip, not when it belonged to a woman whose future was hopeful, shiny, and stuffed with optimism.
“So, what do you say?” he asked.
Melinda nailed him with her gaze. “Let me repeat what you said back to you. You visited kids with life-threatening illnesses at the height of your career, without cameras or PR. Now you want to cash in on your past good deeds?”
He dropped his shoulders. “It’s not quite like that.”
“It’s exactly like that!” She flung her hands toward the ceiling. “I’m lucky I lived. I’d bet lots of the kids you visited didn’t make it. What’s your plan for them? Visit their graves?”
Max scratched the back of his neck. He hadn’t gut-checked this idea with anyone besides Spencer, worried they’d squash his enthusiasm. Not his parents, his sister, his agent… He hadn’t even told his sponsor he was on the East Coast.
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
“My whole job is thinking ahead. Let me be straight with you. This. Is. A. Bad. Idea.” She punctuated each word with a clap. “How many people have you done this to?”
“You’re my first.”
“Thank Jesus.” She let loose a breath. “Here’s free professional advice. There’s no shortcut to forgiveness and trust. Both require you to put in the work. What you ought to do is go back home and get your agent to book genre roles. Show up on time, be gracious, stay humble. Repeat until you build back a good reputation. Start with small parts in a sci-fi series with a dedicated fan base, or a lead in a Christmas rom- com. People will fall in love with you again.”
“Christmas rom-coms? Those things are schmaltzy.” He couldn’t picture this woman, in her plum lipstick and sharp fashion, enjoying a fluffy tale centered on a big city woman-turned-small town candle maker falling for a thick-shouldered rancher.
“Don’t judge.” She waved him off. “Most women are addicted to them. Let people like things.”
“I agree. Take me, for example. Ten years ago crowds of girls lost their minds when I walked past them on a red carpet. Now it’s cool to treat me like a joke.”
She cocked her head back. “Didn’t you earn that with your antics?”
Ouch. No sympathy from his number one fan? That stung.
“I did.” He palmed her soft shoulder. “But I’ve changed.”
Heat flickered in her eyes. Maybe he hadn’t lost his touch?
Flirting with his former Wisher hadn’t been part of the plan. What was the plan, again? Impossible to remember when the pink tip of her tongue darted between her lips, moistening them.
“I’m not sure if I believe you,” she said.
“You would if you gave me a chance. Spend more than seven minutes with me in this closet.”
The heat fizzled as she shook off his hand. “The project sounds like a way to manipulate people into liking you again.”
“What if I tell Spencer to show the truth, warts and all?”
She searched his eyes. “You do you, Max Cameron. It’s still a hell no from me.”
A knock sounded at the door. Donn’s deep baritone cut through the wood. “Ah, hello?”
“Follow my lead,” she whispered. “Act right and don’t say anything stupid.”
Without waiting for his answer, she opened the door.
About the Book:
Romance with a co-worker is a terrible idea…unless he was the star of your teenaged fantasies.
As a teenager, MELINDA COLE underwent life-saving heart surgery. Ever since, the hyper-efficient stage manager has no patience for wasting time. She devotes herself to what matters most—her friends, her parents, and her job. Once upon a time, her boyfriend had a spot on that list. Then he broke up with her out of nowhere. So now? She’s diving deep into her work at Baltimore’s cutting-edge theater company, with an eye on becoming a director by next season.
MAX CAMERON spent his teen years as the heartthrob star of the number one family sitcom in the U.S. But now, years after his wild child lifestyle ended, he’d be lucky to score a spot on bad reality television. To reinvigorate his career, Max and his cameraman buddy have cooked up an idea they hope will turn viral. At the height of his popularity, he’d visited his number one fan as part of the Grant-a-Wish program. Dropping in on her today would be ratings gold.
Melinda has zero idea why Max Cameron, star of her teenage fantasies, has crashed her theater’s auditions. Or why he’s bearing flowers, a cameraman, and his trademark platinum smile. Before she can ask, the theater’s producer sees a stunt casting opportunity. Her boss cuts her a deal—if Melinda convinces Max to take the lead and coaches him to a Bard-worthy performance, then a directorship is hers. Challenge accepted, but she must keep her crush on lock. No one would take her seriously again if she fell for the leading man.
About the Author:
M.C. Vaughan is a Baltimore-based author of contemporary romance riddled with humor and local flavor. So, if you want to giggle throughout your sexy stories, welcome! You’ll root for her characters as they fall for their perfect people…and simultaneously want to throttle them for being big dummies about love. She grew up in a house crowded with family, friends, books, music, and the occasional ghost. After graduating from Georgetown University with a degree in English literature (and an unofficial major in student- run theatre), she worked in sports marketing, higher education, toy production, and software development. Currently, she lives in Maryland with her husband and three delightful kids.