Contemporary Romance/Erotic Romance
Date Published: 07-23-2021
What would you do if you had twenty minutes alone with your idol?
Gemma Fox is a self-confessed unlucky-in-love geek treating herself to a weekend at a pop-culture convention on Australia’s sunny Gold Coast.
Drawn there by the temptation of seeing her celebrity crush, Everett Rhodes, the last thing she expects is to wind up trapped in an elevator with him. Parting ways, Gemma has no reason to suspect that their paths will cross again. After all, he’s a celebrity. She’s just a fan who lives on the other side of the planet.
Besides, her life is not a rom-com. (At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.)
However, life has other plans. And Everett -stupidly charming, frustratingly handsome Everett- is hard to resist.
But when things get complicated, Gemma and Everett are both faced with the same dilemma:
How can they make things work when they live in completely separate worlds?
Excerpt from Chapter One
The silence stretched on as the floors seemed to inch down to the ground level. Then the lights flickered, and the lift made a strange grinding-clunking sound, stopping abruptly. The display on the screen said that they had reached the 7th floor, but the doors didn’t open.
“That didn’t sound too good,” Gemma observed slowly, frowning at the still-closed metal doors. She pushed the ‘open doors’ button. They remained shut. The lights flickered again ominously.
“Pretty sure we’re stuck,” her companion remarked, frowning and pulling out his own phone. She assumed he had a travel sim installed or simply didn’t care about exorbitant roaming charges. “I don’t have any reception.”
“Well, fuck,” she muttered, realising that she didn’t either. They must be in a dead zone, because Murphy’s Law was an actual thing in her world. “Neither do I.” She held up her phone to prove that, for all her joking about crazed fans, she wasn’t lying to him.
She hit the emergency call button in the lift.
Gemma blinked, incredulous. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She hit the button a few more times with increasing frustration and just a hint of panic. She just about jumped out of her skin when a warm hand landed on her shoulder.
“Sorry,” Rhodes backed up again, holding his hands up in surrender. “Are you okay?”
Fighting down a hysterical laugh, she swallowed and shoved shaking hands into her pockets. “I’m not the best with confined spaces. For short periods of time, it’s fine, but…” she blew a breath out slowly. “Sorry. I promise I’m not actually a raving lunatic.”
Talking to him was distracting enough from the plight of being stuck in a small metal box suspended between hotel floors, though, so she kept going. “I don’t suppose you have bodyguards or assistants or handlers or something? You know, someone that knew you were getting into this lift and who will raise the alarm if you don’t wander out on the ground floor in the next couple of minutes?”
He laughed at that, and it surprised her that it was a self-deprecating sort of sound and it was accompanied by a shrug. “No. No, I’m not that famous. In fact, you’re the first person to recognise me.”
Objectively, if she hadn’t been such a huge fan (with a crush to boot) she mightn’t have recognised him at first glance, particularly with the shaggy haircut he was sporting and if he slid his sunglasses on. Additionally, his show had been off air for two years: if he were off being successful and relevant, he wouldn’t have been booked at a random pop culture convention in Australia, would he? But that thought seemed a little unkind, considering how much she –and thousands of other people–looked forward to these conventions.
“Oh.” Gemma shook her head, feeling a little traitorous for her musings. “I’m willing to bet the closer you get to the Convention Centre, the faster that will change. Whether that’s a good thing or not, well…” she trailed off and offered him another small smile. “We’re not all crazies, remember.”
“I thought that was my line,” the actor grinned, and she felt her heart do a little flip. Damn him and his aesthetic charm. He stuck out his hand, officially introducing himself, “Everett, or Rhett, if you’d prefer.”
“Gemma,” she responded, shaking the offered appendage. Cocking her head to the side, she mused on his chosen nickname. “I never picked you as the ‘Rhett’ type. I would have thought it was Everett or bust. You know, if I’d given it much thought. Which I hadn’t. Well, until now.”
His lips twitched upwards into a smirk. “Rhetts have a type?”
“Yes,” her reply was one of affected haughtiness, because she got weird when she got nervous. And boy was she nervous. “They wear shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and thongs.” At his raised eyebrows, she corrected, “Flip-flops, or sandals, sorry.” She looked him over again, taking in the form fitting jeans, polo shirt (with sunglasses tucked in at the unbuttoned collar, offering just a hint of his dark chest hair) and dress shoes. “You’re dressed like an Everett.”
This earned her another laugh, but it was warmer and richer than any of the previous iterations of the sound. “You were trying to convince me you weren’t crazy, remember?”
“Oh,” she waved her hand dismissively, “I abandoned that plan at least three seconds after I said it. Lost cause and all that. Still,” she mused aloud, gesturing to the shut doors, “I wasn’t exactly expecting this.”
It was probably a good thing that she’d gone to the bathroom before she’d left her hotel room, too. She pressed the emergency call button again. Still nothing. She clenched her hand into a fist and gave the button a good thump for its uselessness.
“Okay, so we’re going to leave the button alone now,” Everett told her, gently pulling her away from the panel. “I’d guess there’s been a glitch of some kind. But I get you’re a bit claustrophobic, and the talking was helping right?”
She glanced down to where his hand was still on her forearm, warm and solid and connected to his own toned arm and delicious biceps, which looked so good in the tight sleeves of the black polo and…Fuck! Focus, Gemma.
“Yes,” she acknowledged, a blush staining her cheeks. She was a terrible person for objectifying him. And yet, courtesy of her crush, she couldn’t help it. Not that that was a valid excuse, she knew. And now her traitorous thoughts were turning circular. “It was. Sorry. Trying to rein in the crazy.”
“I have a fear of anything reptilian, if it helps,” he admitted, surprising her with the information. “So, I get it. Your country terrifies me with its wealth of deadly snakes and lizards and even turtles! Seriously, you have turtles that can maim people. That’s not normal.”
“I mean, most of our wildlife is engineered to kill you, so I guess that fear’s warranted.” Who was this person that was in control of the sounds coming out of her mouth, she wondered. She needed them to stop now.
“It’s the blasé way you say that that really worries me.” Everett still sounded amused, though, so she figured she hadn’t made too much of a fool of herself.
“I’m also afraid of snakes, don’t worry,” she shuddered. “I’ve been considering moving to Hawaii or New Zealand. Or even Ireland. No snakes there. Could get my hike on without being afraid of certain death.”
“Oh, you like hiking?” There was additional animation in him now, a genuine interest with the topic. Of course he was the outdoorsy type – he was practically built for it.
Gemma nodded. “Yeah, I have a thing for views and scenic vistas. Don’t much love the actual hiking itself, especially with Eastern Browns at every turn here, but the payoff is usually worth it.”
“Yeah. There’s definitely something magical and rewarding in getting to the top of a climb and looking down over the rest of the world, right?” Everett smiled conspiratorially.
“Right.” Her heart was not thumping away at a billion miles per minute just because seeing his eyes all lit up and crinkled at the edges made him extra handsome. Nope. It wasn’t. She swallowed. “I’m thinking of travelling to the US in the next couple of years. Any choice spots I should focus on if I do want to come off the beaten track and do a hike?” She knew he was English, but that he’d spent at least the past eight years living in America, filming television shows and movies.
“I guess it depends on where you’re talking about visiting. East Coast or West Coast? Or desert? Tourist destinations, or the cities that most people dismiss because they’re not famous?”
She slid down the wall, deciding that she might as well settle in and get comfortable. “I’m kind of a Broadway baby,” she confessed, “so I’d love to see New York City. Not a lot of hiking to be done there, I know.”
He considered this, following her example to slide down the wall beside her, resting his wrists on his elevated knees. She hated herself for thinking that even that simple action seemed sinful coming from him. “It sounds overdone, but Central Park is awesome, and huge. No hiking, but it’s scenic at any time of year. You could spend days wandering around in there and still not see it all.”
“That does sound like a Bucket List activity.” She was even good enough to not mention the crime stats and the concept that she might get mugged.
He smiled and her heart did that flopping thing again. “There are plenty of hiking spots in Upstate New York, too.” He began listing them, counting them off on his fingers, “Lake Placid, Bear Mountain, Watkins Glen…or, if you Google, you can find a few spots closer to NYC that you’d probably also love.”
“Google!” She cried, startling him, and pulled out her phone. “I don’t have reception, but if we can get WiFi…” Her face fell. The little metal box they were in did not get WiFi reception either. “Never mind.”
Everett’s hand was on her back, patting consolingly. “I’m sure someone is already on it. Fixing the lift, I mean.”
Her head hit the mirrored wall with a dull thunk. “Didn’t Speed start this way?”
He blinked at her abrupt change of topic. “Huh?”
“I’m sure it did,” she continued. “Keanu Reeves and Jeff Daniels were trying to save a bunch of people from plummeting to their deaths in a lift.”
“You’re really not a fan of confined spaces, are you?” He was starting to sound concerned now, his cobalt eyes wider as they peered at her. “Don’t pass out on me, okay, love?”
Gemma forced herself to calm, taking a few deep breaths and feeling completely embarrassed. Closing her eyes and resting her head against the cool surface behind her, she said, “I am sorry for this. I’m sure being locked in a box with a panicky random isn’t quite how you imagined spending your morning.”
“I’ll admit,” he conceded, “there was more caffeine and less claustrophobia in my original plans.”
“When we get out of here, I’ll owe you a coffee.” The casual offer escaped her before she remembered who she was talking to. A flush immediately suffused her cheeks, and she stammered, “I mean, sorry, I didn’t mean…” she winced and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Stopping talking now.”
The fact that her unwitting companion was actually laughing, shoulders shaking and all, didn’t help matters.
“If nothing else, I’m glad I’m able to entertain you,” she snarked at him, feeling her cheeks burning. She’d probably actually seek therapy after this, the mortification of the entire encounter burning deep into her psyche. “Just promise me that when you get your next big role and start wheeling out this story in interviews as ‘that time I was trapped with a crazy fan’, you’ll at least fib a little and say I was stunning or something complimentary alongside the humiliation, yeah?”
Everett sobered a little, a frown pulling his eyebrows down, giving him the broody expression that he’d practically patented during his run on Happily Never After. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, as though trying to find the right words. She cursed herself for making him uncomfortable. Well, more uncomfortable.
Fuck her life.
“So, I’ve watched you on a few panels. Online, obviously. You’ve got this wicked sense of humour,” she found herself explaining into the awkward silence, blaming her lack of filter on an imagined decreasing amount of oxygen. However, at this point she was pretty much in for a penny, in for a pound when it came to her embarrassment anyway, and she had a point to make. “The playful narcissism is entertaining, and you just ride the line between knowing you’re attractive and still being charming. Personally, I can’t pull that off, so my style of deflection –as you’ve noticed by now– is more self-deprecating.” She shrugged. “What a juxtaposition, right?” She swept her eyes over him again. “Of course, if I were as pretty as you, maybe things would be different.”
“Hey, I can’t control that this was the jawline I was born with,” he defended lightly, gesturing towards his face with the back of one hand, “or my eyes. Or cheekbones. Or–”
“Yeah yeah, buddy. You’re rocking your natural aesthetic,” she threw her arms wide, indicating an invisible audience, “we all know. Pity about your height, right?”
He snorted, “I think I liked you better when you were starstruck. Besides, I’m five ten and a half, so I’m not exactly short.”
“Of course you did.” Rolling her eyes as her brain caught up with the rest of his sentence, she repeated, “And a half,” with a laugh in her voice. “Every half-inch counts, right?” Somehow, she managed to deliver this absolutely deadpan.
She had no shame.
His lip curled upwards again at the innuendo, but he let it be. “Well, I could stretch the truth a bit and say I’m six feet tall. If I wear lifts, it’s not a lie.”
This made her chuckle and shake her head before knowingly observing, “There’s definitely an element of truth to your narcissist shtick, isn’t there?”
“That’s the thing about landing jokes, isn’t it? The best ones all have a bit of truth to them.”
Gemma acknowledged this argument with a jut of her chin. “Yeah. Well, at least, that’s what they say. Whoever they are.”
“A secret society, I’m told. Very exclusive,” he tapped the side of his nose with the tip of his index finger and she laughed again.
“Right. Seems legit.”
There was an awkward lull in conversation, and just as she was beginning to feel the walls closing in, her companion asked, “So where would you recommend for hiking around here?”
Gemma’s building anxiety receded again, and she was glad for the ongoing distraction. The guy was a saint. It did nothing to abate her crush on him. “It depends on what you’re after or how far you’re willing to travel,” she mused aloud. “Bushwalks around here can get you to ocean views, mangrove walks, waterfalls…” she shrugged. “I’ve always found the short track between Burleigh Heads and Tallebudgera relaxing, but it’s not what I’d call a hike. More like a nature walk. If you’re looking for epic views and are happy to set aside pretty much a whole day –including the drive there and back– there’s Mount Warning. It’s not an easy climb, though. At least, not to get to the summit.” She was proud that she’d managed it. Once, and she maintained that it had almost killed her, but she had managed it, and that was enough. “Or there’s Mount Ngungun, which is a couple of hours’ drive north from here and is a much shorter, easier climb with an epic pay off at the top on a clear day. Mount Coolum, also a couple of hours north, is the same.”
“A relaxing nature walk sounds pretty good,” Everett mused thoughtfully. “And that one’s close to here?”
“Yeah, just a short drive down the highway. If you get a few hours free, you should check it out.” Unless we die in this lift, her brain added testily.
Oblivious to her internal musings, he nodded again. “Right. I’ll add that to my To Do list.”
“So, you’re not just here for the convention?”
“No, I’ve got a few days reprieve before I have to head back home. Thought I’d do a little sightseeing. Maybe even pat a koala or something.”
“I guess flying halfway around the world for a three-day stay does sound a bit rough,” Gemma acknowledged with a tilt of her head. Then she made a face. “You know koalas carry chlamydia, right?” They were cute, but there was no way in hell she’d ever touch one again.
Everett let out a bark of almost startled laughter. “What?! That can’t be a thing.”
“It is,” she responded emphatically, slapping her thigh. “Koalas can carry the clap. Google it.” Her brows drew down into a frown. “Once we’re out of here and there’s WiFi and reception again.”
He snorted inelegantly. “If you’re lying to me, I’ll be collecting on that coffee.”
Her heart skipped a beat. Was that flirting? No. The lack of oxygen was clearly getting to them both now. But her mouth fired off before her brain, “And when you realise that I’m not, you can shout me a coffee.”
“You’ve got a deal,” he told her with a smirk and extended his hand for her to shake.
Gemma did so with an accompanying shake of her head. “Sure,” she told him, mild disbelief colouring her tone. As if he was even going to remember her once they were released and he was swept up in his celebrity duties. Still, it was kind of nice to pretend that he was an ordinary person and that they’d just arranged a coffee date. “I take mine white, no sugar. Preferably a latte, but a flat white will suffice.”
“Confident, aren’t you?”
“Eh,” she shrugged, her lips quirking upwards, “I know my country.”
“Well, then, if you’re so knowledgeable,” he shot back playfully, leaning into her space and nudging her shoulder with his own, unaware that the action set off a flurry of butterflies in her belly that had nothing to do with her fear that they were going to die trapped in the broken-down elevator, “what should I do with my free time here? Other than go for a nature walk where I might encounter a snake and die.”
“Melodramatic, much?” Gemma snarked with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. “You’re a big boy, you’ll be fine.” She only barely resisted the urge to reach out and pat his shoulder with blatant (light-hearted) condescension. “What sort of stuff are you into? We’ve got a bit of everything here: theme parks, beaches, botanic gardens, wildlife sanctuaries…” She drummed her fingers on her thigh as she considered what else was on offer locally. “Australia Zoo’s only a couple of hours’ drive north, too. That’s always a favourite with tourists. So’s Byron Bay, which is an hour or so south of here, but…eh…it’s a bit hipster and a whole lot overrated, if you ask me. Which, I’ll remind you, you did.”
Everett affected faux offence. “Are you calling me a tourist?” He spoke the word as though it was a slur.
Snickering, she shrugged again. “I mean, you kind of are.”
“You wound me,” he continued his exaggerated act, clutching imaginary pearls. He widened his eyes, the colour more crystalline in the artificial lighting of the elevator. “I thought we were friends now.”
There went the butterflies again. “Oh, it takes more than a shared near-death experience to become my friend.”
Everett laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and the sound delighted her. “I’ll win you over yet, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, nah,” she responded, “not if you call me sweetheart again.” She’d liked it way too much for it to be healthy.
Chuckling, he asked, “Did you just say ‘yeah-nah’? What the hell is that?”
“It’s Aussie slang for no.”
Blinking at her, the incredulous question “Why don’t you just say no?” followed, before he added, “And, what, do you say ‘nah-yeah’ for yes?”
“We do, actually,” the corners of her lips twitched at his bewilderment. “Honestly, it’s more a bogan thing than anything, but–”
“Bogan?” The word sounded bizarre in his accent as he tested it out.
Her shoulders lifted and dropped while she raised her hands with their palms facing upwards. “Kind of our version of a redneck or a chav?”
“Right,” he drew out the word, clearly amused. “And you just happen to fall into this use of slang at random?”
“When I’m comfortable enough,” she responded without thinking, feeling her cheeks burn as she realised what she’d admitted.
Everett held his index finger towards the ceiling, “Ah ha!” he cried, victorious, now using that same finger to poke her shoulder. “You admitted it. We are friends now.”
Gemma was convinced that he was running out of oxygen now. Still, his enthusiasm was contagious, and she found herself grinning and shaking her head. “Fine, okay, whatever.”
“I knew I’d win you over.”
“Why?” she queried, feeling bold. “Because I’m a fan? Because of your obvious–” sarcasm abounded “–charm?”
He wriggled his hips and stretched out his legs, settling in for the long haul. “A little from Column A, a little from Column B.”
She hated herself a little for finding the narcissist shtick so endearing, but with his eyes glinting at her and that mischievous smirk on his sinfully scruffy face, she felt powerless to resist it. Still, she didn’t need him knowing that.
“I think I liked you better when you were a mysterious celebrity,” she twisted his earlier words back at him playfully.
“I’ve already used that joke, love,” he snarked back. “Find some new material.”
Gemma opened her mouth to argue, but the elevator seemed to lurch back into life, jerking and clunking and startling her enough that she squealed and clutched at her companion’s arm.
“Hey, it’s okay,” he soothed, rubbing her hand but making no move to throw her off. He glanced up at the ceiling and then the display panel. “I think we’re back on the move.”
Sure enough, the number had changed to 6 and she could feel the lift descending. Everett pushed himself to his feet and offered Gemma his hand, which she took and allowed him to help her stand. “Thanks,” she said softly, suddenly overcome by the realisation that their brief friendship was about to go its separate ways. “Sorry again for freaking out on you.”
“What are friends for?” he cajoled, brushing the apology off, unaware of the melancholy turn her thoughts had taken.
She smiled, hoping it met her eyes, and gave his hand one last squeeze. “Well, thank you, then,” she said, watching the numbers tick down. She stepped back. “I hope you enjoy the convention. I’m sure your panels will be awesome.”
Everett inclined his head, “Are you going to be there?”
Given that he had been her motivating factor for attending, she’d been planning on it but, after this, did attending make it weird? Though, she supposed, it wouldn’t be odd for a friend to go watch another friend perform or give speeches or answer fan questions, would it?
She was overthinking it.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she informed him as the doors finally slid open at the ground floor. She was oblivious to the crowd of people assembled outside. “I’ll be cheering you on from the back of the room, I’m sure.”
Then, with a final (if somewhat awkward) wave, she turned around, ducked her head once she saw the large group of people gawking at them, and made her way out of the lift and across the hotel lobby.
About the Author
Anita (A.N.) Verebes is a daydreamer, writer, and author of the debut romance novel Handle With Care.
As a professional civil marriage celebrant, Anita makes a living telling other people’s love stories and celebrating real romance! Also armed with a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Anita is a qualified -but not practising- High School English teacher who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including fanfiction. (And, yes, she’s written her fair share of that, too.)
Living directly between Queensland’s sunny Gold and Sunshine coasts, Anita spends her days exploring the Great South East with her husband and their two rambunctious sons. When at home, she’s also a slave to two cats and one very spoilt Great Dane X.
Barnes and Noble