How Willa Got Her Groove Back ONLY
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a Creative HeArts series novel by Emily McKay

How Willa Got Her Groove Back
When your life feels like a bad movie, rewrite the script.

When Willa Schofer’s father comes home from a business trip with an über-famous new fiancée, Willa’s senior year blows up in paparazzi-fueled flames. Overnight, she has a new house, a new car, and a new soon-to-be stepbrother—the unbelievably hot, unbelievably arrogant, Finn McCain. Thank god he’s constantly pushing her buttons, or she might do something irresponsible. Like fall for the jerk.

Just when Willa’s decided to avoid him for, oh, ever, Finn lands in the center of her senior project team. Seriously—how hard is it to shake a guy? At least her work on the project snagged the attention of the (second) hottest guy in school. He might only be into her because of her famous stepmom, and he’s not quite as exciting as a certain annoying housemate, but at least she’s allowed to crush on the guy.

Because crushing on your annoying stepbrother? So not cool.
 
 
Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains an unbelievably hot bad boy, an unbelievably famous actress, and all the drama that comes with adding both to your family. Oh, and a forbidden flirtation with a soon-to-be stepbrother.
 
 
The Creative HeArts series is best enjoyed in order.
 
Reading Order:
Book #1 – Ten Things Sloane Hates About Tru
Book#2 – How Willa Got Her Groove Back
Book #3 – Crazy, Stupid, Fauxmance
Book #4 – The Secret Life of A Dream Girl
 
 

Information:

Title: How Willa Got Her Groove Back
Series: Creative HeArts, #2
Author: Emily McKay
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 258 pages
ISBN: 978-1-63375-481-2
Release Date: February 2016
Imprint: Crush
 
 
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An Excerpt from:

How Willa Got Her Groove Back
Emily McKay

Copyright © 2015 by Emily McKay. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
 

Chapter One

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single girl who chooses to spend Friday night with her father must be in want of a social life.

Absolute truth…except I’ve really missed my dad.

My phone beeps with a text. I hope it might be from him with an ETA, but my hands are covered in flour. I glance down at my phone and only glimpse a text from Mariely.

Mariely: Don’t b lame. Come 2 the party

It disappears before I can use my elbow to swipe the screen on. Instead, I quickly cut out the last three biscuits and drop them on the pan before washing off my hands and unlocking my phone. I click through to Mariely’s text as I slide the pan into the oven.

Me: Nope. U know the drill. Dad home=superspecial reunion dinner

Mariely: But Damien will be there

Damien Northwood is my big crush—the love of my life, though he doesn’t know it yet—and it’s cruel of Mariely to dangle him as bait when she knows I can’t nibble. I sigh as I type out my response.

Me: Now u r just being mean

Mariely: I do what I can 🙂

We text for a few minutes about what she’s planning to wear, and by the time Mariely and Jacen, her boyfriend, head out to grab food before the party, my biscuits are out of the oven. They’re golden brown and stunningly beautiful.

You know, for food.

I don’t bake much, but biscuits and sawmill gravy are a staple at our house. Dad is a vegetarian. Even though it’s a pain in the ass to find decent vegan breakfast sausage, it’s my dad’s favorite meal. He’s a cinematographer and it’s our tradition whenever he gets back in town from working on a movie.

The vegan sausage is browned and I’m just about to pour in the flour when I hear Dad at the door. I dust off my hands, walk out into the hall, and stand by the stairs, propping my shoulder against the railing and smiling as I watch him cart bags and equipment over the threshold and set them down just inside the door. Dad is all height, lean muscles, and hard angles. Though he’s got that gruff taciturn thing down, the truth is, on the inside, he’s a big ol’ geek. He’s like Leonard from Big Bang trapped in the body of Keanu Reeves.

Most people only see the tough-guy act, but I see through that, because we get each other.

Which is why I know, when he looks up and notices me standing here, he’s going to comment on three things. First—the smell of baking biscuits. That’s always first. Second—the new industrial earring in my right ear. Third—the crimson streak in my hair. And then, we’ll talk about all the shit that’s been bothering me, and all my stress about my creative writing project and my college apps will fade away, because, like I said, we get each other.

Finally, Dad gets his gear in the house and looks up. “Hey, kiddo.”

Except, instead of his noticing the new industrial earring or the hair streak or even the biscuits, I just get a quick hug. When he pulls back, he says, “How ’bout tonight, we do something really special? I want to take my best girl out.”

Stunned, I fumble for words. “B-But I made—”

Before I can get the word “biscuits” out of my mouth, Dad is bounding up the stairs to his room. “I made reservations for us at Blink. I’m going to grab a quick shower.” He pauses halfway up the stairs to shoot me a grin. “Get your best dress on, and I’ll meet you at the door in fifteen minutes.”

He’s up the stairs and out of sight before I can protest. I stand there in the hall for a second, staring around from the equipment by the door to the stairs to the kitchen where my biscuits are already getting cold.

“I don’t own a dress!” I yell at him, but he doesn’t hear me. The shower is already running.

 

By the time Dad pulls the Prius up to the valet stand in front of Blink, I am 85 percent certain he’s dying.

I mean, something is clearly wrong. Why else would he not notice my new earring or the hair streak? Why else would he bug out on our Superspecial Reunion Dinner?

And it’s clearly something bad. Like cancer. Something that affects his mood and personality. Like a brain tumor.

He whistles as we get out of the car.

Maybe it’s early-onset dementia. Yeah. That sounds right. Because in the three months he was away, Dad seems to have forgotten every detail of our lives together.

Details like the fact that we don’t—ever—eat at places like Blink. We’re just not Blink people. We’re food truck people. Takeout people. Pizza at home people.

Blink is one of those preposterously hip places tucked into a basement downtown that’s owned by a former winner of Top Chef and serves exquisite food in minuscule portions. It’s got a hip, speakeasy vibe to match its celebrity investors. It’s the kind of place you need to make reservations for weeks in advance. Reservations we obviously don’t have.

Except that the hostess seems to be expecting us. Instead of seating us at one of the tables, she leads us all the way into the restaurant, through a pair of doors, and to a private room. Though the room is easily big enough to seat ten or more, a single table with four place settings sits in the center.

There’s a waiter in the corner, and he hurries over to pull out a chair for me.

“I’m Theodore,” he says with a flourish and a wink. “I’m just so excited to be your waiter this evening.”

I don’t take the wink personally because I seem decidedly not his type, but he distracts me long enough that when I turn around, Dad is whispering something to the hostess.

By the time Dad joins me, I’m over the cloak-and-dagger mysteriousness. “What is up?” I ask. “Why are we here? Who are we meeting? Are you…dying or something?”

I try to make that sound like a joke, but it falls flat.

“No. Nothing like that.” Dad laughs and ducks his head, like he’s embarrassed. “Here’s the deal. I met someone. I want you to meet her. I really want it to go well.”

“Met someone?” I ask, dumbfounded. I sit up straighter. “Was it through the Match.com profile I set up for you?”

“No, I met her on set. Actually—”

“Oh.” I try not to sound disappointed. I want more for my dad than an on-set romance.

I know he’s had those before—I’m not naive—but they never last. I’m going off to college in a year. I want him settled and happy before then.

Still, if he’s met someone, that’s progress. “Tell me about her.”

“I really want you to like her.”

“I’m sure I will,” I reassure him, ignoring the sense of dread I feel when I glance around the private room. Dad is obviously trying to impress her. People do that when they’re dating someone new, right?

Dad and I have always been so close, he’s never kept anything from me before, certainly not anything like this. “If it’s serious, why didn’t you tell me about her sooner?”

“I wanted to. Believe me. But we had to be sure. In fact, I’ve already asked—”

Before he finishes, the door opens and he breaks off. Not the door from the main restaurant, but the door from the kitchen. Dad stands, rounds the table, and walks over to her.

I start to stand, but then sort of freeze, because it’s all I can do to just stare at the woman who walks in.

Suddenly, several things make perfect sense. My dad’s nerves. Why he kept this from me for so long. Why we’re sitting alone in this back room. Why we’re at the trendiest restaurant in Austin.

Dad isn’t dating some production assistant or make-up artist. He’s dating Mia McCain, one of the most famous actresses in the world. A woman as well known for her beauty and her love life as she is for the Oscar noms.

Because of my dad’s job, I’ve seen a lot of movie stars in person. Up close, most of them aren’t as pretty as they are onscreen. Some look downright weird. Out of proportion almost.

Not Mia. If possible, she’s even more beautiful.

I grew up watching Mia’s movies. She’s one of those rare actresses who have transitioned from America’s Sweetheart status into a serious actress. She’s got range, sass, and oodles of presence, but it’s her effervescent beauty that everyone remembers. Still, she holds my attention only for a second, because when I glance at Dad, his expression makes my breath catch.

That’s when I know. That sentence that got caught off? I’ve already asked…

He isn’t merely dating Mia. He’s in love with her.

He’s not only in love with her. He’s asked her to marry him.

In movies, when something traumatic happens, the action slips into slo-mo. That way the audience sees the deadly accuracy of the villain’s shot. We hear the tortured “Nooooooo!” and the faint death rattle of the sacrificial character’s last breath. A pretty nifty trick, right?

That’s what I’m waiting for as Mia McCain walks up to the table. I’m waiting for time to slow down so that I can process what I’m seeing. So that my shock can give way to logic.

But time doesn’t slow down. No one even pauses.

The waiter steps forward to pull out a chair for her, even though she’s not ready for it yet. So far, Mia has eyes only for Dad.

She wraps her arms around Dad’s shoulders as she rises up on her toes to plant a movie-worthy kiss on his lips. It’s a long minute before she pulls away from him, and when she finally does, they both blush so that I can’t help feeling like I’ve seen something I wasn’t meant to see.

The waiter must not feel the same, because I swear I see him tucking his phone back in his pocket, like maybe he snapped a shot of them kissing.

I’m tempted to call him on it, but before I can, Mia says, “You must be Willa. I’ve heard so much about you!”

“You’re getting married, aren’t you?” I blurt out. I don’t know why I say it, why I force the issue when the truth is, I don’t want the answer.

For an instant, they both look shocked. Then, Mia tips back her head and laughs. That laugh. That infectious, magical laugh that made her a superstar fifteen years ago.

“Oh Matty, isn’t she clever?” She sounds surprised as she drapes her hand possessively on his arm.

Now I’m shocked. Matty? She calls my dad Matty?

Inappropriate pet names are exactly the sort of oddity that Dad and I once would have laughed over. Now, I feel as though they’re in on the joke, and I’m hopelessly outside of it.

Mia must sense my unease, because she leaves my dad’s side and walks over to me, palms stretched out. She grabs both of my hands and gives them a maternal squeeze as she looks me up and down. “You are just as pretty as your dad said you were.”

I nearly wretch, because suddenly, everything seems off. Everything in the world.

Like I’ve stepped through the looking glass and everything around me is distorted and grotesque. None of this is real. None of this is actually happening. My father would never start dating again without even telling me.

Not that I expect to be the center of my dad’s every thought and conversation—not at all—but this isn’t dinner and a movie we’re talking about. This is marriage.

Mia makes only the slightest move toward one of the chairs, and the waiter scurries over to hold it out again.

However, before she can sit, he asks, “Ms. McCain, would you mind if I got a picture with you?”

“Of course. Matty, do you mind?”

I sit back down, my stomach churning as my dad—Oscar-nominated cinematographer—snaps photos with this stranger’s smartphone. Apparently, I’m the only one who realizes how demeaning this is.

On the bright side, after the picture, the guy rattles off the daily specials—something about free-range lamb and locally sourced chicken—and then leaves us alone. Of course, the downside to that is that he leaves us. Alone.

So here I am, sitting next to one of my favorite actresses. I should be thrilled, right? I love Mia’s movies. Plus, I’ve been encouraging my dad to start dating again for the past six years. This should be a win-win situation. I should love this.

I should not be upset about the fact that actresses are not Dad’s type. Especially an actress who has had such a turbulent love life. She’s been married more than once. She’s been in and out of relationships with dozens of Hollywood’s hottest men. When it comes to love, she’s like an Olympic swimmer. And Dad still has on his water wings.

I know the kind of woman my dad needs. Someone steady. Grounded. Someone who is comfortable eating pizza in front of the TV and watching old movies. He does not need another gorgeous, flaky woman who is destined to break his heart.

“Does that sound good to you, Willa?” Dad asks.

I realize abruptly that Dad and Mia are talking and I’ve been too wrapped up in my own thoughts to listen. “Sure. Of course.” Then, because they’re looking at me like they expect me to say more, I add, “I’ll have the chicken.”

Dad stares blankly at me like I just suggested joining the Nazi party, but Mia laughs. “Chicken!” she says, like it’s the punchline to a joke. Obviously, whatever they were talking about, it wasn’t dinner. “Chicken is always a good idea. Let’s all have the chicken.” She turns in her seat to gesture toward the waiter and he scurries over to take our order.

“Shouldn’t we wait just a few more minutes?” Dad asks.

Mia glances at her watch and sighs, a hint of a frown dancing around her lips. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.” Then to the waiter, she says, “Sparkling water for the table.”

Before I can tell the waiter that I’d prefer tap water, Dad’s phone rings.

He glances down at it and groans. “It’s Hardwick.” Mia groans, too. “I need to take this. I’ll be right back.”

Mia stands when he does and places her hand on his arm. “Do you think he needs me, too?”

I barely resist rolling my eyes. Hardwick is the director of the movie they just wrapped. While it’s totally believable to me that he would need to talk to Dad three days after wrapping filming—that kind of thing is normal for the cinematographer—why would he need to talk to the star?

But Dad doesn’t seem to think this question is as ridiculous as I do. He gives her a grateful smile and says, “I’ll come get you if I need you.”

I watch him as he leaves, wanting to beg him not to leave me alone with her. What the hell am I supposed to say to Entertainment Weekly’s tenth-most-powerful woman in Hollywood?

Mia doesn’t give me a chance to say much. She reaches across the table and takes my hand in hers before I can snatch it away. “I can’t tell you how excited I am to meet you. You and I are going to have so much fun together! I can’t wait to take you shopping!” Her gaze flickers to my nails. “And we can get mani-pedis together! I’ve always wanted a daughter!”

And that’s it. Right there. The moment I explode inside.

Because I am not Mia McCain’s daughter.

The last thing I need is another mother.

Suddenly, all of it is too much. Just too much.

How could my dad think this is okay? Siccing a stepmother on me without any warning? A famous stepmother?

He and I are supposed to be a team. That’s the deal. That’s been the deal ever since Mom. He and I stick together. Even when we don’t spend time together because of his job, we stay in touch. What was the point of me calling to check in with him and us texting every day if he had this going on and never even hinted at it?

It’s like the past seven years of my life mean nothing.

Before I can vomit all over Mia McCain, the waiter returns and slides a goblet of Perrier in front of me.

“Sparkling water. Just like you ordered.” He glances at Mia, like he needs her to confirm that he got my order right. “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

No. This isn’t what I wanted. Not at all.

I wanted my dad to date. I wanted him to find someone stable, not some flighty actress. I wanted him to be with someone who was in it for the long haul, not someone who’s left a string of husbands and broken hearts all over Hollywood.

Suddenly, my throat constricts and I can feel the tears prickling at the back of my eyes and humiliation prickling at my soul.

I hate crying in public, and I won’t cry in front of Mia. I just can’t.

I shove my chair back from the table. “I have to go.”

“To the bathroom?” Mia gives her confused head tilt.

A giggle bubbles out of my throat, partly because Mia’s question is perfectly reasonable but still so far off base. Also, it’s just so weird sitting here across from her. I know every expression that flickers across her. I’ve seen it in a dozen movies. I know it better than I know my mother’s.

Oh, god.

I can’t do this. I just can’t.

“No.” I force out the word. “I have to leave.”

“What?” Mia blinks in surprise. “But we haven’t even ordered yet. You were going to get the chicken!”

I panic, standing up as I blurt, “I have a project for school I need to work on.”

“On a Friday night?” Mia stands, too. “Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

No. It can’t wait, because if I’m here even another minute, I may actually burst into tears. I haven’t cried in public since Mom’s funeral. There’s no way I’m going to cry now.

“Actually, it’s a party. A…um—” I back up into the chair and stumble a step. “A party to plan the project.”

“It’s a project-planning party?”

I can see the wheels turning in her mind as she starts to unravel the lie. “Yep. That’s it. A project-planning party.” I keep walking backward toward the door, clutching my purse in front of me like a cross to ward off a vampire. “Say that three times fast, right?” I give a deranged false laugh just as I reach the door.

And then I’m free, bolting through the crowded restaurant, praying she won’t follow and ask more questions. Praying that I can keep the tears at bay until I get home. Praying that I can have just a little time alone to assimilate to this.

Mia doesn’t follow. Thank God. Maybe she bought my lie, but more likely, she didn’t want to risk chasing after me through the restaurant.

But panic is still roiling in my gut and the tears are hot at the back of my eyes. I can’t risk running into my father or having him follow me. I need to get far away from Blink. Fast.

 

Once I make it out onto the street, I try to think rationally. Blink is located downtown, a good five miles from my house. Too far away for me to walk, really any time, but especially at night. On the bright side, it’s downtown, and even on a Thursday night, there should be taxis around. It’s not that far away from Sixth Street, with its myriad bars and drunken college students. The valet stand is empty, so I guess the valet is off parking a car. Right next to the stand is a motorcycle stopped on the street, its rider leaning against the seat, his legs stretched out in front of him, his helmet held on one knee with a lazy hand.

Since this is not my night for making good impressions—of course he’s hot. He’s older than me, but not by much. I’m guessing a freshman at the university. But the hot motorcycle-riding college student is the least of my concerns, so I step past the front of his bike into the street and hold up my hand, like I’ve seen so many people do in the movies to flag down a cab.

Only the street is empty except for a Jeep full of frat boys who laugh and whistle as they drive past. From behind me I hear the Hot Biker Guy chuckling. I glance over my shoulder long enough to glare at him. This only makes him laugh more. “Are you waiting to be struck by lightning?”

“I’m trying to hail a cab,” I say with exasperation. He doesn’t chuckle this time, but I can practically hear his smirk. I whirl around and prop my hands on my hips. “What?”

“That’s not how you hail a cab.”

“I’ve never hailed a cab before. So if you have any tips, I’m ready to hear them.”

“Well, for starters, there needs to be a cab nearby.”

I have the sudden, and incredibly childish, urge to stomp my foot and shake my fist at him. Instead I turn back around and scan the street, looking for a cab.

Seconds tick by. Where are the cabs? This is downtown. There are supposed to be cabs around.

“Do you want a lift?”

At first I ignore him, looking up and down the now-silent street.

From behind me, he says, “I’m just offering…” He lets his voice trail off and I notice a faint accent. Not something I can place, maybe very faintly British. “Because there don’t seem to be a lot of cabs out tonight.”

I drop my hands from my hips and turn back to look at him, for the first time noticing things other than his general aura of hotness. His bad-boy biker vibe is softened by just a hint of surfer. He’s dressed in a black T-shirt, Dingo boots, and jeans that fit him too well not to be expensive. His blond hair is almost darkened to brown but still has streaks from the summer sun. His eyes are blue.

Oh, I can’t actually see the color of his eyes. It’s too dark for that. But his eyes are definitely blue. Guys like this always have blue eyes. The better to pierce our souls with.

And, of course, he’s got this little half grin that tells me he’s noticed me noticing him.

“I think I know better than to get on the back of a motorcycle with a strange guy.”

He holds out his hands in a gesture of innocence. “Hey, I’m not strange, I’m a good guy.”

“Yeah, because that’s what all the serial killers say.”

“Do you want to see my Boy Scout badge?”

“But how do I know you’re not part of a black market scheme to sell illicit Boy Scout badges?”

With that, I turn and start walking home. I smile a little when I hear him behind me still chuckling. I may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the cleverest, but I am kind of funny sometimes. When I’m given the chance.

That one moment of satisfaction, however, stalls when I reach the corner. I look up and down Twelfth Street in either direction. If I head east toward the capital, I’m more likely to find a cab. But home is south and still a good five miles away. My best friend, Himesh, lives only a couple of miles away, just west of here. With a sigh, I turn west. I’m still debating if I’ve made the right decision when I realize that the Hot Biker Guy has started walking along the street beside me, his helmet tucked under one arm, the other guiding his motorcycle. I pause and stop to look at him.

“What are you doing?”

He slants a smile at me. “We Boy Scouts aren’t allowed to let girls walk home in the dark by themselves.”

For one moment I wonder if he’s serious about being a Boy Scout. But then I look at him again, and I just can’t see it. He’s tall, and lean, and—despite our easy banter—has a look of rebellious anger about him. And edge. “You don’t want me walking home in the dark, but you’re okay lying about being a Boy Scout.”

“Okay, you caught me. I got kicked out of Boy Scouts in the fifth grade.”

“What do you have to do to get kicked out of Boy Scouts?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he says with embellished angst. “The memories. They’re still too painful.”

I roll my eyes. “Look, I appreciate your offer, I really do. But—”

I hear my dad’s voice calling from around the corner. “Willa!”

I stop in my tracks. The Hot Biker Guy stops beside me.

Somehow in the few minutes I’ve been talking to this guy, I’d managed to push the situation with Dad and Mia from the forefront of my brain. It had seemed somehow less tragic while I was talking to this guy. I could pretend that the only thing at stake was whether or not I got on his motorcycle and rode away.

But the moment I hear my dad calling my name, it all comes rushing back. I need to get out of here, and walking isn’t going to cut it. On foot, Dad will easily catch up with me. And then he’ll want to know why I bolted from the restaurant. I’ll have to admit how hurt I am that he didn’t tell me about Mia before now and…how can I even describe my sense of impending doom when I think about Mia and my dad getting married? I don’t understand it myself.

All I know is that I’m not ready to face him. I can’t look him in the eye and pretend to be okay with this.

Hot Biker Guy shoots me a look. “You want that ride now?”

This could be incredibly stupid, but my gut tells me I can trust him. Plus, I’ve got my pepper spray. And a year’s worth of Krav Maga classes under my belt.

“Promise you’re not a serial killer?”

He holds up his three middle fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

“I’ve never ridden a motorcycle before,” I say, taking the helmet he offers and pulling it on.

He grins, a half laugh, half smirk, all delicious grin that makes me forget I’m about to jump on the back of a veritable death trap with a complete stranger. “Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning on letting you drive.”