Lights, Camera, Kiss Me: Episode 1
Ryan and Mac's Season (Revised)
"This morning we’re lucky enough to have two of Australia's hottest stars with us. Please put your hands together for Mackenzie Lauren and Ryan Moore."
I walk onto the stage smiling and waving to the studio-audience right alongside my co-star, but my stomach is in knots. Whenever I have to step in front of a camera as myself and not as a character I play, my nerves go haywire. I hate not having a script. Thankfully, Ryan is right beside me. He’s brilliant in interviews.
"Thanks for being here this morning," Starr Ellis says as we take a seat on the red couch.
Over the past year, Ryan has developed an uncanny talent for reading me, and I relax slightly as he puts his arm across the back of the couch. His light touch on my shoulder is a reminder to ignore the urge to fiddle with the hem of my skirt.
"It's great to be here," Ryan says.
"Thanks for having us," I add.
"The season finale of Hart's Valley airs this evening at eight-thirty on Channel 10. The show has garnered a lot of attention in its first year," Starr says. "You’ve had a phenomenal first season ratings-wise and the critics have consistently praised both the writing and the acting from day one. To what do you attribute the show's success?"
Ryan shifts ever so slightly, making himself more comfortable. "In all honesty, I think we've had some luck. I've never been on a show where things have just come together the way they have on Hart's Valley. The writers, the producers, the actors…everyone has gelled."
I nod in quiet agreement, and Starr turns to me.
“You agree, Mackenzie?”
“Definitely. While I haven’t been in this business for as long as Ryan has, I know that the set of Hart’s Valley is special. The whole cast and crew look out for each other.”
“That’s just as well since you shoot from January to October, isn’t it?”
“November,” Ryan corrects her. “We shoot forty-two episodes back-to-back.”
“Impressive,” Starr says, then turns back to me. “Mackenzie, were you surprised when they announced Hart’s Valley had been picked up for a second season?"
“We’ve really felt the love this season, and the show has everything going for it - love, hate, lust, betrayal, and intrigue. But you can never be one-hundred percent certain of anything until it happens."
"I have to ask,” Starr starts. “Because everyone - my viewers included - are dying to know…”
The roar from the audience is deafening and Ryan and I grin at each other.
“Will Brianna and Stone finally act on the attraction they pass off as hate and hook up in the finale?”
Ryan runs a hand over his jaw as the audience cheers. Then he looks at me, the flecks of green in his dark brown eyes more visible under the studio lights. “Do you want to answer this one?”
I laugh even as my stomach flipflops over the thought of our characters hooking up. I know the possibility is there, but the thought of kissing Ryan on screen still makes me unbelievably nervous.
Clearing my throat, I say, "I haven't forgotten – sorry, Brianna hasn't forgotten – that Stone blackmailed her to get the information he needed to take over his father's company. She doesn't trust him. But anything can happen in a season finale."
"You sure have your work cut out for you, pretending to resist this man on screen," Starr says to me, winking.
I shrug. "It’s tough job, but someone has to do it.”
Laughter flows through the studio, and Ryan bumps my shoulder playfully with his, a wide smile on his face – a smile that’s brought him a great deal of fame over the years. I smile back at him, meeting his magnetic gaze full-on. Truthfully, my comment was closer to the truth than I would like. Not only is my co-star talented as all get out, an award-winning actor, but he’s also handsome as sin. His face and body are probably plastered all over every teenage girl’s wall in the country. In fact, when I was fifteen, his poster was plastered on my wall.
But that was just a teenage crush. I’m completely over it. Sure, I admire and respect Ryan, and I find him insanely attractive, but I would never make the mistake of sleeping with a co-star again.
"Any hint as to what we can expect to see for Stone and Briana in Season 2?" Starr asks, bringing me back to the present.
"We’re pretty much in the dark about what will happen next season," Ryan says. "They don't tell us much at all."
The Sunshine Mornings host is obviously fishing for information on the potential romance between our characters, but we honestly don't know what the writers have up their sleeves. The writers will likely draw out the potential relationship between Stone and Brianna as long as possible. After all, it’s the tease that keeps people invested in the storyline, and I’m sure our producer would want to keep the audience hanging for as long as he could. Personally, I have no problem with that. The longer I can put off kissing Ryan Moore, the better.
"We know there will be a new mystery to solve," I say. "And Hart’s Valley will be shaken up by the arrival of someone new."
Starr nods and asks us a few more questions before finishing up the interview.
Being a morning show with multiple spots for guests, the interview probably only lasts seven minutes or so. Still, when it’s over I breathe a sigh of relief and follow security as they escort us to the exit.
Ryan holds the studio door open for me, and I step out onto Toorak road, rubbing my arms as the brisk morning air hits my bare skin. It may be spring, but the mornings are still crisp. I breathe out, half expecting to see my breath turn to fog in the cool morning air.
"Come on," Ryan says, glancing at me. "You're cold."
"Where are we going?"
"Where do you think?"
The corner of Ryan's mouth curves up into a smile, reminding me of the poster I used to have of him. My heart kicks against my ribcage and I mentally smack myself upside the head. I’m not fifteen anymore. There’s no reason for me to dwell on how full his lips are or how well they might fit over mine.
"Coffee?" I ask him. My voice comes out a bit breathless.
"Yeah. We’ve earned it. Let's go."
Ryan flings his arm over my shoulders as we start walking, but after a third person snaps a photo of us together, he drops his arm. Even though I miss the warmth of his body, I don’t protest. Ryan has a girlfriend, and something as innocent as two friends showing affection for each other might be construed as something more salacious in the media.
Given the on-screen chemistry between our respective characters, the blogs are already abuzz with speculation. Ryan, dubbed by the media as Australia's Romeo, has been paired with dozens of models and actresses over the years, and generated tons of clicks for the online magazines.
To me, he’s so much more than all that, though. Over the past year of working together, Ryan has become one of my best friends. He is one of my favourite people in the world. The last thing we need is a nasty rumour about us having an affair.
Once inside our favourite café in South Yarra, The Red Jacket, Ryan heads straight for one of the vacant booths. On warmer days, we sit outside, but on days like today, we try to snag one of the cozy and comfortable booths inside.
I slide onto the seat opposite Ryan and notice that someone has left a notorious gossip magazine behind on the table – one of those magazines full of unverified information about my co-stars and other people in the entertainment business. When I was dropped from Junction Hospital, this magazine claimed they had all the details. Interviews with co-stars who had worked with me, or anonymous sources with juicy details about my off-set behaviour. None of it had been true. I don't know what sources close to me would say the things the magazine claimed.
Instead of putting the magazine straight in the bin where it belongs, I flip through the pages until a headline catches my attention.
It’s been 18 months since my very public breakup with Danny Westlake, my co-star on Junction Hospital, but pain slices through me as I read about how happy he is with Angel Moran, another actress on Junction Hospital. The article says that Danny’s decided not to sign up for another full season of the show because he's been offered a role in the new Dane Gidardo film.
"What is it?" Ryan asks.
I curl up the magazine and shake my head. I try to smile at him. “Nothing. Same old crap.”
“Hi, guys, how ya goin?”
The arrival of Becca, our regular waitress, distracts me momentarily and Ryan swipes the magazine from me.
“Hi, Becca,” I say, smiling up at her while kicking Ryan’s leg under the table in retaliation. Ryan doesn’t flinch. “We just came from an interview, so I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. Got any egg-white omelettes this morning?”
“Sure thing, Mac. Anything else?”
“Coffee,” I say.
“And some hash browns,” Ryan cuts in. “She was a real trouper today.”
I roll my eyes at him, but now that he’s put the image of hash browns in my head, I’m salivating. “I’d love some hash browns if you have them,” I tell Becca.
“Got it,” she says, scribbling on her pad. “And for you, Ryan?”
“The full Aussie brekkie, please, Becca. And a coffee.”
“Coming right up,” Becca says and heads over to the kitchen.
“I don’t know how you can stomach all that meat this early in the morning,” I say, shaking my head as I lean back in my seat.
“Nice try,” Ryan says, holding up the glossy mag, the page with Danny and Angel’s picture on it facing me.
I sigh. “I told you, it’s nothing. I’m fine.”
"He was an idiot, Mac."
If anyone had been an idiot back then, it was me. I'd made a mistake, a big one.
"It's true," Ryan insists. "You’re way hotter than Angel Moran. Seriously, what was he thinking?"
I try to stop the colour from rising to my cheeks. "You prefer brunettes," I point out matter-of-factly. "You’re kind of biased."
"Maybe," Ryan says with a smirk, and under the light his eyes seem a darker shade of brown. "But it doesn't make it any less true."
I shake my head and busy myself with checking my bag for a hair tie. I don’t want to let Ryan know how much his comment has flustered me. It’ll ruin everything.
“So…” Ryan starts, then trails off. He raises his eyebrow and shoots me a sideway glance.
I look up to prompt him to continue. “What?”
“Are you still in love with him?”
I blink, momentarily confused as to who he’s talking about. He glances down at the magazine again and my stomach sours. If I’m truly over Danny, it shouldn’t hurt to see him happy with Angel, should it? Or maybe it’s less about Danny and more about how he made me feel when he broke up with me and immediately started a relationship with Angel. How my performance on set suffered because of it.
I shake my head. “No. It just took me by surprise, seeing him in that magazine.”
“How long has it been since you broke up with him? You haven’t dated since," he remarks, watching me intently.
I open my mouth, ready to tell him that I’m too busy to date, but we’re on a break from filming for the next six weeks, so the truth is I do have time to date.
"Maybe I should start then," I say, shrugging.
Ryan shifts in his seat, looking as if he’s about to say something, but then Becca comes over with our breakfast order and I turn my focus to the steaming hot coffee and comfort food.
“Thanks, Becca,” I tell her, cradling the warm cup in my hands, grateful for something to change the topic.
“Cheers,” Ryan says as she slides a plate full of fried sausages, beans, and eggs in front of him.
“That’s a coronary waiting to happen,” I mumble as I cut into my egg-white omelette.
“I’m a growing boy,” Ryan says, patting his stomach.
I know there’s a six-pack hiding beneath that expensive shirt he has on, and that he puts in more hours at the gym than the other actors on the show. Before I start drooling at the thought of a shirtless Ryan, I shove a mouthful of omelette into my mouth.
“So, how are you going to go about this whole dating thing, then? What’s your plan of attack?” Ryan asks after a few minutes of silent appreciation of the food in front of us.
“Maybe I’ll ask Jazz to hit the clubs with me,” I say, shrugging. Our co-star, Jasmine Cooper, was always trying to get me to go out with her.
“You only go to clubs if you’re looking for one thing and nothing more,” Ryan says, sounding disapproving.
“Thanks, Dad,” I mock him.
“Don’t make me put you over my knee, young lady,” he fires back, pointing his fork at me.
He’s joking, obviously. It’s perturbing how quickly my mind conjures up an image of him doing just that. A highly R-rated image. I shake my head to rid myself of it.
"Just kidding, the club scene isn’t really for me. But Jazz has mentioned a few times that she knows someone I might hit it off with."
"So you're going to let her introduce you?" Ryan asks, his voice sounding a bit hoarser than before. He’s looking at me again, a gaze that sends tingles up my spine. Did Ryan’s mind take the same walk through the red-light district as mine did moments ago? Does he know what I’m thinking right now?
"Yes," I say, reminding myself that leading men are permanently off-limits to me. "That's the plan."