Can a small-town waitress capture the heart of a world-famous heartthrob?
For Heather Gordon, life in her small North Carolina town has always been simple and uneventful. Until one night when a rowdy food fight breaks out in her family’s restaurant where she’s a waitress. The culprits? The internationally famous rock band, Kirwan. And when Alex Kirwan, the charming and enigmatic lead singer, wants to make amends for his brothers’ (and bandmates’) behavior and invites her to attend one of their concerts as a guest of the band, Heather’s world is turned upside down . . . and sparks fly.
Alex has always loved music, but his rock-star life isn’t all glamorous people and parties. It’s also paparazzi and online tabloids, a new city every week, and the loneliness of touring—even if he has his brothers with him. But with Heather things are different, and he’s instantly smitten and determined to get to know the sweet, pretty woman who has absolutely no interest in his fame. If only he can convince her to take a chance on his crazy life.
Once Alex leaves on tour, he and Heather begin exchanging messages and calls. Despite the distance between them, they find themselves learning they have more in common than they ever could have imagined. But even while Heather and Alex’s relationship deepens, they must face the harsh realities of fame and the pressures it puts on their personal lives. Will their love be enough to overcome the challenges that come with celebrity, or will the rigors of distance and Alex’s life on the road tear them apart?
Filled with heart and the intoxicating allure of possibility, Starstruck is a must-read for anyone who has ever dreamed of finding love in surprising places.
- Charming friends-to-lovers romance
- Book length: approximately 90,000 words
- Stand-alone novel
Release date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Print pages: 352
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The delicious aroma of the Barbecue Pit’s pulled pork wafted over Heather as she zipped around the restaurant delivering sandwiches, hush puppies, and coleslaw. It was a typical busy Thursday evening, and the happy buzz of conversations filled her ears. She nodded greetings to familiar faces, grateful for the regular customers who visited her family’s restaurant in her hometown of Flowering Grove, North Carolina.
Heather dashed back to the kitchen, slipping her notepad in the pocket of her black waist apron as she pushed through the double doors. She placed four pulled-pork specials on a tray and hefted them up high in the air before peeking over at the counter, where her parents worked hard putting together more orders. She smiled. The restaurant would be her parents’ legacy, and she was so thankful to be a part of it.
Weaving through the sea of tables, Heather approached number ten. “Here you go—four hot specials.”
She placed the plates in front of the members of the Baucom family—Lenny, Jean, Brinley, and Connor. They were regulars who had been coming for as long as she could remember. In fact, she was certain Connor had grown at least six inches since the first time she recalled seeing the family sitting at one of their tables.
Heather rested the tray under her arm. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
Lenny lifted his plastic cup, which was mostly melted ice. “How about some more sweet tea?”
“Absolutely.” Heather took the cup and scanned the table. “Anyone else need a refill?” When the rest of the family members shook their heads, she smiled. “I’ll be right back.”
Heather heard a commotion behind her, but she continued toward the drink station. While filling the cup, she glanced toward the front of the restaurant, where Allie, working as hostess tonight, led a group of nearly a dozen young men to the largest booths, located in the far corner. Customers at nearby tables appeared mesmerized as the men sauntered past. Some of the younger patrons pulled out their phones and pointed them toward the young men as conversations seemed to crescendo.
Curiosity nipped at Heather as she placed the full drink on the counter. It seemed as if the men in the large party were important or famous, but they didn’t look familiar to her.
“Heather! Heather! Heather!” Wendy, Heather’s younger sister, appeared at her side. Wendy’s light brown ponytail, which sported blond highlights, bobbed excitedly. “You are not going to believe who just walked into our restaurant!” Her honey-brown eyes sparkled in the fluorescent lights buzzing above them. “I can’t believe it! I mean, what are the chances that they’d choose our restaurant?” She gasped, then her breaths came in short bursts.
“Calm down.” Heather touched Wendy’s slight shoulder. Her excitable younger sister seemed to constantly overreact, often reminding Heather of a teenager instead of the twenty-two-year-old she truly was. “Take a deep breath, count to ten, and then tell me what on earth you’re going on about.”
Wendy giggled and then cleared her throat. “Sorry.” She pulled in a breath through her nose and then pivoted toward the dining room. “Tables number sixty and sixty-two.”
Heather peered toward the far corner, where the large group of young men sat. “I see two tables of guys who look like they’re in their twenties. So?”
“Don’t you know who they are, Heather?” Wendy’s words were clipped and measured, as if she were speaking to a four-year-old.
Heather lifted the refilled cup of sweet tea as annoyance filtered through her. “No, I don’t, and I really don’t have time for this. Just tell me so I can deliver this drink to Mr. Baucom and then check on my other tables.”
Wendy gave a little squeal. “Kirwan!”
“I have no idea what that means.”
Wendy huffed. “The band, Heather! Haven’t you ever heard of Kirwan? They’ve had like five number-one hits in the past year!”
Unimpressed, Heather shrugged. “Okay . . .”
“Ugh!” Wendy gave Heather’s shoulder a light smack. “Maybe if you listened to something other than Dad’s music, you’d know how amazing they are. I can’t believe they are in our restaurant. They’re super famous!”
Then she looked toward the table once again and gave a dreamy sigh. “I’m so thrilled Allie sat them in my section. I’ve always dreamt of meeting Kayden Kirwan. He’s so hot.” She grinned. “Maybe we can get an autographed photo of them for our Wall of Fame. We’ve only ever had local celebrities eat here, but Kirwan’s a big-time rock band!”
Before Heather could respond, Wendy flitted off. Although she was only four years older than Wendy, at times she felt as if they were ten years apart in age. Shaking her head, she hurried over to deliver Mr. Baucom’s drink before checking in on the surrounding tables.
“Excuse me, Heather.”
She spun as Mrs. Price motioned for Heather to join her at her table. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Marvin and I were just discussing your scrumptious treats.” The older woman slipped on her reading glasses and then pointed to the dessert menu. “What do you recommend we order?”
Heather stood a little taller, pushed her dark brown ponytail off her shoulder, and lifted her chin, ready to discuss her favorite subject: the desserts she prepared for her family’s restaurant. She relished arriving early in the morning to prepare them for the day. Baking had been her favorite hobby for as long as she could remember, and she was thrilled when her parents encouraged her to add her desserts to the restaurant’s menu ten years ago when she was only sixteen. They also let her name the baked goods, all inspired by her love of reading.
“Well, I’m not one to brag, but I’ve been told my Bookish Brownies are quite good. I also have some fresh Chocolate Chunk Novel Cookies.” She pulled her notepad from her apron pocket.
Mr. Price brushed his hands together. “How about we order both and share them, Shirley?”
“Absolutely. You know, you really should think about opening a bakery,” Mrs. Price said.
Heather beamed. "
That actually is a dream of mine.”
“Well, darlin’, you should make that happen.”
“Thank you, ma’am. I’ll bring your desserts right out.”
Mr. Price held up a finger. “And add two cups of coffee as well.”
Heather scribbled on her notepad. “Perfect. I’ll be right back.” She scooted around the Prices’ table, and a loud fuss drew her attention back to the far corner of the restaurant. There, a group of young women had gathered around one of the booths.
She paused for a moment and took in the sight. The women took turns posing for selfies and asking for autographs from two of the young men, whom Heather assumed were members of the rock band. Each of the guys had blond hair that was longer on top and styled with hair gel. They wore tight jeans and plain black t-shirts that showed off their fit physiques. The young men looked to be related—perhaps brothers—with similar cheekbones, angular jaws, and bright blue eyes. They seemed to eat up the attention as they grinned broadly at the young women. Clearly, they were professionals.
Her eyes flicked to the second booth, where a young woman lingered by another man who nodded and smiled, apparently listening to what she had to say. He shared the same bone structure as the other two men, as well as the same blond hair and blue eyes. He, however, looked older—closer to thirty—and his expression held a warmer and more genuine quality. Still, he turned on a megawatt smile when the woman held up her phone for a selfie.
Heather shook her head and continued toward the kitchen, where she hurried over to the dessert section to fill the Prices’ order.
“I heard we have a rock band out there.” Mom looked up from the grill, where a few buns were warming for another pulled-pork barbecue plate.
Heather had always believed Wendy favored their mother. Not only did both women stand at five feet, six inches—two inches shorter than Heather—but they also shared the same thick, light brown hair. And while Mom’s bobbed style had started showing flecks of gray, her beautiful face was youthful with only a few lines around her eyes.
Heather snorted. “Yeah. They’re having an all-out autograph session, which I find confusing since I’ve never even heard of them.”
“It’s good for business when celebrities visit and then post about it on social media,” Dad called from the freezer. Most people who noticed the wrinkles around Russell Gordon’s eyes and mouth, as well as the gray threading through his dark brown hair, would correctly guess he was in his midfifties. But Dad always insisted he was young at heart.
“We need to add them to our Wall of Fame,” Mom announced.
Dad held up a frozen bag of hush puppies in agreement. “You’re right, Nora!” His deep-brown eyes sparkled—the same dark eyes he’d passed on to Heather.
“You both sound like Wendy,” Heather grumbled.
“Hey, all publicity is good publicity, Heather!” Dad sang, loading the hush puppies into the oil.
Heather placed the desserts on a tray before beelining toward the drink station to pour two mugs of coffee. She placed the desserts and
coffees in front of the Prices, then returned to check on her other customers and take orders from the customers who had just been seated.
When she found Mr. and Mrs. Funderburk sitting at table sixteen, she grinned. “Good evening,” she greeted them. “Let me guess. You each want a barbecue plate with extra hush puppies and coleslaw, along with two large sweet teas.” She scribbled the order on her notepad.
“How did you know that?” Mr. Funderburk asked with a twinkle in his eyes.
Heather chuckled. “I believe you’ve ordered the same meal every Thursday for as long as I can remember.”
“That’s right, sweetheart. It’s the best meal we have all week long.” Mrs. Funderburk handed Heather the menus. “We won’t need these.”
An hour and a half passed in a flash as Heather took care of her guests and cleared their tables. She was wiping down a recently vacated four-top when a cacophony of voices sounded from the back of the dining room. She whipped around toward the large booths in the corner and found the celebrities and their entourage at one of the tables pelting each other with hush puppies.
Heather felt her posture go rigid, and she sucked in a breath as frustration poured through her. Cleaning up after little kids was one thing, but having to sweep up a food fight caused by grown men was something Heather could not tolerate.
She absently fiddled with the rag as the food war continued, but relief filled her when the men—more like overgrown babies—finally stood to leave. They dropped a stack of bills on the table before meandering toward the exit and filing out onto the sidewalk. As she watched them go, Heather bit back the urge to follow them out onto Main Street and reprimand them for wasting food and making such a mess.
Instead she swallowed her anger, picked up the dustpan and broom, and pushed the cart she used for bussing through the sea of tables to the back corner.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she grumbled as she took in the booth, peppered in hush puppies as if an explosion had occurred.
Wendy appeared at her side and took the dustpan and broom from her hands. “Let me help you. I’ll start on the floor, and you can wipe down the table and the booth.”
Annoyance flashing through her, Heather turned toward the wall of windows lining the front of the restaurant and glared out toward the rockstars and their entourage. The two good-looking blond guys still lingered out front, posing for more photos with adoring, squealing fans.
Heather faced her sister, who was already sweeping. “So those jerks use our restaurant for an autograph session, behave like children,
make a mess, and then just start another party for groupies out on the sidewalk?” She made a sweeping gesture toward the front of the restaurant. “How can you possibly still be their fan?”
“Well, they left us an awfully nice tip.” Wendy held up a stack of bills and waved it in the air. “I’ve never seen anyone leave 200 percent. Have you?”
Heather narrowed her eyes. “I’ll give them a nice tip. How about next time, they can eat somewhere else?”
“What on earth happened here?”
Wendy’s gaze snapped to something behind Heather, and her honey-brown eyes widened. She stood up straight and touched her hair as if making sure each strand was in its proper place.
Heather swiveled and faced the man behind her. She recognized him as the older one from the second table. She surmised that he stood at least six feet one, similar to her father’s height, if not a little taller. His shoulders were broad, and his muscular biceps seemed to strain against the sleeves of his gray t-shirt. Well-worn jeans hugged a trim waist, and his blue eyes reminded her of the Caribbean Sea, which she’d seen only in photos. She hated to admit that those eyes were mesmerizing.
For a moment she couldn’t speak as she took in this gorgeous man up close, but then she shook herself back to the present. His bandmates had desecrated her family’s restaurant, after all.
“I’ll tell you what happened.” Heather leveled her gaze with his. “These so-called rockstars with big heads left us a mess. That’s what happened. And they think leaving us a big tip makes up for their immaturity.”
Wendy gave an awkward laugh. “We don’t mind cleaning this up, and we appreciate the tip. My sister didn’t mean that the way it came out.”
“Yes, I did.” Heather faced her sister. “Do we deserve to be treated as second-class citizens who were put on this earth to clean up after some ‘celebrities’?” She made quotation marks with her fingers. Then she aimed her glare at the man again. “Do they treat everyone like this or just restaurant workers?”
Wendy poked Heather’s arm. “Heather, hush.”
“Why should I hush?”
Her younger sister gave her a pointed look. “Because he’s one of the lead singers of the band.” Her eyes seemed to say, “Please—for once—listen to me, Heather!”
Heather didn’t allow that information to stop her. “Did you forget something in the booth, sir?”
He touched the nape of his neck and had the gall to look nervous or possibly embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize my brothers did this. I just went to use the restroom and make a phone call, and when I came back, I saw they had left without me.” He
held out his hand to Heather. “I’m Alex Kirwan.”
She hesitated but gave his hand a quick shake. Then she started to load the dirty dishes into a plastic dishpan on the cart.
“How can I help?” he offered.
“Don’t be silly, Alex.” Wendy waved him off. “I’m sure you have somewhere to be, right? You don’t want to miss your ride.”
“They know that if they actually leave me, they’ll never hear the end of it.” He turned those sky-blue eyes toward the front door, and for a moment Heather was almost certain they had narrowed. “Besides, they’re busy. I have time to help.” He bent and started picking up hush puppies and dropping them into one of the plastic tubs on the cart.
Wendy shook her head. “You don’t need to help us. We’re used to cleaning up messes.”
“Never one this bad,” Heather groused.
“Heather!” Windy hissed.
Alex pulled a leather wallet out of the back pocket of his tight jeans. “Let me give you some more money to pay you for your time.”
“No, thank you.” Heather stood up to her full height, scowling. “We don’t want any more of your money.”
Alex exhaled, his expression somber. “I understand that you’re upset. I am too. I’m embarrassed by my brothers, and I plan to let them know.” He divided a glance between the sisters. “What can I do to make this better? Are you coming to the show in Charlotte tomorrow night?”
Wendy frowned. “I couldn’t get tickets. They sold out too fast.”
Heather swallowed a snort. Sold out? Who are these guys?
Alex’s smile was wide, and Heather hated to admit how nicely it lit up that handsome face of his. “Now that’s something I can fix. How would you like VIP tickets and backstage passes to the show?”
“Are you serious?” Wendy’s voice resembled a squeak, and Heather was careful not to roll her eyes. No wonder these guys had such high opinions of themselves, with young women like her sister swooning in their presence.
He slipped his wallet back into his pocket, then retrieved a cell phone from the other back pocket. “Yes, I’m serious. How many tickets would you like?”
“Um, two, I guess.” Wendy looked at her sister expectantly. “You’ll go with me, right?”
Heather shook her head. “I don’t think so. You should definitely take Deanna.”
“She’s in Maine visiting her grandmother.”
“Well, there has to be someone else you can take.” Heather gathered up the utensils and sorted them into the slots on the cart.
“Heather . . .”
“I’m sorry, Wendy, but I’ll be washing my hair tomorrow night,” Heather quipped.
“My big sister is a bit of a kidder,” Wendy said with another nervous laugh. “She and I will be there.”
her arms. “I don’t think—”
“Yes, we will,” Wendy interrupted, spearing Heather with another stern expression.
Alex swiped on his phone and began typing. “What are your names?”
“Wendy and Heather Gordon,” Wendy said.
He typed some more and then met Wendy’s gaze. “Got it. Your backstage passes and tickets will be at the will-call window.” Then he looked at Heather. “Again, I’m really sorry about this. Their behavior is inexcusable, and I’ll make sure they understand that.”
Heather swallowed as she took in his earnest expression and felt her anger fade—slightly.
Then he pointed to his table, which wasn’t nearly as messy, and his face turned sheepish. “Also, could I possibly get a to-go box for my cookies? I think they were called something like Chocolate Chunk? I didn’t get a chance to eat them.”
“My sister makes all of the desserts,” Wendy announced, smiling at Heather.
Alex’s blond eyebrows lifted. “Is that right?”
“Yup,” Wendy said. “She’s going to open her own bakery someday.” She pointed toward the kitchen. “I’ll get you a full box to take.” Then she hastened toward the back, leaving Heather to stand there and stare awkwardly at the tall, handsome singer.
Heather blinked. “Excuse me,” she muttered, then continued placing plastic cups in the top dishpan and dumping napkins in the bottom one.
Alex picked up the dustpan and broom and began cleaning up the floor under the table. Heather sneaked a peek at him, and when their gazes met briefly, she once again found herself mesmerized by those blue eyes.
“Here you go.” Wendy came hurrying back, holding up the box like a trophy. “A fresh batch for the road.”
Alex set down the broom, took the box, and nodded at Wendy. “Thank you.” He opened the top and added the cookie stack from the table. Then his eyes bounced between the sisters. “I’ll see you tomorrow night then.”
“We can’t wait,” Wendy said.
Alex’s eyes lingered on Heather for a moment longer, then he traipsed toward the exit, nodding at admiring faces on his way to the door.
“Isn’t Alex a hunk?” Wendy cooed as she watched him go. “He’s almost as handsome as his younger brother Kayden.”
Heather looked at her sister and rolled her eyes before turning back to the booths.
Alex balanced the box of cookies in one hand, then pushed open the door with the other before walking out into the cool, early-April evening. The sky was clear and dotted with stars, and the scent of moist earth mingled with the delicious smells from the restaurant.
He sucked in a breath as he took in the crowd gathered around his brothers, who were still signing autographs and posing with fans for selfies and group photos. Alex was so tired of the circus that his life had become since he and his brothers had won that music group contest nearly three years ago. Since then, his schedule had turned into nonstop performances, interviews, photo sessions, tours, and social media posts.
If only he could get a moment to catch his breath. To rest. To write songs. To find some meaning in all the chaos.
Kayden stood in the center of the group of fans with a wide smile on his face. He posed with his arms around the young women, who nearly swooned in his presence. With his baby face, bright smile, and magnetic personality, Kayden had been born to perform.
Although Alex and Kayden shared the role of lead singer, Kayden was the most popular member of their trio. He was the band’s heartthrob, the brother for whom the girls would tearfully scream during shows. And Alex and Jordan were happy to give their youngest brother that role, since being the main object of affection was more pressure than they wanted. But Kayden loved being the center of attention.
Kayden turned, and when his eyes met Alex’s, his face lit up. “Alex, get over here for a group photo with these nice folks.” He motioned for Alex to stand between him and Jordan, their middle brother, who always seemed happy to just follow along with Kayden, even though he was twenty-four and two years older.
Pasting a bright smile on his face, Alex set the box of cookies on a nearby bench before posing for photos, shaking hands, and signing autographs. He breathed a sigh of relief when the crowd finally dissipated.
Alex retrieved the box of cookies, then followed his brothers toward the two Escalades waiting in the restaurant’s parking lot. The roadies who had joined them for a rare evening out piled into one of the vehicles, while Alex climbed into the third row of the second one, just behind his brothers.
The two black SUVs roared to life and rolled out toward Main Street, heading back toward Charlotte. As if on cue, both Kayden and Jordan extracted their phones from the pockets of their jeans and began absently scrolling through social media.
Alex leaned forward and tapped each brother on the shoulder, startling them. “So who started the food fight while I was on the phone with Mom?”
Jordan cut his eyes to Kayden, who lifted his chin.
“Well, I could say it was Jor, but it was really me.” Kayden chuckled. “I tossed a hush puppy to him, and after that, all heck broke loose.”
Alex pressed his lips together. “Did you see the mess you left for the two servers to clean up?”
“In Kayden’s defense,” Jordan began, “we left a nice tip. I mean, really nice.”
A memory of the fire in the brunette’s dark eyes flashed through Alex’s mind, along with her furious words: “We don’t want any more of your money.”
“When are you two going to grow up? You’re not sixteen anymore.” Alex drew in a breath through his nose. “Have you thought about how that behavior looks to our fans? How many people were taking photos and videos of us tonight? What if one of them
posted a video of you two acting like kids on social media? Do you want that all over the internet?”
Kayden’s lips flattened. “We didn’t make that big of a mess.”
“Yes, you did, and two young women had to clean it up.” Alex rubbed his hand over his chin as he recalled his awkward conversation with the brunette—Heather, he remembered. He would never forget the adorable freckles marching across her perfect nose, even though he’d probably never see her again. “It was horrendous.”
Jordan grimaced. “You’re right, Alex. We didn’t think it through. We just got caught up in the moment.”
Kayden rolled his eyes. “You need to learn to relax, Alex. We can’t work all the time. Sometimes we need to let loose.”
“I let loose in the gym or by reading a book. I don’t let loose by acting like a spoiled kid in a public place.”
Kayden frowned. “You’re right. I’m sorry for making us look bad and for not considering how our behavior would affect other people.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry they had to clean that up.”
“I helped them a little bit, but it was obvious that the older of the two sisters just wanted me to leave. She’d clearly had enough of us. I doubt we’d be welcomed back to that restaurant.” Alex brushed his hand through his hair.
Jordan nodded. “We really should have thought about that.”
Their youngest brother stared out the window at the passing traffic, and Alex could almost hear his thoughts. Then Kayden angled his body to face Alex in the back seat.
“Is there anything we could do to make it right, Alex?” Kayden asked.
“I offered them VIP tickets and backstage passes to the show tomorrow night. The younger waitress was excited by the idea, but the other one wasn’t impressed.”
Kayden scoffed. “She wasn’t impressed?”
“Not at all.” Alex almost laughed as he recalled Heather’s indifference to the idea of attending their concert. It had been a long time since a woman had turned him down that way, and for some reason, he found it hilarious as well as intriguing. “But either way, if they come, you should apologize to them.”
“We will,” Jordan said. “And we’ll have Brooks give them the royal treatment,” he added, referring to their tour manager.
Kayden nodded. “We’ll make sure they get all the swag.”
Road noise filled the SUV as Alex’s brothers turned their attention back to their phones. He blew out a relieved sigh. The past couple of weeks had passed by in a blur as their tour had kicked into gear. It had been a fog of flights, long drives in SUVs or buses, hotel rooms, interviews, meet and greets, and performances.
Although Alex was grateful for his band’s success, he still felt unfulfilled. It wasn't that he didn’t appreciate the adoring fans who spent their hard-earned money to purchase Kirwan’s music and concert tickets. ...
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