Once More with Feeling

A Novel

About the Book

“As fun and frothy as a Britney concert mashed up with a musical comedy . . . warm, engrossing, and satisfying in every way.”—Entertainment Weekly (One of the Best Romance Novels of Spring 2023)

From the bestselling author of Funny You Should Ask comes “a pitch-perfect second chance romance with off-the-charts tension and chemistry” (Carley Fortune, author of Every Summer After).

Then. Katee Rose is living the dream as America’s number one pop star, caught in a whirlwind of sold-out concerts, screaming fans, and constant tabloid coverage. Everyone wants to know everything about her and her boyfriend, Ryan LaNeve, the hottest member of adored boy band CrushZone. Katee loves to perform but hates the impossible demands of stardom. Maybe that’s why she finds herself in the arms of another CrushZone member, Cal Kirby. Quiet, serious Cal, who’s always been a good friend to Katee, is suddenly Cal with the smoldering eyes and very good hands. One unforgettable night is all it takes to blow up Katee’s relationship with Ryan, her career, her whole life. 

Now. Kathleen Rosenberg is okay with her ordinary existence and leaving her pop star image in the past. That is, until Cal Kirby shows up with the opportunity of her dreams—a starring role in the Broadway show he’s directing and a chance to perform, the way she’s always wanted. The two haven’t spoken since the joint destruction of their careers, and each of them blames the other, making their reunion a tense battle of wits and egos. Kathleen reluctantly agrees to the musical, as long as she keeps her guard up around Cal. But rehearsals are long, those eyes still smolder, and those hands are still very good. Despite everything, Kathleen can’t deny the chemistry between them. Is it ever a good idea to reignite old flames? Especially if you’ve been burned in the past?
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Praise for Once More with Feeling

Once More With Feeling is as fun and frothy as a Britney [Spears] concert mashed up with a musical comedy. . . . There’s no need to do it once more, as the book is already brimming with plenty of feeling—warm, engrossing, and satisfying in every way.”Entertainment Weekly

“I’m a huge admirer of Elissa Sussman. Once More with Feeling delivers a pitch-perfect second chance romance with off-the-charts tension and chemistry. Elissa’s deep love of pop culture and the arts makes every page sparkle.”—Carley Fortune, New York Times bestselling author of Every Summer After

“This book is catnip for those of us who love boybands, musical theater, and second chances at first love. Written with humor and a fan's eye for adoration, Elissa Sussman has given us another hit.”—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of This Time Tomorrow
 
“Once More with Feeling is the angsty, sexy backstage romance of my dreams. Elissa Sussman elegantly weaves the threads of past and present into a love story that’s impossible to put down.”—Ava Wilder, author of How to Fake it in Hollywood
 
Once More with Feeling puts romantic tension and juicy celebrity drama centerstage. Elissa Sussman expertly crafts the love story of two artists set across three timelines, building to a powerful finish worthy of a standing ovation. This stellar romance has all the passion, energy, and showstopping moments of a real Broadway musical.”—Susie Dumond, author of Queerly Beloved
 
“Elissa Sussman has given a gift to all of us theater nerds and boy band obsessives. Smart and sexy, infused with crackling chemistry, Once More with Feeling deserves an enthusiastic round of applause. I devoured it in a day.”—Laura Hankin, author of Happy & You Know It
 
“Sussman . . . dazzles in this smart second-chance romance. . . . Her leads are complex, appealing, and multilayered, and the perfectly paced plot offers real insight into celebrity culture and media slut-shaming. Sussman’s first-rate latest will please her existing fans and win her many new ones.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A winning second-chance romance that’s fun, steamy, and full of crackling chemistry.”Kirkus Reviews

“Elissa Sussman returns with another dual timeline celebrity romance that explores the pressure cooker of fame and the gift of growing older and wise. . . . Kathleen and Cal’s evolution as a couple is refreshingly complex.”BookPage
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Excerpt

Once More with Feeling

Chapter 1

I'd made a terrible mistake.

Well, two terrible mistakes.

The first was agreeing to the lunch. The second was not insisting that Harriet and I arrive together. We would have been late, because Harriet was always late, but it would have been better than being early, which I was because I was always early.

Cal too, apparently.

He was already seated when the waitress escorted me back. He glanced up as I approached.

Three mistakes.

The grainy headshot that the trades used whenever he was mentioned was at least five years old, and now that he was here, eyes locked with mine, it was clear that photo hardly did him justice.

He stood and seemed to go up and up and up. Had he always been this tall?

His clothes fit well. He had a five o’clock shadow that had arrived just in time. His hair was artfully tousled. I imagined him driving through Brooklyn in a convertible with mirrored sunglasses, causing everyone to stop and stare.

“Kathleen Rosenberg,” he said.

And then there was his voice. I’d forgotten—worked hard to forget—just how f***ing good it was. How deep and resonant.

God. I felt it in my toes and my fingertips.

“Well, well, well,” I said. “If it isn’t Calvin Tyler Kirby.”

His cheek twitched, but his polite—fake—smile didn’t falter.

He hated being referred to by all three names. Which was exactly the point.

Cal should consider himself lucky that I wasn’t using his even more loathed nickname.

In fact, he should consider himself lucky that I showed up here in the first place. The last time we’d seen each other, he’d called me a “mistake” and I’d told him to get the f*** out of my life.

He’d obliged.

My feelings about him hadn’t changed, but circumstances had. And I’d promised Harriet I’d hear him out.

“It’s good to see you,” he lied, holding out a hand.

“Come now,” I said.

Placing my hands on his shoulders, I leaned up and gave him two loud, obnoxious air kisses. His muscles tensed beneath my palms. His cologne—like an orange grove—wrapped around me. I ignored how good all of it felt, let go, and stepped back.

“Shall we?” He gestured toward the table.

We sat.

It was like being in a sauna of awkwardness. I could feel it in my pores.

“It’s been a while,” I said. Understatement of the century.

Cal raised an eyebrow but said nothing. His menu was apparently fascinating.

I was fairly certain, despite his unruffled exterior, that Cal was doing exactly what I was doing—which was recalling the last time we’d been in a room together, exchanging barbs. We’d both said some unkind things.

How long had it been? Ten years? Fifteen?

It didn’t really matter. I could still remember the disgust and disappointment in his eyes. How he’d turned away, not looking back as he left me alone to deal with the consequences of our shared actions.

I wondered if he felt bad about it now, or if he still thought I’d deserved what happened.

The complete lack of apology seemed to indicate he had no regrets.

Well, that was fine. F***ing fine.

Because it wasn’t like I was about to accept an apology, even if he had offered one. Sorry wasn’t enough to repair what had been broken.

My career. My spirit.

I knew I was being dramatic, but I was quite certain Calvin Tyler Kirby wouldn’t expect anything less.

“Harriet’s always late,” I said, even though I was certain he knew that.

“I’m in no rush,” he said, still examining his menu.

I wanted to reach across the table, rip it out of his hands, tear it into a million tiny pieces, and force him to look at me.

“Fantastic,” I said through clenched teeth.

I should have turned my attention to my own menu but found myself staring at him instead. At all the ways time had changed him. I tried imagining his younger self juxtaposed over this one, contrasting the gray in his hair and the lines around his eyes with my memory of him with frosted tips and eyeliner.

Had he done the same to me when I walked in?

I would deny it if pressed, but I’d put extra effort into my appearance today. My hair hadn’t been blond since my Katee Rose days, but I’d taken the time to tame and style it, resisting the urge to dye my own multiplying grays.

The weather was that charming in-between of winter and spring, when days had an equal chance of being floral and bright or chilled and slushy. It had been nice when I left my apartment, but there was no guarantee that it would stay that way. I’d worn jeans and a lightweight sweater, but I knew for a fact that Cal had noticed the fit of both since his gaze had darted downward—just for a moment—when he first saw me. It was gratifying to know that the boobs that had earned me the moniker “Titty Rose” from the tabloids continued to maintain their stage presence after all these years.

“Is there something on my face?” Cal asked.

He hadn’t even looked up.

“Just your eyes, nose, and mouth,” I said sweetly.

If he was trying to catch me off guard, he was going to have to try a lot harder. I was ready for him. Crouched, with tail twitching, just ready for an opportunity to attack. I might have gotten softer and rounder since he last saw me, but I’d sharpened my claws. Donned some armor. If he thought he was dealing with the person I’d been back then, he was going to be sorely disappointed.

Katee had trusted him.

Kathleen knew better.

“I’ve heard the grilled octopus is good,” he said.

“It is,” I said.

He finally lifted his eyes to meet mine.

“How good?” he asked. He was asking about the octopus, but also, he wasn’t.

“Best you’ve ever had,” I said.

He smiled at that.

I’d forgotten about his stupid f***ing dimples.

“Sorry I’m late,” Harriet said.

We both started at that. I hadn’t even seen Harriet approach. In fact, for a moment, I’d completely forgotten that she was the reason I was here in the first place.

I wanted to blame the dimples.

Cal rose to greet Harriet, giving her a hug. I did the same.

“Give him a chance,” she said in my ear.

I sat, and the smile I offered was all teeth. Sharklike.

“Kathleen was just telling me how great the grilled octopus is,” Cal said.

“Life changing,” I said.

That earned me a sharp kick from Harriet under the table. It stung, but not as bad as learning that my best friend had been cavorting with my archenemy for months behind my back.

Okay. Cavorting wasn’t quite the right word.

Plotting. Collaborating. Scheming.

We ordered—Cal got the octopus—and once the server had gone, Harriet’s gaze bounced between the two of us as if she were waiting for a bell to go off and one of us to take the first swing.

It wasn’t going to be me.

“I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me,” Cal said. “Thank you.”

I hated how polite and formal he sounded. I’d thought it would be awkward enough seeing him again after everything we’d been through, but it was somehow worse to sit here and pretend that none of it had happened. To playact that we were strangers. Professional strangers.

Well. If that’s how he wanted to play it.

About the Author

Elissa Sussman
Elissa Sussman is the bestselling author of Once More With Feeling, Funny You Should Ask, and three young adult novels. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA from Pacific University and lives in her hometown of Los Angeles with her family. More by Elissa Sussman
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