Cover: Meredith Russell
Length: 54,000 words
An actor on possession charges, hell bent on destroying his own life meets a man who quietly works to make the world a better place.
Jacob Riley is a typical Hollywood former child star with issues. He has already done prison time and at the age of twenty-six has been arrested again.
Ethan Myers is the owner and manager of Macs, an education center providing teaching and learning to local low income families. Losing his partner to cancer leaves him lost and alone and he buries himself in his work to start to mend his broken heart.
Sparks fly when Jacob has to complete his community service at Macs. Their relationship grows against a background of disenfranchised street gang members, arson, the Oscars, and despite their prejudices.
Can Jacob Riley be saved?
Four months, in some lame ass community program. Jeez, like he was going to be taught anything by cleaning streets or dealing with people’s trash.
The TV in the corner showed some trashy entertainment show, where a smug presenter was reporting the latest news on his case, live, embellished with words that made Jacob cringe. There were even experts on there talking about the child star gone bad. Experts in what? Character assassination, apparently. He tried his hardest to tune it out but it was nigh on impossible—it must have been the tenth time the clip of the sentence being handed out had been played.
The reporter continued, “The news of B-list actor Jacob Riley’s arrest boosted the audience figures for the half season’s finale of his show, End Game, to their highest point in eight months.”
Jacob huffed a sigh, he guessed that was one piece of good news to come out of this whole mess.
Then expert one repeated what he’d said already, “He’s been offered a lifeline in a county rehab program. He showed a lot of promise, and I think this could be a good thing for him.”
Jacob briefly thought of throwing his cell phone at the TV.
“Well you may be right there; his spokesperson said he’s concentrating on work and himself. What that means, we don’t know.”
“We wish him luck.”
The anchor turned to face the camera, that smug fucking smile back again. “Well, folks, here’s hoping Jacob Riley, one of TV’s highest earning actors, proves to be a recovering addict who actually turns their life around.”
Jesus Christ, talk about dramatic.
“The show is on a filming hiatus,” Samantha, his PA, replied carefully from just inside the door. “I’ve just got off the phone with your agent and the Network will delay your return to Game until you’re free to come back. Remember, with Christmas soon the way; we have some room to move here.”
Jacob spun on his heel. His quiet, calm assistant stood holding a clipboard, a cellphone balanced on top of it.
“Of course they’ll delay my return,” he summarized. The Network would be stupid to lose him; he was convinced of it. End Game was his show. Jacob’s character was pivotal, the star of the whole goddamned series.
“There was some talk of replacing you.”
“They wouldn’t fucking dare.”
Samantha smiled at him, but it was insincere and didn’t reach her eyes. She used to smile all the time, but for some reason, she’d stopped now. Then she pulled back her shoulders. “Your agent says you’re lucky you play a drug-taking manic depressive. Otherwise he swears they would have canned you today, no hesitation.”
Was she trying to make him feel better? “Sam, do I look like I give a fuck what my shit agent says?”
“I don’t need him to tell me I’m lucky; it’s the Network that is lucky. They push me off the show, and they’ll see their ratings drop overnight. No one loses Jacob Riley and sees their show survive.”
Resentment bubbled up inside him.
Samantha cleared her throat. “Look, Jacob, we have four months to get you into a program and complete your work through the community service,” she continued. Her patient tone measuring every word, talking to him as if he were a small child—he hated every syllable.
“No,” Jacob snapped, balling his temper and his dismissal of her into that one word. She stepped away from him to stand against the door. “Jacob—”
“I’m not cleaning streets; I’m not searching for rubbish or any of the usual crap they put celebrities through to humiliate us.”
“It’s not meant to be a humiliation. But it is a punishment,” Sam said, raising her free hand in an attempt to placate him. Her cell phone slid off the clipboard and tumbled to the floor.
Jacob listened, but what she’d said only served to increase his temper. He could feel the itch of addiction under his skin, and it terrified him. Although he would never admit it, he was out of control, and it was eating away at him.
In over a year, he hadn’t wanted a hit as badly as he did at this moment. Frustration and anger burst out of him with uncontrolled force. He crowded her against the door. “I don’t pay you to get up in my face, Sam,” he snarled.
“You’re scaring me, Jacob,” Samantha said firmly, backing as close to the wood as she could.
“You don’t know what this is like,” he shouted.
“Jacob. Please…” There were tears in her eyes, pain and real fear in her voice. Something in the simple “please” reached through his anger. What was he doing?
“Fuck,” he said tiredly. Half closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. It was the first time in their relationship he’d seen fear in Sam’s eyes, and it scared the hell out of him. Was she afraid of him? What should he say? How the hell could he—?
“Your father is waiting for you in the next room,” Sam said, but wouldn’t look him in the eyes.
Jacob went from guilt straight back to feeling aggrieved.
“Great,” Jacob stepped back, watching as Samantha edged away from him.
“Your dad just wants to help. He knows of this place you can go for the next—”
“He’s the one who turned me in!”
“He’s waiting, and there’s something else,” she said, this time with steel in her words. “I was going to leave this until after Christmas when filming ended, but there is no point now. You’re an asshole, and I quit.” Quietly, she turned her back and left the room, and he felt a moment of shock.
“What?” she didn’t stop. “Don’t come running back begging for your fucking job!” he shouted after her.
She didn’t even look at him, but he heard her words.
“I won’t come back.”
Frustrated, angry, and looking for someone to blame was not how Jacob should have gone to a meeting with his father, but he didn’t have a choice. The whole freaking world was against him, and none of this was his fault.
“I’ve pulled strings, son, and arranged to get you into a new type of program, something different. It has an original approach, and it’s very exclusive.” Joe Riley stood stiff and straight in front of Jacob.
Jacob slouched, arms across his chest, unwilling to show even the slightest interest.
“Yeah,” he said when his dad remained quiet.
“I’ve made a hefty donation to get you accepted. The only stipulation was that you are clean.”
Jacob looked into his father’s gray-blue eyes then shrugged. He’d heard all too clearly the question under Joe Riley’s statement, and hated him for it. A year—a damn year.
Joe closed his eyes and sighed. “Isn’t there something dramatic you feel you have to say at this point, Jacob?”
“If I thought you would actually listen to me—just once—maybe I would have something to say,” Jacob said.
“Am I what?”
“Jacob, are you clean?” Joe asked.
“Fuck you, Dad,” Jacob snapped, “I’ve been clean for a year, and you damn well know it.”
His dad crossed his arms and shook his head. “No, I don’t know that. I know what you told your mother and me, and then I find you mixing with the same lowlifes you knew six years ago. What was I supposed to think? What was I supposed to do? Tell me, son?”
“Call the cops on me, obviously.” Jacob clenched his hands into tight fists at his sides.
“Do you think it was easy for me to do this, Jacob? Call the police on my son?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” He’d long ago convinced himself that his dad had perversely enjoyed turning him in, and he chose to ignore the pained expression that crossed his dad’s face. “It kinda solves all those issues around having to maybe—I don’t know—talk to me instead?”
“You don’t listen.”
“No, Dad, you’re the one who doesn’t listen.”
Joe inhaled sharply as if he had been physically hit, and Jacob wondered how his dad was going to defend his parenting skills this time. “Think about your mother in this. What if you died? Can you picture her visiting a morgue, identifying your body, and seeing track marks on your arms? She cried so much over you last time and refused to let me get involved. But this time, hell Jacob we had to do something, had to stop you from self-destructing.”
Jacob tugged self-consciously at his sleeves, anger building inside him. He had been clean for well over a year. Why didn’t anyone trust him? He felt vulnerable for a moment, like a small child, and then he pushed that weakness to one side, resumed the role of aggrieved man he was playing today, and rolled his eyes.
“Now who’s being dramatic?” he spat. “I had the stuff in my car for a friend, didn’t mean I was using.”
“You know how it looks, and the police agreed.”
“You could have tried asking me why I had it on me.”
“And you wouldn’t have lied to us?” Joe asked simply, his voice calm. Jacob didn’t answer. He wasn’t going to rise to the bait. “This is your last chance. Take it. You could make something of yourself if you tried.”
Jacob inhaled sharply.
“So what the hell do you call two movies and a successful TV series? Nothing?” His parents had never liked that he had decided to pursue acting. They’d always made it very clear that they expected him to join the family construction firm. He’d endured several wearying years of forcing and badgering, but always knew what he wanted to do. He didn’t want to build skyscrapers and shopping malls; he wanted to act.
“It isn’t even about what you do anymore. You’re killing yourself. And I swear, Jacob, if you ruin this last chance, I will hold back every penny of your inheritance.”
“Not that shit again.”
“I mean it—”
“I make three million a movie, and ninety thousand for every episode of End Game. Seriously—you really think your money matters to me?”
“I swear every penny will go to your brother,” Joe continued, but Jacob had heard that threat before too, and it had the same impact as always—no impact at all.
“Tell me, why is Micah the loser? He has a career, a wife, a great kid—your nephew. He has a life.”
“I’ve got a freaking career, Dad, and let’s face it—kids? That isn’t going to happen. I’m gay!” Frustrated, Jacob pushed his fingers through his hair and closed his eyes.
“I’m not arguing. This isn’t about some petty brotherly feud, or who is happy and who isn’t. You had every advantage—everything money could buy, every ounce of love your mother and I had in us. Son, please. This is your life, and your mom and I are desperate for you to see that! But you don’t seem to give a damn about it.”
“Well, maybe I don’t.”
“For God’s sake, stop being so damn melodramatic. As far as I’m concerned, we’re done talking. Go home and get some clothing together. Benjamin is outside. He’ll take you home, and then he’ll drive you down tomorrow.”
“And if I say no?”
“You can’t. I’ve pulled strings, but at the end of the day, it’s either this or you’re back in prison. This program is the only reason you’re not back there now.”
RJ Scott is the bestselling romance author of over 100 romance books. She writes emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, millionaire, princes, and the men and women who get mixed up in their lives. RJ is known for writing books that always end with a happy ever after. She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn't with family either reading or writing.
The last time she had a week’s break from writing she didn't like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a bottle of wine she couldn’t defeat.
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