With that launch goal being less than a year away, I thought it was high time I share an excerpt of the book for my new friends and fans. What happens when a good family takes their son's troubled best friend under their wing? Well, he's not supposed to fall in love with his friend's sister, especially when the Griffins are the only real family he's ever had. But Jack and Samantha can only deny their feelings for so long, until the death of her brother---and the best friend that has been Jack's brother too---forces them into each other's lives again.
There were six people who had Jack’s private cell phone number. Five of them had the last name Griffin; the other one was Miles. His agent thought he had the private number. And so did Vivian Moray, Executive Producer of “Game Day,” the pregame football commentary show he’d been co-hosting for the past five years. And he did have a cell phone dedicated especially to them. Jack found it amusing to watch them both behave as if they were members of some exclusive club, telling each other at one time or another to try to reach him on his cell—“the private one.” Yet a third cell phone was provided by the network, and that was the one he used for the rest of the outside world. He almost never answered it, and had the messages routed to his assistant’s email to handle. Sure, it was somewhat of a pain in the ass to keep track of three different cell phones, but the peace of mind it brought him to be able to ignore two of them, was worth it.
The first one, the private, private one was never far from him, and always on. But it had rung so infrequently these past few months, that he started to leave it in his office when he went to meetings, and turn it off at night. Of course he always got his Sunday call from Georgie, no matter what. Yesterday’s had been short, but sweet. She was preparing for a new gallery show; the ranch was in full swing and kept Lorne busy; Corey had just started his sophomore year at college; Samantha was fine, getting a photography award; and Keith had recently enjoyed a sellout crowd in San Diego. He’d sounded on top of the world the last time Jack had spoken to him. His new album had gone gold in less than a week, and he’d been clean for several months. They were all hopeful that it would stick this time.
He reached for his duffle bag. For the sake of the family, he and Samantha had tried to maintain the platonic affection of siblings. Holidays at the ranch were strained, but he’d never disappoint Georgie and Lorne by not coming home. And if he was honest with himself, he’d never deny the chance to see Samantha at least once a year, even if it was torture. He suspected that the love he still saw in her eyes for him meant she felt the same way. It wasn’t like he couldn’t call her to see if she’d gotten the flowers, and to congratulate her.
To hell with it, he thought, and dug into his leather duffle bag for the phone. He hoped the flowers had arrived before she left for the award luncheon, and he’d paid an exorbitant extra fee to be sure that they had. No way would he call the florist if there was a chance he could talk to Samantha instead.
But when he activated the phone, there were four messages waiting for him: one from the Griffin ranch, two from Georgie’s cell phone, and one from Miles. It only took an instant for his heart to fall to his feet. Even before he heard the quietness of her broken voice in the messages, he knew what had happened. His rage at Keith for not saving himself was brought up short by the thought of Samantha. She would be devastated. He pulled her number up in his contacts. He wanted to call her, hear her voice, and then he wanted to get on the first flight to Los Angeles. But Georgie had called him, not Samantha. He dialed Georgie’s cell number.
Even in sorrow, she caused a smile to break across his face; he would never tire of the way she pronounced his name with a soft French “J.” He should have had better control of what came out of his mouth, but he couldn’t hide his true feelings from her.
“Damn him. I’m so sorry, Georgie, but damn him.”
“And yet, I’m still his mother. I think I’ll be looking for ways to get him back, save him, for the rest of my life.”
They were both silent for a long moment, and Jack heard the only woman who had ever been a mother to him take a deep breath and let it out. What she told him next made him want to put his fist through a wall.
“Corey found him.”
Jack listened to Georgie recited the chain of events, as he reached over and turned on the television. As he suspected, the story was out in its full-blown horror. There was of course, video of Keith’s apartment building from both the front where police presence secured the main entrance, and then footage of a helicopter landing on the roof. Then he saw Samantha stepping out of it, along with security detail. At that moment, he tuned back in to what Georgie was saying: she’d have to sign off so that she and Lorne could get to the airport.
“Is Samantha alright? I think they just showed her getting out of a helo on the roof of Keith’s building.”
“Yes, that was the only way she could get into the building safely. I’m not surprised they still managed to get her on camera.”
“I should get a flight—“
“By the time you get to LA, we’ll be back at the ranch. The day’s almost over there. Don’t exhaust yourself taking a red-eye. If you show up in LA, it will just add to the media circus, and there’s nothing you can do there. Fly out Wednesday, and come to the ranch. She’ll need you there—we all will.”
Wait an entire forty-eight hours with his hands folded? Was she nuts? And yet, she was his mother too, and he had to listen to her. When he thought about it later, he realized she was right. He might want to be there just to be near them all. But it would only give the paparazzi more incentive. Not to mention Lorne and Georgie had to be the ones to sign any paperwork and take care of formalities, and they also had Miles there for support. He’d just have to hang on until he could get to Samantha, as much for his own comfort as for any he might be able to give to her.
“I love you, Georgie. I love you all.”
“I know, cher.”
As he disconnected the call, he walked over to the desk and buzzed his assistant.
“Get me the earliest flight out to L.A.—“ he stopped himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. “make that Las Vegas, on Wednesday. I’ll need a rental car; better get it for the week. I’ll book my return flight from there. Thanks.”
He hadn’t even noticed Vivian leaning against the door frame.
“Unscheduled vacation, Jack?”
To most men, she would have been a delectable sight. At 5’7’, with a curtain of glorious red hair that fell over one shoulder, she was stunning. She wore a black pinstripe suit with a red carnation in the breast pocket, and she’d skipped the blouse altogether. She stalked into the office on her black satin stilettos looking like she’d just as soon stab you as smile at you, and she smiled at Jack with all of her teeth at that moment.
“And when were you going to tell me?”
“Well, I would have come to your office right now, if you hadn’t barged into mine.”
“You don’t have a family—you’re an only child, remember?”
“The Griffins are my family.” God, but she could be a bitch sometimes.
“Look, Jack, this is a horrible tragedy. That’s why I came straight to your office as soon as I heard. But you can’t just take off. Maybe two days tops—“
Before she could blink, he crossed the room, and stood with his face just inches from hers.
“Vivian, I am only going to say this once. A man who has been a brother to me is dead, probably by his own hand. I’m taking leave to go and be with his family—my family. Period.”
While she stood there fuming, he started packing up his things to leave for the day—and apparently the week. Jack took the rare opportunity of her inability to form a comeback to smooth it over. He wasn’t stupid. She may not be able to fire him, and she’d have a hard time proving that his leave wasn’t legitimate, since he’d been in the legal care of the Griffins since high school. But she could make life very, very difficult for him if he got on her bad side, especially since he’s ended their sexual arrangement. He had to throw her a bone.
“I’m not leaving until Wednesday, so I’ll work on getting a guest co-host. We could get Pete Murray. He’s poised for the Heisman, a young blood. Giving a kid like that a chance to weigh in on the pros would be a great twist, ratings for sure.” He paused to zip up his duffle bag, and grab his jacket. “Or you could not hire a guest host at all. There’d be so much sympathy for me by the time I got back for the next show, that ratings will go through the roof.”
Jack paused at the door to look at her. Vivian’s eyes had started to glaze over ever so slightly. She could always be counted on to put business above everything. He just hoped she didn’t choose the second option, because that would mean a commentary on his friendship with Keith—a rock star and a football legend. No one, himself included, needed the extra media attention. He mentally exhaled as he saw on her face that she was calculating how long she’d have to pay homage to his loss after he returned to the show.
“Fine. Either get Murray, or don’t plan on missing the show.”
Jack shook his head as he strode toward the door. He’d take the week off either way, and they both knew it. But she had to appear to be in control at all times. A bitch to the end. And she never gave up.
Vivian grabbed his arm as he crossed the threshold. “You said you’re not leaving until Wednesday—I could come over tonight—“
Jack pulled his arm out of her grasp. “Don’t linger in my office, Vivian—and lock the door when you leave.”
Samantha felt every jagged piece of rock impress itself into the bottoms of her feet as she walked, first down the long drive, then out onto the main road. Sudden wisps of the last cool breezes of late morning dawdled in the hair that fell around her face. The sun was high in the cloudless azure sky. Some birds kept up their morning zeal in distant trees across the property. The horses had been let out into the meadow, and Prince found her as he always did and trotted along the fence as she walked the drive. He stopped and gave a whinny when she reached the road; he could have followed her along it as well for a few hundred yards, but instead he just stopped and looked after her. Since their arrival two days ago, they’d all played at a routine that would never be quite the same. Samantha knew that at this hour, her father would be in the barn or repairing a fence, or anything to keep himself going. Her mother would be in her studio, painting every thought, or just sitting. And Corey . . . had not come out of Keith’s old room since they’d arrived. He let Georgie bring him food, and Samantha stood by in case he decided he needed her.
When she wasn’t helping Georgie with the memorial, or preparing a meal for them, she escaped to the barn. The only horse who remained from days gone by was Prince. Midnight had died peacefully in the meadow one morning, and the collection of rescues and boarders had varied over the years. Prince always stirred when she came, no matter how long she had been away. She always managed to get back to the ranch a couple of times a month, except for her occasional jaunt to Europe. That she couldn’t even speak quietly to him as she usually did upset her, but she hoped the apples she brought him for treats, and the strokes she gave him on his nose let him know that she still loved him.
None of them spoke except when they had to. Everything seemed stuck, clotted, clogged. Samantha knew, if the rest of them didn’t, that they were all waiting for Jack, the last brother, to come home. Without him, they could not fully grieve, could not really move forward. And he was almost there.
After fighting her fatigue for as long as she could, Samantha had finally gone to her old room. She tossed and turned in a sea of her own tumultuous thoughts of Keith and Corey until she finally fell into a fitful sleep in the pre-dawn hours. Evidently, her last thought before sleep found her had been of Jack, because instead of the recurring nightmare of that horrible night six years ago, Samantha dreamt of how he’d made love to her.
A few short hours later, Samantha heard herself sigh, and she awakened with tears gliding down her cheeks. She lay just as she’d fallen asleep, with her face toward the window, eyes on the sky. It was the best dream she’d had in months, and only left her feeling more empty than ever. There was no believing that they could ever bring that dream to life again, but at least Jack would be there soon. To see him again would never be enough, but she still needed him more than ever.
Today was the day. Georgie had told her back in L.A. that they could expect him Wednesday, and later she fretted that he was arriving in the morning—on the red-eye, just as Georgie had advised him not to do.
It had already been nearly ten o’clock when Samantha woke up from that wonderful, horrible dream. He’d landed at eight if there were no delays, so she got out of bed, and without putting on a robe or even shoes, she walked downstairs and out the front door. She passed Prince in the pasture and turned out of the drive onto the main road.
She knew the gravel on the drive had cut into her feet, but she felt nothing. She looked ahead without seeing. Jack was coming—she had to meet him. She’d walk all the way to Vegas if she had to. She had no idea if he was still one hour away, or one minute away. She only knew that she couldn’t wait any longer. She couldn’t hold back her anger at Keith or her sorrow that he’d lost his battle with addiction. She couldn’t deny her desperation to reach Corey and take back the years she’d missed with him. Jack was the only one with whom she could let go, and she needed him.
Samantha didn’t know exactly how long or how far she walked. The sun was warm and she felt sweat beading at her temples as late morning edged closer to midday. She was aware that at least one car passed her and honked a horn. Probably someone from town, she thought. Then out of the ripples of heat on the road emerged an SUV. But she couldn’t pay attention to that. She had to keep walking until she met Jack. The SUV flew by her and swerved so as not to clip her. There was no horn, but Samantha stopped when she heard the sound of screeching brakes as the SUV skidded into the gravel along the shoulder of the road. She looked over her shoulder and was about to turn back and resume walking, when she saw Jack jump out of the vehicle. His hair was longer now, almost past his collar in the back. He began to run toward her as he ripped his sunglasses from his face.
“JACK!!” She immediately ran to him.
“Samantha?!?! What the fuck are you doing out here?!”
Samantha catapulted into his arms so hard, that he fell into the side of the truck holding onto her. Her breath caught for an instant before a long sob escaped. She stood on her toes on top of Jack’s tennis shoes. She wasn’t going to fall, because he held her so close that not even a breeze could have passed between them.
“Shhh, baby. It’s okay. I’m here.”
Samantha took huge breaths between hard, broken sobs. Her grief and anger tumbled out as she clung to him. She cried for Keith, for the brother they’d both lost. And she cried with relief that he was finally there, holding her. She shuddered against him as his hands alternately cupped the back of her head, and rubbed the length of her back. Feeling his touch, his arms around her was a balm for her soul and she never wanted it to end. She didn’t know how long they stood there before he finally, gently pulled back from her.
She looked up at him. God, she must be a mess. But he just wiped her tears away with his thumbs as he held her face in his hands. It had been too long since she looked, really looked into those silver steel eyes of his. They were filled with utter concern.
“You could have been hit out here.”
“I know.” Samantha’s voice threatened to break again. “I knew you were on your way, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I haven’t been able to cry, th-there’s just been this . . . this stone sitting on my heart for the last two days. I can’t let myself think what Maman and Daddy are going through, and Corey, he’s just shut down, God knows how much he’s been damaged by finding Keith . . . God, Keith . . . he’s just . . . gone, and it feels like you’re all that’s left Jack.” A fresh stream of tears began to flow down her face, and he pulled her close again, so that her forehead rested on his chest.
“And I’m here now, baby. We’re gonna get through this, all of us together, okay?”
She nodded against his chest, but couldn’t hold back a new wave of sobs that overtook her and racked her body again. Jack made no move to stop her or pull away from her. He just held her. And held her. It must have been another half an hour easily before he finally spoke again.
“We’d better get you back to the ranch,” he murmured against her hair. “Georgie must be worried. And I need to get there too—I need to be home with all of you.” He kissed her lingeringly on her forehead.
Dinner was a quiet affair. Corey had eaten in his own room and watched a DVD. Georgie put some Count Basie on the sound system. It helped drown out the silence, and no one felt obligated to carry on a conversation if they didn’t want to. What a contrast to the first steak dinner he’d eaten with them that Sunday, and almost every other meal he’d eaten at that table. The food was just as fantastic as it always had been, but Keith’s absence almost made it bitter. Even after he’d left home, and all the times he’d been in rehab, there was always hope. He always came back, because he’d still been alive.
He sighed, and stood before turning off the television. He left his laptop where it lay, and crept upstairs. He saw a soft blue light under Corey’s door, but it was quiet. The kid probably fell asleep in the middle of another DVD. There was no light under Lorne and Georgie’s door. They had each other, and as awful as losing a son was, they would pull through.
Jack took a breath, and stopped at the end of the hall. The door to Keith’s old room was cracked. It was hardly still his. Georgie had made it into a guest room not long after they’d asked him to move out. But it would always be Keith’s old room. And Georgie wasn’t the type to lock it up now. That wasn’t how she dealt with things. All would be open, including doors, for everyone to process this in the best way they knew how.
He pushed the door all the way open, and flipped the light switch as he walked in. He felt himself inhale sharply. He had forgotten how much Georgie had changed the room, and also at how much of a tribute it was to him. She’d chosen a light grey for the walls, and a brand new suite of furniture, including a bed, dresser, and desk had been installed. That was all the same, but she’d added back things of his over the years, too. Three of his old guitars hung on one wall like art pieces, along with some of his gold records, and photos of him with his various Grammys. The shelf above the desk held some of his old personal belongings, like school awards, yearbooks, novels, and photos.
Jack drew near the shelf. His heart pounded as he picked up the photo on the bottom right. It was of the three of them, him, Keith and Samantha, who they’d lovingly wedged in between them. It had been taken the day they’d brought Keith home from rehab the for the third time. Georgie had snapped it right after they’d gotten out of Keith’s old pick-up truck. They’d walked arm in arm up the porch steps.
They’d been on top of the world. Keith actually had them all believing he’d beaten his demons at last. Jack had been on fire with the Vikings—he huffed to himself when he thought about how invincible he’d believed himself to be. And Samantha . . . she’d been riding high herself, at the top of her modeling career. It was a little crazy, but it made sense to her, and here she was now, an award-winning photographer who managed to almost bury her former career as a model. God, he wanted to know what had happened. Even though things had turned out the way she wanted them to, something was amiss, and not even Lorne and Georgie knew what it was.
He placed the photo gingerly back on the shelf, and left the room. He still needed to check on Samantha before he turned in for the night.
He found her curled up on her old bed with the bedside lamp still on. She was breathing softly, and her expression was peaceful. For that he was grateful. He crept quietly across the room intending to cover her up and turn the lamp off. But when he reached for the blanket at the foot of her bed, she stirred.
“Jack?” She looked at him and smiled through her sleepy blue eyes.
“Hi, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to wake you. I was just checking on you—I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m alright. Or at least I will be, now that you’re here.”
He leaned down to kiss her forehead, and that was all he could allow himself to do right now. But when he tried to straighten again, she clutched his arm.
“Don’t go. Please.”
“Samantha . . .”
“I’m not asking you to make love to me again. Just hold me, Jack. When you found me on the road today I could finally let go . . . you’ve always been the one to comfort me. I need you . . . please?”
He couldn’t refuse her even if he’d really wanted to, which he didn’t. And he would have made love to her again right there in her old bed too. But that’s not what either of them needed at that moment, not really. But he did need to be near her, and vice versa. And that was something he could give them both.
He lay down next to her, and he turned the lamp off and pulled the blanket over both of them. She sighed and pulled his arms tighter around her. God it felt right to hold her. He hadn’t wanted to let go of her out on the road that morning, and he didn’t want to let go now.
“Don’t let go,” she whispered, echoing his thoughts.
“I won’t, baby,” he whispered back. He felt her relax against him, and only when he heard the rhythm of deep sleep in her breath did he succumb to the same beautiful relaxation and allow himself to drift off. He slept then, with his heart full of equal parts love and sadness, and his arms full of her warmth.
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