Chapter 2

1192 Words
Chapter Two April - Two months earlier "No," Trace said flatly, gripping the steering wheel so hard his knuckles showed white. "No f*****g way." A heavy sigh filled the car speakers. "You decide, Trace. Do you want to be done forever? Or do you trust me enough to let me help you make a comeback in six months or a year?" Portia challenged with an edge to her voice. He'd known Portia longer than anyone, and that edge told him he was pushing his luck. But still, he couldn't accept the poison pill she was urging him to swallow. "A year?" his voice cracked. "You want me to spend a year working on a ranch in Prairie f*****g KANSAS? Are you kidding me?" He'd been to that backwater a few years before as a favor to a friend of Portia's, Jason Case, and while the people were nice, he vowed he'd never go back. They barely had cell service, and Wi-Fi didn't exist outside of town. "Not if you care about working in Hollywood ever again. But if you don't... then go right ahead and hit Las Vegas, better yet, go swing your d**k around Nevis, but understand the consequences if you do." Portia's words reverberated inside the car as Trace zipped up the Pacific Coast Highway toward his place above the beach in Malibu. He could almost see her lifting a shoulder in an elegant shrug, saying without saying that he was welcome to party himself into oblivion, but that they both knew what would happen if he did. Trace stretched his hands wide and blew out a breath. What he needed right now was a day on the waves. Nothing cleared his head better than feeling the swell of the ocean beneath his feet, riding a wave, being at one with the water. And now Portia was asking, no - telling - him that he needed to give it up. "Do you realize what you're asking?" Portia snorted. "Do you want to salvage your career?" Trace sighed heavily as he zipped across two lanes of traffic and pulled off the highway, narrowly missing a skateboarder. "Of course I do," he snapped, laying on the horn. "Then take my offer and run with it. Even your agent agrees this is the best thing to do, and Emerson's gotten you out of some tight predicaments before. Prairie is the perfect place to lay low. They don't even have a movie theater in town. What they do have is a bull riding school, and the veteran's ranch, among others. They're used to strangers staying a few months and leaving. And after a year-" "Six months," Trace interjected. "You'll have enough ranching skills-" "Rodeo skills," he corrected, mildly intrigued at the thought of learning to ride bulls. "Whatever. The point is, if you look at this as study for a role, and you keep your pants zipped, I'll have a plum script waiting for you." That meant she already had it and he couldn't resist finding out more. He bit. "Who?" Portia's laughter filled the car. "Oh you don't get to know that. At least not yet." "I have ways," he challenged. She snorted. "Not this time, you don't. This is a top-secret project with a brand-new screenwriter. The script is brilliant. Every leading man in Hollywood will be campaigning for it. It's Oscar material. Multiple Oscars." "So it's a Western." "I'm not saying." Of course it was. Otherwise, why the push to get him to do time on a ranch? "Period piece?" "Trace." "Who else are you making jump through these hoops?" "Is that what you think this is? Some kind of power trip on my part?" The edge returned to Portia's voice. "I thought you knew me better than that." "I do, but-" She cut him off. "You know what your problem is?" "Tell me." She would, too. Portia never sugarcoated anything. "You've never had to work for anything. You've never struggled." "That's not true and you know it." How could she say that? Didn't she remember what it was like when they first met? "Trace, I've known you my entire adult life. No one... no one has been as lucky as you have." "It wasn't luck," he growled, mind spinning back to the first time he met Portia. "It was pure luck that we met, Trace." "But what happened after wasn't." He'd climbed to the top by sheer determination and hard work... and a healthy dose of charm. "That's debatable. You had the-" "Have," he corrected tersely. "I still have it." "Okay, fine. You have the right combination of good looks and charm that women love, which means producers love it, too. But they were only going to overlook your bad behavior for so long. You had to know this was all going to catch up to you, didn't you?" Well... not really. Who was he if he wasn't Trace McBride, life of the party, on and off the set? "Didn't you? Trace?" A note of worry entered Portia's voice. "I was just taking advantage of the opportunity in front of me," he defended. "WHO HAPPENED TO BE YOUR PRODUCER'S WIFE," she shouted. "Look, I don't care if she came onto you, or that the Whelans are swingers, or whatever bullshit line was used. It's time for you to grow the f**k up and start thinking about your future, Trace." "I HAVE NO FUTURE," he shouted back, then yanked the car to the side of the road, slamming on the brakes. He let out a rough exhale, heart pounding. Jeezus, his hands were shaking. What in the hell had he just admitted? In an instant, his future spun out before him, empty. What did he have to look forward to? A decade more of action movies? If he was lucky? More parties? Did he really want to turn into that guy, the one who thought he was the life of the party, when in reality, he was the laughingstock? He'd been to those kinds of parties when he was younger... it wasn't pretty. It was pathetic, watching some has-been with thinning hair reliving the glory days and behaving like he still had it. Whatever it was. With the exception of Portia, he'd never bothered to make friends with his colleagues, or even his girlfriends. Instead, he'd surrounded himself with ego-fluffers. People who didn't pry into his personal life or demand anything except his wallet. Was that his future? His stomach lurched. What in the hell had he done with his life? "Oh, hon," Portia said softly. "Don't," Trace said even softer, throat prickling. He didn't want her pity. He could take anything but that. He ran a hand over his head, fingers stopping at the rubber band that held his bleach blond locks in check. "Look, I'll figure something out. I just need a few days." "Uh-huh," she hummed. "We both know you never do well between projects. If you go to crazy town now, you'll end up in jail. Or worse," she cautioned. "Let me guess," he went for full-on sarcasm. "This crazy-assed idea you're convinced is brilliant is going to save me?" "As a matter of fact," she shot back tightly. "It is brilliant. But it's up to you whether or not you want to listen. And as for saving you," she added darkly. "This time, Trace, you're going to have to save yourself."
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