“This is the script that’s going to catapult me into the next level?” Cain Ables stared at his agent, Dixon Nell. “You’re sure?” Cain read through the script again. He’d always wanted to do an LGBTQ movie and stretch his acting abilities. He also wanted to finally come out and admit he was gay. Jesus. No one wanted their boy wonder to be gay. He had to be approachable and make people desire him. According to his agent and parents, no one would want him if he wasn’t perfect.
Apparently, being gay wasn’t perfect.
What the fuck did anyone else know? He was gay and very imperfect.
“You’re going to work with Liam Blackwell,” Dixon said. “He’s a good guy and careful with his costars. He won’t make you do anything you’re not comfortable doing. Just say the word and he won’t kiss you or anything without your being okay. You know him, remember? You met at the celebrity baseball game last year.”
“I remember.” Cain closed the script. “How do you know I won’t want him to kiss me?”
“Please.” Dixon rolled his eyes. “You’re being a maverick by stepping out of your comfort zone. This role will have award nods all over it. You need to do this.”
“But?” He both loved and hated his agent. Dixon could act like he cared one thousand percent for Cain and his career, then he could turn on him and be so scathing. Cain never knew which side of Dixon he’d get.
“But you’re not gay. You’re the it guy in Hollywood. This is going to be a big risk, but it’ll be worth it when you get the statuette.” Dixon grasped Cain by the shoulders. “You’re getting older, and while you can age in Hollywood, you can’t be the pretty boy all your life. You’ll have to age with the roles. You’ll have to mature.”
Cain knew that. He wasn’t stupid. In his thirty years, he’d played so many roles that he swore the business had to be tired of him. He curled the script in his hands. For someone who disappeared into characters, he’d damn near lost his true self along the way. He stared at Dixon again. “What if I am gay?”
Dixon burst out laughing. “You’re not gay. Confused, maybe, and intrigued by this role, but you’re not gay.” He shook his head and continued laughing. “God, if you were really gay, you’d have come out by now and you’d be chasing Penn. That kid will fuck anything who asks.”
Cain glared at Dixon as he walked away. What an asshole. I’d be chasing Penn. Who does Dixon think he is? Dixon knew lots about the business, but nothing about dating or relationships. He certainly knew nothing about Cain. Penn wasn’t Cain’s type. Too pushy and way too young.
“Hey.” Penn strutted up to Cain. “I hear you’re working with Liam Blackwell and going to Cedarwood to make a movie.” He rubbed his hands together. “There’s not much to do in Cedarwood. It’s small, boring, dull…” His eyes flashed. “You could always take an assistant or two with you. I’ll bet Lucia would go along. She wants more exposure.”
He shook his head. Penn was not his type. He’d kept his preferences to himself, but honed them over the years. He wanted a man with muscles, a forthright attitude, who wasn’t afraid of manual labor and looked good in a baseball cap. Penn wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he had to wear a T-shirt and jeans for a living. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-three.” Penn grinned. His green eyes glittered and the smattering of hairs on his chin belied his age. He rested his hands on his narrow hips. “Interested? I’m game to go to Cedarwood. I bet we could have a great time. I’d keep my mouth shut.”
His stomach churned. Is Penn coming on to me? He hadn’t come out yet and was already being propositioned. Penn would keep quiet for a hefty price. “No thanks.”
“You’re sure?” Penn rubbed Cain’s thigh. “You don’t know what you want until you can’t have it.”
“I’m okay.” He left the chair and squeezed the script in his hand. He’d agreed to do the movie and agreed to film in Cedarwood. Maybe it was time to head out to Ohio and find himself. He knew damn well he was gay, but he had to decide what he wanted out of life. Did he want to come out? Could he live his life in the closet?
He massaged his forehead and continued walking away from Penn. In some ways, the man was attractive. He also offered an interesting proposition—he could be the first lover Cain wanted without having strings…unless he counted the financial ones. Penn would attempt to bleed him dry. If he wasn’t begging for money, he’d take him to court or wring him out in the tabloids.
His stomach churned harder. In the last year, Cain had fought the twisting ache in his belly and the fear he’d be found out. He was gay. No question. He’d dated starlets and had been with women, but he’d rather be looking at their dates or admiring another certain actor’s ass.
He was supposed to be the guy every woman wanted to fuck and the man the guys wanted to hang out with—attainable, even if he wasn’t going to be anywhere near most of his fans. His parents made sure he stayed as isolated as possible. Maybe that was his problem. He needed to get out from under their thumb. He’d been under it for long enough.
The limo waited at the side door of the offices. The driver opened the door for him and ensured Cain was ensconced in the back seat. The scent of rich leather swirled around Cain, and the darkened windows of the vehicle ensured no one would see him. He could move around without anyone knowing he was there. A ghost of himself.
He unrolled the script and read through the first three pages again. Two men, quiet romance, small town and everyone rooting for them. He needed to do this movie. If he did, he’d get to go on location. His parents wouldn’t follow him to Ohio. They detested anywhere that wasn’t Beverly Hills. He’d go to Ohio, read, relax and be a human being. Yeah, he’d do this movie. He’d do the hell out of it. If he happened to grow as a person or found a lover, then even better. First, he had to get the fuck out of California and be on his own.
The vehicle lurched and swerved, then stopped. He had no idea how long he’d been in the back or where he was, but he assumed the driver had taken him home. He might be a big celebrity and wanted by millions, but he had little free will.
The door opened and a valet gestured to him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ables.”
“Hello.” He didn’t recognize this valet. “Where’s Green?”
“Reassigned, sir.” The valet closed the limo door. “Your mother requests your presence.”
“Thanks.” He patted the valet on the arm. The guy was only doing his job. Cain’s mother and father insisted on orchestrating his life as much as possible. He knew damn well why—if he stopped working or fell out of favor, they’d lose their funding. He’d kept the family afloat nearly his entire life.
He strode through the house to the massive living room. The opulence and expense of the place suffocated him. Everywhere he looked, he recognized something bought with the money he’d made over his career. His parents hadn’t worked for a damn thing.
His mother lounged on the expansive couch. She had pillows around her and a magazine on her lap. She flipped through the pages. “You’re home.”
“I am.” He didn’t sit. Not now. He couldn’t relax. “Reading anything important?”
“You’re featured in this magazine.” She held up the periodical. “I see you’re with Aidyn Malachi. Good. She’s up-and-coming. You need to be seen with someone fresh.”
“I do.” Someone who isn’t a starlet.
“You look like you’re upset.” His father stood by the bar. He sipped a brandy and crossed his ankles. “Something on your mind?”
He shored up his courage. He had no plan to get to Cedarwood. No money of his own. Fuck it. He’d figure something out. Rami had always been good for a favor. He’d call his best friend to get him to the airport. “I’m leaving.”
“You are?” His father laughed. “Christ. You have no idea how to live on your own. Where in the fuck do you think you’re going? You can’t handle life without us guiding you.”
His father was such a stereotype—elbow-bending closet drunk pretending to be macho and perfect, all while he’d lost control. His wife had cheated on him multiple times. He’d cheated on her, too, and Cain swore he had a sibling somewhere he knew nothing about. The odds were in his favor for the assumption to be true. Cain gritted his teeth. “I’m being called out for a movie and need to go on location. Plain and simple. I don’t need a babysitter. Remember? I’m thirty years old. I can handle my life.” Maybe, but maybe not. He’d never actually lived on his own. He’d been given spending money and the catering trucks made sure he was fed.
“You’re not going.” His mother didn’t look up from the magazine. “You aren’t ready.” She pointed to an image of Cain tangled up with Aidyn in a bed. Both looked disheveled and sated after sex. “This is what you should be doing. Marry her. Or fake it. The public needs more of these pictures.”
He rolled his eyes. The photoshoot had been a gigantic disaster. Aidyn had cried half the time, wanting her actual boyfriend, and the photographer had pushed him and Aidyn to look more in love than they’d ever be. No one wanted to see fake pictures.
“If you’re going, then you’ll have your full treatment of servants and the corps. I won’t have you making an ass of yourself.” His father slashed his hand through the air. “You’re not a child, no, but you’re not smart enough to be on your own. You can memorize lines and channel characters, but anyone can do that.”
He groaned. If I pack a small bag, I could take one of the sports cars and drive there, right? Nah. His parents probably had trackers on the cars. He nodded to hide his frustration. “I suppose you’re right.” He turned on his heel and headed up to his bedroom.
Wouldn’t his fellow actors laugh? He still lived with his parents in the house he’d bought for them when he’d made his first television show at age five. He couldn’t bring a lover home—male or female. What would he say? Mom, Dad? I need you to go so I can fuck this lovely person. Right.
Cain shoved his wallet, license, some money he’d squirreled away over the last year, two changes of clothes, an extra pair of shoes and the stuffed cat he’d had since he was a baby into a knapsack. If he was going to blow up his home life, he refused to leave the last vestige of his childhood in the hands of his parents. The stuffed cat might look like hell and have almost no fur left, but he gave Cain more comfort than anyone. He swept his gaze around his room. Even his bedroom had no personality. It could be the room of any celebrity—perfect decor, nothing to denote that he lived there and nothing out of place.
The churning in his stomach increased. If he didn’t get the fuck out of the house and away from his life for a while, he’d have a huge-ass ulcer. The stress of living a life he didn’t want had gotten to him. The doctor on the set of Victor’s Rules had urged him to get some rest. Why not do it now?
He deserved to live the life he wanted.
Cain hurried down the back steps clutching his bag. The valet from before stood by the doors leading to the garage.
“Sir?” He opened the door for Cain. “Going out?”
“To Aidyn’s.” Cain winked. “You know.”
“I used to.” The man smiled. “Shall I let your mother in on this?”
“Please do. I’ll be over there for a few days.” He winked again and elbowed the valet. “We don’t plan on coming up for air in that time.” God, he was laying it on thick.
“Yes, sir.” The valet dispatched a driver, then disappeared into the main portion of the house.
Cain slipped into the back seat of the limo and waited until the car moved. His heart hammered. He was doing it—leaving the nest. He’d lied, of course, but that didn’t matter. Fuck it. His hands shook and he held the bag tight. He’d never acted out before, never tried to be something he wasn’t or push anyone. He’d fallen right into line because it had been required of him.
The driver dropped him off at Aidyn’s hotel. Instead of expecting the car to wait on him, Cain waved him home. “Get some rest. God knows I won’t be.” He grinned. “I’ll call for you.”
The driver nodded once and left.
Cain ducked into the hotel. He’d never stayed at this particular building and hoped no one would recognize him without his Cain Ables celebrity persona in place. He was just Cain Ables, regular guy.
He headed through the lobby to the side entrance. An attendant smiled at him. “May I help you, sir?”
“I’d like a taxi to the airport.” Holy fuck. He was doing this. “Please?”
“Sure.” The attendant waved down one of the drivers. “May I help you with anything else?”
“No, thank you.” He shook hands with the man and settled into the back seat of the taxi. As the car sped toward the airport, Cain sighed. He’d really escaped. His parents would be thrilled when they found out he was at the hotel with a woman. He was being the bad-boy actor everyone expected.
Except he wasn’t bad and he wasn’t with a woman. Fear and doubt crept into his brain. Part of him wasn’t sure he could get away with his act of transgression. The rest of him couldn’t wait to get to Ohio and be a nobody.
Time to be myself.