Accused of a murder he didn’t commit, vilified celebrity Jackson Young enlists the help of rookie journalist to clear his name and write his biography.
Jackson has a secret though. One he must keep from becoming public. But Fletcher’s dreamy green eyes, Irish drawl and effortless charm makes it hard to suppress those long-buried feelings, even if it could compromise his innocence.
Uncovering the murky past behind Jackson’s rise to fame, Fletcher grows closer to a man he’d once declared as talentless and their intense attraction starts to affect not only his professional integrity, but the life he’d made since moving to London.
Falling for the subject of his book could be fatal for Fletcher, and Jackson should know better than to trust a journalist.
Fade to Blank is the first book in the London Lies trilogy set in 1999 and is a slow burn, enemies to lovers, hurt/comfort romantic suspense.
- 1 Read list
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 3
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Bisexual, Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Coming Out / Closeted, Enemies to Lovers, Famous / Not Famous, Hurt / Comfort, Slow Burning Love
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Jackson Young was no more.
The bell signified the end of that life when it shrieked yet another first command for the day. It didn’t rise in steady increments for a gentle awakening. It drilled through his skull with maximum intensity. Loud. Demanding. Angry. Like most of the other inmates at HMP Flaymore.
Jackson wondered, for all of the four seconds he now had to emerge from the uncomfortable plastic cot and walk to the door, if he’d ever get used to being woken with such brutality. He hoped not. That would be admitting defeat. Not that he had much fight left in him. He’d become accustomed to believing that this was it. This was his life as he now knew it.
Not life, existence.READ MORE
With the signal impaling his brain, he ripped the standard itchy grey cotton blanket from his pale and dilapidated body. He was already dressed, as he rarely bothered changing any more. There wasn’t any point. For someone who’d been a style icon for nearly a decade, he was a sheep in the same standard grey tracksuit as the mob he now mingled with. He no longer stood out.
Which was his only saving grace.
Settling his bare feet onto the cold concrete floor, he shuddered. Then, as with all mornings, he shut himself off. He forgot his name. He forgot who he had been before and sank into his numbed mind. It was the best approach to get through the day.
The electronic lock clicked, a ripping buzz, and the metal door slid open with a thud. He could smell freedom, or breakfast and recreation as the schedule preferred it be known.
Six a.m. Every day. The same monotonous cycle. Considering the hundred or so other men incarcerated at Flaymore had no train to catch, traffic to battle with or school run to add congestion to, the early wakeup call had nothing to do with the daily commute that motivated the rest of London to rise. All jobs took place within the fifty acres of concrete. And there weren’t that many available. None of them belonged to Jackson.
He had nothing but his thoughts to help him pass the time.
At the door, he slipped his bare feet into the standard plastic flip-flops. Tired, cold and shit fucking scared all now hidden behind the mask of indifference he’d become more accustomed to wearing a darn sight better than the grey tracksuit.
The deep bellow from the guard bounced off the thick walls and jolted the wing to life. The only debilitating life that the men all shuffling out from their cages would have for the foreseeable. Jackson inhaled a deep and unnoticeable breath before stepping over the yellow line and joining the onslaught of inmates along the second-floor corridor, down the metal steps and toward the dining hall.
The silence was unbearable. No one talked on the descent, so when Jackson reached the breakfast room, the boisterous chatter thundered in his ears like fireworks. He ignored the whistles, the catcalls, and the groups who huddled together to give him the death glare, and took his tray to the last remaining vacant seat in the overcrowded hall. It was among the other misfits. The crazies, the nutjobs, the ones who everyone else avoided. Jackson wasn’t among type, of course, not yet. But he still gravitated toward their strange safety net.
The porridge was cold and bland. He shovelled it in regardless. His mouth was used to it and he swallowed it easier than the first few mornings he’d been there, back when he’d thought this was all a horrible dream. Back when he’d thought he’d be given a formal apology at any moment, maybe even hefty compensation. Back when he’d thought truth outweighed vengeance.
Now he knew different. Now he forced down the breakfast offering, heedless of how it clogged his throat to make him gag. He wouldn’t be given anything else. He had no celebrity clout here. In fact, quite the opposite. He’d been reprimanded too many times for not eating as it was. Going on hunger strike hadn’t achieved his release. Those in charge at Flaymore were as coercive as the convicts he shared his time with. The guards couldn’t let him starve, though. They could let him rot in his own filth, but not starve.
Scraping the last spoonful, Jackson ignored the shadow looming over him. It was a survival mechanism. Keep his head down, and eyes and hands to himself.
Jackson paused the spoon at his lips. He didn’t look up.
“Come with me.”
Pushing out of his seat, Jackson did as commanded and swallowed his last mouthful. Get what you can, when you can. He gave the prison guard no other indication that he’d heard him. He’d discarded the idea of making friends with either side at Flaymore. Here, Jackson had no talent, no worth, no value.
It had been quite the opposite on the outside.
Following the guard out of the recreation area like an obedient pet on a leash, Jackson kept his gaze ahead. He ducked as a splodge of porridge hurtled through the air toward him, and the accompanying plastic cutlery landed with a clatter by his feet. He didn’t even flinch.
After being ushered through several locked doors, he was then shoved into an interview room. A table and two chairs both bolted to the floor were the only welcome he had into the hollow cavern. Not even the man with the expensive pinstriped suit, stroking down his silk tie, could uplift the bleakest of interiors.
“Mr Young.” Pinstriped sliced his hand through the air to offer Jackson the vacant seat.
Jackson didn’t show his surprise at being given a prefix. Suit guy appeared nervous somehow. Jackson could tell. He’d been around the star-struck too often not to sniff it in the cheap cologne that meshed with the stagnant scent of bleach and leftover vomit.
“Carlton Oleg. I’m here on behalf of Draper and Draper.”
Ah, the solicitor on tap. Jackson didn’t move.
“How are they treating you?” Carlton continued nonetheless and glanced toward the guard.
Jackson didn’t reply.
“Well, I have some news. You might want to sit down.”
Jackson stared at the chair. A shunt to his back made him reach for it. He sat. So did the newest solicitor on the block. Carlton Oleg smiled. Jackson didn’t.
“Right, well, straight to procedure then, I guess.” Carlton ruffled a file from his briefcase, slipped free a letter and slid it over the table. He twisted it around for Jackson to read.
Not showing a trace of anything other than pure lethargy, Jackson stared at the solicitor and waited. Jackson could drag this out. He had the time. The same wouldn’t be true for Carlton Oleg. Not by the look of his bulging briefcase.
“You’ll see from that, Mr Young, that you are a free man.”
That got a reaction. Jackson peered down, reading the legal spiel that detailed his life typed in Times New Roman on an A4 sheet of paper. He dipped forward, ensuring the words he could understand were in the correct order. “How?” he asked, voice hoarse from having remained silent for so long.
“The case has been thrown out.” Carlton Oleg appeared proud of the statement. As if he had been the one to grant permission for Jackson to leave the premises. He even smiled.
Jackson didn’t. “Why?”
“Insufficient evidence to take to trial. The appeal won. They can no longer detain you, Mr Young.”
“So they know who killed her?” The jolt of possibility pulsed new life into Jackson’s dulled heart.
“No.” Carlton had the audacity to chuckle. “No, I don’t believe so. And you’re still a suspect. They just can’t take you to trial at this juncture. There isn’t enough evidence to warrant it. The judge threw it out. And he’s ordered that you be released. It’s costing them a fortune to keep you in here based on your ‘own best interest’.” The tut that followed could’ve been misconstrued as disbelief of the latter. Jackson didn’t want to presume, though. His incarceration hadn’t made sense to him either.
“So are they gathering more evidence?” he asked.
“The case is still open, yes.”
Jackson didn’t reply. And it gave the chance for Carlton to continue to fill in the blanks.
“They’ve detained you here for the past six months based on no substantial evidence. The prosecution wanted to keep you inside due to your, well, y’know, public interest. But we’ve fought the court and they have granted your immediate release. It doesn’t mean that new evidence might not be found and you could well find yourself back in here if that does happen.”
“Are they going to follow any other lines of inquiry?”
“That would be their jurisdiction. We represent you, Mr Young. Not Miss Payne.”
Jackson shook his head.
“I thought you’d be a little more pleased.”
Jackson closed his eyes. “Why? Because the police wasted months looking at the wrong person?” He clenched his hands into fists above the table, his pulse hammering in his temple. It was anger, yes. But it was also a hell of a lot of bitterness, betrayal and disregard for the investigative procedures that should have seen him released six months ago.
If only I hadn’t exercised my right to remain silent.
Jackson shook that niggling, biting thought from his mind. Reliving the past got him nowhere except farther down the rabbit hole he was now clawing to escape from.
“No, because you are free to go. As of right now.” Carlton smiled. “I can even escort you. Give you a lift home.”
Jackson snorted his unease. That word. Home. Where was it anymore? His home had been a crime scene when he’d last been there. The memories he had of that luxurious prime real estate he’d worked so damn hard for haunted his dreams and clouded his thoughts in darkness and deceit. He couldn’t stomach going back. How would he ever set foot in there after—?
“In exchange for a little autograph.” Carlton handed over a ripped-out page from a magazine.
Jackson glanced down at his own image, taking up one half of the glossy A4.
“For the daughter.” Carlton shrugged. “Still a big fan.”
Jackson’s throat constricted as he lay eyes on a different Jackson Young beaming from the captured image. There was his startling, trained smile. His perfectly styled and highlighted blond quiff that accentuated high cheekbones and brought out the sparkle in his metallic blue eyes. There was Jax. The man he had used to be. The one who had been on top of the world and living every moment to its fullest. The celebrity, the A-lister, the star.
He glanced down at his grey prison-standard clobber and his eyes stung.
He chanced another look at the magazine cut-out. Stood next to him in that picture was his polar opposite. Dark hair, dark stubble, dark suit. Dark soul. But Kris, his once joined-at-the hip co-star, hid that behind the enigmatic smile that he’d practised as much as Jackson had his. He only brought it out for the press and photographers at the dozens of red-carpet events they’d attended together. Like the one that photo had been captured from, then planted in a weekly women’s magazine that had flown off the shelves a year ago. How times had changed.
Tapping his fingers on the cut-out, Jackson could feel the paper crumbling beneath his tips. He slid the page back across the table and stood. “I’ll walk,” he managed to throw out between grinding teeth and his racing pulse.
Carlton furrowed his brow. “You are quite some distance from London.”
“Who said I’m going back to London?”
Why would he? There was nothing for him there. Just like there wouldn’t be anything, or anyone, waiting for him outside the gates of Flaymore. None whom he would want there, anyway.
Everyone had abandoned him. He was nothing. Faded. Blank slate.
Where the hell did he go from here?COLLAPSE