GIVEAWAY AND EXCERPT: Beyond the Stars by Stacy Wise

Falling for him wasn’t in the plans…
Most girls would kill for the opportunity to work for Jack McAlister, Hollywood’s hottest actor, but twenty-one-year-old Jessica Beckett is ready to kick him out of her red Ford Fiesta and never look back. She should be spending her junior year in France, eating pastries and sharpening her foreign language skills. Instead she’s reluctantly working as Jack’s personal assistant, thanks to her powerhouse talent agent aunt.
Jack is private, prickly, and downright condescending. Jessica pushes his buttons—she’s not the type of girl to swoon over celebrity heartthrobs, precisely why her aunt thought she’d be perfect for the job—and Jack pushes right back.
But as she begins to peel away his layers, Jessica is shocked to find she craves her boss’s easy smile and sexy blue eyes. The problem is, so does the entire female population. And what started out as the job from hell soon has Jess wondering if a guy like Jack could ever find love with a regular girl like her.

Stacy Wise is the author of BEYOND THE STARS (Entangled Embrace, 2016). She has a B.A. in Communication Studies from UCLA and a Masters in Teaching from Chapman University. She lives in California with her husband, four children, two dogs, and ever-changing number of fish. BEYOND THE STARS is her debut novel.

To get more personal, here's more about Stacy:
I *wrote my first book at age 6. It was completely plagiarized, but I spent hours copying it word for word in my best printing, so that should count for something. Years later, I graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Communication Studies and began working in television casting. After ten years in the industry, I quit my job to go back to school, and received my teaching credential and Masters in Teaching from Chapman University. I taught kindergarten and third grade. California is where I make my home with my husband and four kids. When I’m not writing, you can find me beating up the bag at my kickboxing gym, cheering my kids on at their numerous sporting events, or walking my dogs.

Chapter One
I try to ignore the pig in the passenger seat. He snorts, and I stare straight ahead, willing the red light to change to green. Like now. I sneak a glance at him, assessing whether he’s going to make a move that’ll freak me out. The light changes, and I lurch my car into the intersection. The sudden movement slams the pig into the seat back and bounces him onto the floorboard, where he crashes into the empty plastic water bottles I keep forgetting to recycle. Shit. Maybe I should’ve strapped the seat belt around him.
“Sorry, Leo. Just stay there. You’re fine.”
Snort. Snort. There might’ve been a whimper, too. Great. I hope I didn’t hurt the little guy. Even though I’m slightly terrified of him, with those beady eyes and all, I don’t want to see him injured. If anything happens to the pig, I’m pretty sure I’ll be fired, and it’s only my first day on the job. Getting fired would be the best possible outcome. The worst? I’ll end up on TMZ. They’ll flash a scandalously bad picture of me with the caption Animal Abuser Caught! in bold below my face. I’ll probably even go to jail. Because this pig belongs to Jack McAlister. As in, the Jack McAlister—the hottest actor on the planet.
Jack’s appearing on The Francine Allen Show today, and for reasons unknown to me, he wants his pet piglet there with him. I reach the Trident Pictures lot and pull up to the guard kiosk. A man resembling an old desert tortoise stretches his neck out of the window. “Name?”
“Jessica Beckett.” I hope this guy is fast. Getting here took longer than I planned. A fire hydrant on Sunset had exploded, sending water spouting straight up like a geyser, flooding one of the lanes of traffic. As much of a mess as it was, it was kind of cool to see. Everyone else must have thought so, too. Traffic slowed to a crawl as we all watched the water show while merging into the clear lane.
The old man examines a computer screen in the kiosk. “I don’t see a drive-on for you. Do you have one?” he asks in his slow, measured voice. He certainly doesn’t seem like a security guard. And I have no freaking idea what a drive-on is. I’ve been to studios before, but my aunt always drives, and guards wave her through with a smile.
“I don’t know. I’m Jack McAlister’s assistant, and I’m here to deliver Leo to the Francine Allen set.”
He shuffles out of the kiosk and peers into my red Ford Fiesta with suspicion. “Leo? Does he have a drive-on?”
“I doubt it. Leo’s a pig.” I point to the wiggling creature on the floorboard in front of the passenger seat. He sticks up his baby pink snout and snorts. A tiny black moustache covers the tip, as if someone painted it on to be funny.
He heaves a sigh. “Can I see your ID, please?”
This clearly isn’t the first time someone hasn’t had the proper authorization. I reach behind my seat to retrieve my purse and drop it onto my lap, digging through the contents for my wallet. I fish it out and hand him my license. He inspects it carefully as he steps back into the kiosk. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel, trying to distract myself from my growing impatience while he stares at my ID as if I’m some sort of criminal. I stop tapping when he picks up a phone. He better be talking to someone at the show and not making a personal call.
I look in my rearview mirror and cringe. The line behind me snakes out to the street. And now someone is honking. It’s entirely possible that the honker has collapsed face-first in frustration onto his horn, because he’s not letting up.
“Jessica?” The guard leans his neck out of the kiosk window.
“Here’s your ID. You’re clear to go through. Next time make sure you have a drive-on. We wouldn’t want to make a habit of this now, would we?”
“No. Can you tell me where to park, please?” My words are polite, but I doubt they make up for the impatience in my tone. I can’t help it. Some people say patience is a virtue. I say arriving on time is a virtue.
“Go to Parking Structure B. Straight ahead, then turn left.”
After looping through the garage to find an available spot, I scramble to open the passenger door. “Okay, Leo. Time to act like a movie star.” I slide my hands around his plump tummy, and he squeals as if my hands are made of fire, which, in turn, freaks me out. “Leo. Settle down, dude. I’m just taking you out of the car. This is supposed to be fun for you. Like a field trip. So come on, be a good sport.”
I give him a few gentle pats. “You’re good, Leo.” My voice is soothing, even though I want to tackle the pig and make a run for it. “We’re off to see your famous owner, okay? Any other pig would jump at the opportunity.” I continue to pet his rough fur, and then quickly tighten my grasp, as though trying to capture a slippery fish. He squeals again and scurries onto the driver’s seat. Frustration building, I look around to see if there’s anyone who can help me.
A man with a phone to his ear is pacing next to a gleaming black Jaguar. He looks pretty focused on his conversation, but this is kind of urgent. I glance back at Leo and find him huddled in the floor space below the driver’s seat.
“Oh, no you don’t, you little stinker. That’s it.” I yank him onto the driver’s seat, determined to get him out of the car. But as soon as I have him locked in my arms, he lets out a wail as powerful as a shrieking two-year-old. It startles me so much I drop him. Shoot. Couldn’t Jack have given me a pet carrier or something? Leo’s making so much noise that someone will surely come to help. In fact, the Jaguar owner is striding toward me.
“I’m so glad you walked over…” I start to say, but he doesn’t hear me.
He gets a little closer and pulls the phone away from his ear. “Can you get that kid to shut up? I’m on a call here.”
Typical Hollywood asshole. “It’s not a kid. It’s a pig,” I shout. “And I am trying to quiet him, but I’m not versed in pig care.”
The man glares at me with eyes beadier than Leo’s.
“A little help and a lot less attitude would be nice,” I mutter under my breath.
“Figure it out. I need to close this fucking deal, and my phone doesn’t work on the elevator. Get that thing to shut up!” He kicks a tire on the car next to me for effect and succeeds in setting off the alarm. Leo continues his earsplitting wails. Jaguar Man curses his way back to his car. I want to cover my head and cry.
I’m ready to rush back to the security guard for help when I see my saving grace in the form of a reusable (well, probably not reusable after today) Trader Joe’s shopping bag. It has a zipper on top. Perfect. I can put Leo in the bag, zip him up, and off we’ll go. Lots of women carry their fancy little dogs in their purses, so I’m sure it’s fine to carry a pig in a bag.
In one swift move, I clamp it over Leo and jostle him to the bottom of the bag before zipping it up. He lets out a pitiful squeal. My hands are shaking so much that I’m scared I’ll drop him again.
I heft the bag off the seat and slam my car door. Leo sounds like a panic button that won’t stop. God, I hope he doesn’t have a piggy heart attack. I race to the elevator, jamming my finger on the down button. Thankfully, the doors open immediately, and I step in. A girl who could be a Kardashian stands there. I steal a closer look. She actually resembles one of the girls my ex-boyfriend was dating while he was allegedly committed to me—the girl with “a face like Kim K. and an ass to match,” to be exact. The sight of her makes my stomach hurt. My palms feel sweaty. I wish this stupid elevator would go faster.
The girl scans me up and down, moving nothing but her eyes. Now I know how the “befores” feel in those makeover shows when the audience inspects them with thinly veiled disdain.
Leo squeals, and the girl turns to me. “What is that?”
“A pig.” I barely glance at her.
“You’re joking, right?” She grips her yellow patent leather Tori Burch clutch a little tighter.
“Really? Are you an animal trainer?”
“That’s totally bizarre.”
“Yes, it is,” I say. The doors open, and I leave her standing by the elevator, smoothing her hair. I jog down the walkway that leads out of the garage, trying to ignore the fact that my armpits are tingling with sweat. Welcome to Hollywood, baby. Ugh.
There’s a row of sound stages directly in front of me, and they’re all numbered. Thank you, God. I race ahead and pass stages three, four, and five. But I don’t see six or seven. Shoot. Leo has finally stopped squealing, but now I fear that he’s feeling sick. The bag bangs against my hip as I run. A guy driving a golf cart whisks by, and I flag him down. He rolls next to me and stops. I’m sure I look hysterical.
“Can you tell me where to find stage seven? I have four minutes to get there.”
He grins. “Hop in. I’ll get you there in one. I’m Max, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Max.” As soon as I’m seated, he hits the gas, and we jerk forward. I brace myself, thinking he’s going to floor it. When he doesn’t, I relax a little. I grab a water bottle from my purse and take a swig.
“What’ve you got in the bag?”
“Jack McAlister’s pet pig.”
He turns to me. “For real? You have a pig in there?”
“Watch the road. And yeah, I have a pig in here.”
“Cool. What’d you say your name is?”
“Jessica.” I take another sip of water just as we hit a bump in the road. My chin taps the bottle, and water sloshes down the front of my shirt. I swipe at it with one hand, while trying to balance the bag with the other.
Max eyes me. “Oh, man. I’m sorry. That freaking pothole. I’m always in it before I see it. You okay?”
“I’m fine. It’ll dry.”
“Here we are. Craft services will have napkins if you want some. Good luck.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.” I rush to the huge stage door and knock. When no one answers, I pull it open just enough to peek in. People wearing headsets and carrying clipboards scurry like rats. There’s a group of men in well-tailored suits standing in the corner talking. I assume they must be Important People. They seem intimidating now, unlike when I have Aunt Marnie by my side.
I scan the place, looking for Jack. A girl who appears less harried than everyone else passes, and I stop her, asking where I can find Jack McAlister.
“Who are you?” she demands, all business.
“I’m his assistant, and I need to get this to him right away.” I motion to the bag hanging from my shoulder and try not to notice it feels like dead weight.
“Oh, yeah. They just called me to check your drive-on. Come on.”
I follow her down a hallway, barely taking in all the activity. We reach a door bearing a temporary plaque with Jack’s name. She knocks three times. I take a breath and comb my fingers through my tangled hair. Jack opens the door, and I inhale sharply. Damn, he’s hot.
“Hi there.” I smile, attempting to shake off the stress I’m feeling.
“What the hell took you so long?” he snaps. His gaze lands on the water stain on my shirt, then quickly moves to meet mine, anger flaring. “Where’s Leo?”
Seriously? That’s the thanks I get? “I didn’t have the lucky golden ticket to get on the lot and had to do some finagling to get here. Anyway, Leo’s in the bag. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”
“You put my pig in a fucking shopping bag?”
I look at the bag and realize I didn’t think to leave a little part unzipped so he’d have some air. Oh my God. How could I have forgotten? That’s why he feels like dead weight. Please, please, please let him be alive. I give Jack a fake smile, attempting to exude a confidence I don’t feel. “Can we close the door and let him walk around a bit?”
Not waiting for a response, I sweep past him and set the bag next to a low coffee table. My hands tremble as I inch open the zipper. I worm my hand into the bag, feeling around for Leo. When I make contact, he lets out a little squeal. I’ve never heard a more glorious sound. I suck in a breath and pull the bag open wide. Leo looks scared, but he’s alive. Jack peers down at us.
“Can you move out of the way?” He frowns as he frees Leo from the bag. “You okay, buddy?” He turns to me. “What the hell did you do to him?”
My mouth goes dry. “Nothing.”
Jack cups some raisins in his hand, allowing Leo to snuffle them up the way my Dustbuster picks up crumbs. “Maybe this wasn’t the best idea to bring you here, buddy.” His blue eyes flash with anger. “You have to be more careful with him. If you’re going to be my assistant, I need to know I can rely on you to handle the basics. Marnie hired you to help me, not stress me the fuck out.” He leans close to Leo, brushing a hand across his coarse fur. “I told you I don’t need an assistant,” he whispers.
I don’t know if he intended for me to hear. But I did.
Someone raps on the open door, and we both turn to see a shaggy-haired guy with a clipboard. “You’re on in five. Come with me, and I’ll show you where you can wait backstage.”
Jack stands with Leo in his arms. “You can hang out here and watch the monitor.” He glances around the room. “Just don’t mess with anything.”
He disappears with Leo in tow, and I sit on the couch, afraid to move. God knows I don’t want to cause any more trouble. Jack’s words play in my head: I told you I don’t need an assistant.
Whatever. I didn’t ask for this job. I was supposed to be studying abroad in France as part of the junior year abroad program at school, but just before I was scheduled to leave, I was laid up by mono and stuck in bed for nearly two weeks. The doctor told me I could go on my trip, but that if I were his daughter, he wouldn’t send me. My mom didn’t need to hear anything more. I wasn’t going. And it was too late to register for fall classes at UCLA.
My parents informed me I could take time off from school, but if I planned to stay in my apartment, I’d have to pay my own rent.
I think their threat scared them more than it scared me, because the next day, I was having lunch with Aunt Marnie, Jack’s head agent. Before I had the chance to pick up my menu, she started in. “One of my clients needs an assistant—an efficient, high-energy individual. And, most importantly, someone loyal. I’m talking as loyal as a trained border collie.” Her eyes softened. “And I don’t know anyone more loyal than you, my dear.”
“Wow. Thanks, Aunt Marnie. Which client needs an assistant?”
“I can’t say just yet. But I think it’s someone you’re a fan of. Are you interested?”
“Yeah. It sounds fantastic.” All of a sudden, missing out on France seemed like a blessing in disguise. What if my new boss turned out to be Martha Stewart? I’m a huge fan of hers. I envisioned working side-by-side with her in a fabulous kitchen, getting inside information on how to create fondant flowers with ease. It never occurred to me that I’d be working for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive.
It was just yesterday that I sat in my aunt’s posh office waiting for the big celebrity reveal. I fiddled with my hoop earring so much that it fell out. Her intercom buzzed, and a frazzled assistant announced, “Jack McAlister’s here. I’ll send him up.”
“Thanks.” She clicked off the intercom and turned to me, looking all agenty. “He’ll be right up.”
I stared at her, unable to keep the panic from my face as I untangled the earring from my hair. “Aunt Marnie, I can’t work for an actor. There’s no way.”
“He’s not just an actor. He’s my best client.”
“Please. I can’t even—”
“Look, Jack needs an assistant. His manager already met plenty of candidates, and apparently none were able to function normally upon meeting Jack. I’m taking over now. You won’t be fazed by Jack’s celebrity. That much I know. And,” she continued, tenting her hands like a TV lawyer making her case, “I understand why you’re upset, but Jack is not Jordan Kennedy. He won’t try to date you. I’ll make that clear from the get-go. All you need to do is act kind and professional. No ogling, no flirting, no mouthing off. You can handle that, right?” she asked, softening back into the Aunt Marnie I was more familiar with.
“I guess,” I lied, trying to ignore the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
There was a loud knock on the door. As we watched the knob turn, Aunt Marnie whispered, “Please let this go well.”
And in walked Jack McAlister. Every fear that I’d automatically detest him because he’s an actor was replaced by a new fear that he was way too attractive to work for. He was dressed in ripped jeans and a white T-shirt. On anyone else that shirt would’ve looked plain, but on him, it was like the draping over a perfectly chiseled statue—like you knew something extraordinary was ready to be discovered beneath it. Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
Giddiness, panic, and something I can’t describe set in. He took all the normal, plain old air out of the room and filled it with something sweet and magical. I swear I could hear bells chiming. But maybe it was just that all my synapses fired at once, my body’s mind-blowing, ear-ringing physical reaction to him.
“Hey, Marnie!” Jack said, arms open. He pulled my aunt into a hug and kissed both cheeks. “So what’s the big surprise you’ve got for me?”
He glanced my way, a question in his light blue eyes. He grinned, and I felt like I was swimming in the ocean of all that was Jack McAlister. Damn. I understood why other candidates couldn’t function normally upon meeting him.
He turned back to my aunt. “Who’s this?”
“Jack, this is Jessica Beckett. Jessica, this is Jack McAlister.”
I plastered a blasé look on my face, allowing a hint of a smile. And I reminded myself that actors are egotistical, self-centered liars. “Hi, Jack. Nice to meet you.”
We shook hands, and Aunt Marnie explained that her big surprise was me, his new assistant.
He dropped my hand and crossed his arms, his hands tucked into his armpits. “We’ve been through this, Marnie. I don’t want an assistant.”
His words felt like a punch in the gut. She should’ve clued me in that he didn’t want an assistant. That would’ve been, I don’t know…helpful?
“You need one, Jack. Stars like you sometimes have two or three assistants. It’s time you recognize who you are.” She let her words hang in the air, and Jack listened like a child learning there’s no Santa Claus. For a second, I had the urge to comfort him.
He flashed a hurt look. “That’s not going to work for me.”
Aunt Marnie smirked. “It will work. The solution is keeping it in the family. Jessica is my niece.”
“Doesn’t matter. I can handle my own life. I don’t need anyone else involved to fuck it up.”
“Because you’re doing a fine job of it on your own.” She smiled at him, looking more maternal than I’d ever seen her. “I’m not going to lecture you. I understand how the pressures can get to you. Compartmentalize, remember?”
She paused, and I stole a glance at Jack. I could tell by the look on his face that he was considering what she said.
“How is an assistant going to stop me from punching a photographer in the face, Marnie?”
My mind flashed with images of late nights and liquor-fueled, testosterone-saturated brawls, and I wanted to run, but Marnie went in for the hard sell. “She can have exit routes in place for you so you’re one step ahead of the paparazzi. You can’t stop being out there. You have to play the game. It’s the perfect time to do this. Rehearsals for Steven Lowi’s film don’t start for another few weeks. It’s rare that you have this downtime. Use it to figure out how Jessica can best help you.”
There was an undertone of desperation in her voice. Jack probably didn’t notice, but I did. As Aunt Marnie continued to push, the reality of what she needed hit me. If she lost Jack as a client, it would mean a dramatic lifestyle change for her. They made each other millions. He could easily land another agent, but his leaving her would lead to hushed, speculative conversations. Was she slipping? Too old? Out of touch? He was her meal ticket and her bait to get new clients. I had to help.
I stole a glance at Jack and wondered if I could work for a guy who punches people in the face. Nerves circled like sharks in my stomach. Nonetheless, at the end of the meeting, I was Jack McAlister’s assistant. Aunt Marnie beamed at me before turning to Jack and hugging him. I knew he was her best client, but I got the feeling he was also her favorite.
It’s hard to believe that was only yesterday. I had no idea I’d be working as a pig chauffeur today. Very glamorous.

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