By EW Staff
July 20, 2021 at 09:00 AM EDT
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In the third chapter of For Your Own Good, the latest thriller from best-selling author Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife), we meet Zach Ward, a junior at Belmont Academy. His parents have just returned from meeting with his English teacher, Teddy Crutcher, about the grade on Zach's paper. The meeting did not go well for Zach. Teddy doesn't like Zach because he's wealthy, entitled, and smug. But is he really all of those things? Decide for yourself in this exclusive excerpt. For Your Own Good hits shelves Tuesday.

Excerpt from For Your Own Good, by Samantha Downing

Upstairs in his room, Zach Ward works on a history paper while chatting online. A text from his father interrupts him.

Come downstairs please.

He didn't even hear his dad drive up, much less enter the house. Zach types a message to his friend Lucas.

Gotta go. I'm being summoned downstairs.

Lucas replies with an exploding-bomb emoji.

Zach heads down, reminding himself that, no matter what happens, it's better to keep his mouth shut. Except when necessary. Whatever his parents have done is already over. No need to argue about it now.

For Your Own Good
'For Your Own Good,' by Samantha Downing
| Credit: Penguin

"In here," Dad says, waving him into the living room. He's still in his work clothes, minus the suit jacket. Mom looks exactly the same as when she left this morning, minus the shoes.

Physically, Zach is a combination of both his parents. His thick hair, jawline, and dimples come from his dad. The eyes are his mom's, includ- ing the long lashes. The best of Mom and Dad. A genetic jackpot, and Zach knows it.

"Have a seat," Dad says.

Zach sits on the couch, while Mom and Dad sit in the chairs on either side of him. This makes him feel a little trapped.

"I met with your English teacher this evening," Dad says. "Your mother was stuck at work."

"Although I caught up with him afterward," she says, giving Dad a pointed look. "So we both talked to him."

"Mr. Crutcher is an interesting man," Dad says. Zach says nothing. He's not taking that bait.

"We had a very good talk about your paper. He showed me his rubric assessment, and I brought up some points he may have missed. He agreed with most of what I said." Dad pauses, letting Mom pick up the story.

"My conversation with Mr. Crutcher wasn't very long, but he did seem amenable to rethinking his position on your paper," she says. "I think he understands that even teachers can be fallible."

Crutcher admitted he was wrong? Not likely. But Zach has no doubt his parents believe it.

"All in all, I think we were able to come to an agreement on your paper," Dad says. "While he's unwilling to change your grade at this point, given that you already have the paper back, he is willing to give you an additional assignment. Extra credit, basically. That way, your grade can be raised from a B-plus to an A-minus without causing a rift with the other students."

In other words, Crutcher said no. Not surprising to Zach, given how much his English teacher hates him. It's so weird, because teachers always like him. He's never had a problem until Crutcher.

He's also never had a B—plus or otherwise.

"We think this is the best possible outcome," Mom says. "Your GPA will remain intact, all with nothing out of place happening."

Zach nods, trying not to smile at how she phrases it. They would've loved nothing more than to convince Crutcher to change the grade. They couldn't—and won't admit it.

Like Dad says: Failure can be an illusion.

That's just one of his many sayings, which he calls Ward-isms. Zach's been hearing them all his life. Most are stupid.

Both his parents are looking at him, and Zach realizes they're waiting for him to speak.

"Thank you," he says.

"You're welcome," Mom says. "You know we're always willing to help." Of course they are. Anything to keep him on track to the Ivy League. This time, however, he didn't want their help. He didn't want them talking to Crutcher, didn't want them asking to change his grade. The B-plus wasn't that big of a deal—not on a single paper. It wasn't his semester grade or anything.

No, they'd said. We can fix this.

But their idea of fixing had resulted in more work for him, not them.

And Crutcher probably hates him more than he did before.

Perfect.

"Did Mr. Crutcher say what the extra assignment is?" Zach asks.

"He did not," Dad says. "He's going to mull it over, and I assume he'll let you know directly."

"If he doesn't, let us know," Mom says. Zach nods. Sure he will.

"And let's review that assignment together before you turn it in," Dad says.

Another nod. That'll never happen.

Dad's phone buzzes. He takes it out of his pocket and nods to Mom, then walks out of the living room.

"Have you eaten?" Mom says.

It's eight o'clock at night—of course Zach has eaten. Alone, as he does most nights. "Yes," he says.

"Good." She smiles, patting Zach on the knee. "I guess that's it for now.

Keep us updated about Mr. Crutcher." "I will."

Zach walks out of the living room, passing by his father in the hall. Dad is yelling at somebody about something Zach doesn't care about. He doesn't bother eavesdropping anymore. Dad's conversations got boring a while ago.

Back upstairs, he checks online for Lucas. Gone. He looks for a couple of other people but can't find anyone, so he returns to the history paper he was writing. It's hard to concentrate, though. His mind keeps wandering to that extra assignment and how much time Crutcher will give him to get it done.

Even though it's early, fatigue sets in quickly. Between Crutcher and his parents, Zach feels like he's been batted around like a pinball in their game.

He picks up his phone and texts his friend Courtney.

My parents suck.

The reply comes a minute later: Not exactly breaking news. I wish they'd stayed out of it, Zach says.

Your teenage angst does not make you a unique snowflake.

Courtney is watching old episodes of Dawson's Creek again. She likes to do that when she's high.

Zach doesn't bother answering her. If he continued the conversation, Courtney might refer to his parents as "parental units" and Zach might throw his phone out the window.

He lies down on his bed and stares up at the modern, asymmetrical light fixture Mom chose for his room. He hates it. He also hates the fur- niture, the carpet, and the walls, which are all in varying shades of grey. Every time he walks into his room, it's like stepping into a gloomy cloud. Less than two years. Twenty-two months to be exact, and then he'll be out of Belmont, out of this house, and away at college. Doesn't even matter where at this point.

Shut up and smile.

Not one of his dad's sayings. It's a Belmont saying, one all the kids know. It's how they survive.

From FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, by Samantha Downing, published by Berkley, an imprint of The Penguin Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Samantha Downing.

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