Can a future be built from pieces of a broken past?
Jordan Barnett is dead, killed as much by the rejection of his first love at his moment of greatest need as by his ultraconservative parents’ effort to deprogram the gay away.
In his place is Silver, a streetwise survivor who’s spent the last three years becoming untouchable… except to those willing to pay for the privilege. He’s determined not to let betrayal find him again, and that means never forging bonds that can be broken.
No matter how hard he tried, Zebadiah Harris couldn’t outrun his guilt over abandoning his young lover—not even by leaving the country. Now, almost the moment he sets foot back in Baltimore, he discovers Silver on a street corner in a bad part of town. His effort to make amends lands them both in jail, where Silver plans a seductive form of vengeance. But using a heart as a stepping-stone is no way to move past the one man he can’t forgive, let alone forget….
OS: Welcome to KA Mitchell!
Hi. Thanks so much for letting me stop by to talk about Bad Influence. Let me tell you one thing, Zeb and Silver have history. I hinted at it in Bad Attitude when Silver flees his own birthday party to avoid Zeb. Now, in the first chapter, a simple meeting on the street leads to them both getting arrested. Talk about issues. I had to get them in handcuffs so they’d have to talk to each other! Fortunately, the rest of the characters in the Bad in Baltimore series are around to make sure things turn out okay.
For a little taste of how not okay things are at the beginning of the story, check out this excerpt.
As soon as they were off the phones, the guards put Silver and Zeb into one of the bigger holding cells. There were more benches in this one. Silver could only manage a halfhearted warning glare when Zeb followed him to the bench farthest from the toilet. Zeb might have been the cause of every miserable thing that had happened tonight, but at least he didn’t reek like some of the guys in the other cell.
Silver had always managed to do what he had to to survive. Tolerating Zeb’s ridiculous idea that he was somehow saving them both with his presence was cake compared to breathing the air around that meth addict or the puking drunk.
“Are you ever going to say anything, Jordan?”
Silver tried to put one foot up onto the bench to rest his head on a bent knee, but the chains wouldn’t let him. He braced his feet against the cement floor and stared at the crack between them. “Like what?”
“Like what happened. I don’t mean tonight. How—I mean—what were you doing with those—?”
“Hustlers? Streetwalkers? Prostitutes?” Silver looked over to see Zeb flinch at the words. “Maybe I was doing the Lord’s work. Spreading the gospel to Christ’s favorite professionals.”
Zeb glanced away.
“What do you think I was doing?” Silver prodded. “Exactly what do you think happens to gay kids who have no place else to go?”
Zeb’s cheeks turned patchy red. “Your parents didn’t turn you out.”
“No. They sent me away. Someplace much worse.”
“I’d heard it was a camp.”
“Camps are supposed to have tents and marshmallows and swimming. Not cinder block cells with bars on the windows and forced labor.” Not to mention the Reflection Room. But Silver wouldn’t. Because now wasn’t the time to let that memory in.
Zeb reared back, like Silver’s spat-out description was something he could escape from. Good.
Silver hadn’t planned to answer Zeb, wanted Zeb to know what it was like to be shut out in the cold, alone, with no explanations. But that wasn’t enough. Anger burned up Silver’s spine. He wanted to slam all that pain and fear into Zeb.
Silver turned toward Zeb as much as the shackles would let him. “You want to know what you were telling me to go back to when you sent me off that night? Did you think conversion camp would fix me too?” Trapped in the dark, no sense of time, no sound but his own shaky breathing, waiting for them to switch on that light. Craving that moment when he knew they were watching him. For his moment to read his Bible verse and tell them he had learned his lesson.
“Conversion?” Zeb’s brow furrowed.
“Yes, to convert me straight. What the fuck do you think they sent me to? Bible camp to put on an all-new production of Joseph?”
“I’d heard”—Zeb placed a lot of emphasis on that word, like it excused him somehow—“that it was a place for teenagers who had made bad choices, to keep them safe.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.” Silver watched Zeb’s wince with satisfaction. “A bad choice? Is that all it was? You and me, fucking for over a year? Just a bad choice?”
“You lied to me from the day we met.” Zeb had some of his cool back now, the self-righteous idiocy Silver had always been able to chase away, first with a joke, then with his hands and mouth. “I wouldn’t call that good.”
Silver would use a different tactic to throw Zeb off his game now. “You know how fast everything happened when Tina opened her big fucking mouth about you being my boyfriend? Normally my parents might have kept me under house arrest for a bit, but a spot opened at Path to Glory. Guess how? Kid killed himself. In the dorm room they put me in. Killed himself because of how much fucking fun he was having at the camp to keep him safe from making bad choices.”
Silver drank in the emotions so plain on Zeb’s face. Shock and then sweet, sweet anger.
“Yeah, from the first day I was there, I slept in a dead kid’s bed. The other kids weren’t supposed to talk to me because I was on entry-level, but they let me know just the same. Told me how he’d taped plastic over his head and hands. I swore I could still smell puke and shit in that room every night.”
Lines tightened around Zeb’s mouth. Silver didn’t remember them being there before, but he liked being the cause of the emotion that made them surface.
He rammed another point home. “Some of the kids were addicts, but most of us were there because our breeders didn’t like what we were doing. Having sex. With the wrong people or wrong gender. Couple kids bought into it, really thought Path to Glory would fix them. Make them straight.”
“Did they have counselors or—?”
“Fuck, didn’t you read that letter I smuggled out?”
Zeb shook his head. “If you sent something to me, I didn’t get it.”
“If, right. Because everything Jordan says is a lie. Does thinking that make it easier? Especially knowing what you told me to go back to?”
Score one for Silver. A shot right to the nuts, because Zeb dropped his gaze and glanced away. Silver had never managed to make Zeb flinch before, always those changeable hazel eyes stayed focused and earnest on Silver’s face, like everything he said mattered. The flash of triumph didn’t do anything to clear the ache in muscles held tight enough to snap. He pushed harder.
“Would you have bothered to read it if you had?”
That backfired. Zeb looked back at him, all emotion smoothed away, covered with a calm Silver knew was fake. He knew everything about Zeb, had studied every expression, shared his body and his breath until they were living in each other’s skin, they felt so close. If they were ranking lies, Zeb’s was bigger. Because you don’t love someone like that and then walk away because of some stupid rule.
K.A. Mitchell discovered the magic of writing at an early age when she learned that a carefully crayoned note of apology sent to the kitchen in a toy truck would earn her a reprieve from banishment to her room. Her career as a spin-control artist was cut short when her family moved to a two-story house and her trucks would not roll safely down the stairs. Around the same time, she decided that Ken and G.I. Joe made a much cuter couple than Ken and Barbie and was perplexed when invitations to play Barbie dropped off. She never stopped making stuff up, though, and was thrilled to find out that people would pay her to do it. Although the men in her stories usually carry more emotional baggage than even LAX can lose in a year, she guarantees they always find their sexy way to a happy ending.
K.A. loves to hear from her readers. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is often found talking about her imaginary friends on Twitter @ka_mitchell.