By J. Daniels
Read by Kate Russell
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He didn’t want to be bad. He just didn’t have a choice…
Shayla Perkins isn’t the kind of girl who makes the same mistake twice, especially when it comes to Sean “Stitch” Molina. So when he gives her the world’s biggest rejection, that’s it–she’s done. Until the sexy, silent, unavailable Sean makes Shay a very personal offer. Of course, it still doesn’t mean he’s interested in her. Or does it?
Sean has done things in life. Bad things. And he’s paid the price. All he wants now is to make up for his past by doing good in the present. And no one deserves more good than Shay. Beautiful on the inside and out, Shay is the kind of woman who should be cared for and protected–especially from a man like Sean. He’s tried to keep his feelings for her in check, but a single, reckless impulse pulls them closer than ever before.
Soon the two are sharing their biggest dreams and satisfying their deepest desires. But what will happen if the only way to truly give each other what they want most…is to let each other go?
“The perfect mix of funny, hot and heartwarming. I enjoyed it immensely!” — Mia Sheridan, New York Times bestselling author, on Four Letter Word
“I need new clothes for school. Can we go to the store?”
Mom kept her eyes ahead, going back and forth between the show she was watching and the toenail she was painting as I stood beside the sofa.
She didn’t look at me. She never looked at me.
I didn’t know why I still got sad over that.
“No. I’m busy, you little shit,” she snapped, causing the cigarette stuck between her lips to bob and drop ash on the carpet.
“But school starts tomorrow.”
“My shoes are too small, and they got holes. My big toes are sticking out.”
And they hurt my feet, I didn’t say. I didn’t want to sound like a baby. She’d yell at me for that.
Mom dipped the nail brush back in the red, gloopy polish and kept painting, kept watching her show, kept refusing to look at me.
“Sew up the holes. You don’t need new shoes,” she said.
I bit my lip and turned away.
I was going to be stuck wearing the same clothes I wore last year to school. Same shoes. Same book bag. Everyone else would have new things, and they’d notice when I don’t. There’s no way they wouldn’t notice that.
Third graders notice everything.
“Can I just get a new shirt or something?” I asked.
She stopped painting then and peeled her gaze away from her show. Keeping hold of the nail brush, she pinched the cigarette between two fingers of her other hand and pulled it away from her mouth to bark, “I ain’t made of money! You want new clothes, go out and get a damn job. It’s about time you started pitching in around here anyway, since you don’t do fuck-all else. What the fuck are you good for? Huh? Nothing! Just taking up space.”
“I can’t get a job. I’m only eight,” I told her.
I didn’t think other moms needed to be reminded how old their kids were. But I was constantly having to do it.
She waved me off with her hand holding the cigarette, ash dropping onto the sofa in the process. “Not my problem. Now, go do something before I get mad and smack the shit outta you. You’re making me miss my show.”
Tears stinging my eyes, I turned and left the room.
I knew asking for anything was a long shot, but it didn’t stop me from asking. It never did.
I wanted nice things. Newer things. I wanted what other kids had.
I wanted a different life. I hated this one. I hated everything about it.
I walked past Mom’s bedroom and saw the guy she’d brought home last night passed out on the floor. I didn’t know his name. I never knew any of their names. They never spoke to me. And I stayed clear of them.
I learned that lesson when the one pushed me into the wall so hard, I threw up and had a headache for days.
I hated throwing up, but I just couldn’t help it sometimes.
I stopped in the doorway and looked at the guy. He was hunched over, his back against the bed and his head hanging down. A needle stuck out of his arm.
Mom said she wasn’t made of money, but she always had enough for those needles with the stuff in them that made everyone so sleepy. I found those needles all over the place.
The guy’s wallet was open on the bed next to trash and empty bottles. I walked over to it, keeping my steps light so I wouldn’t wake him up, and flipped open the soft leather.
There were three one-dollar bills inside.
I thought about what my teacher had said about taking stuff that wasn’t yours, but then I thought about how much my shoes hurt my feet, so I took the money, tossed the wallet where I’d found it, and ran.
I shut the door to my room and moved quickly to the dresser. I kept my money hidden there—cash I found lying around the house.
My hand curled around the crinkled bills tucked behind my socks. I added them up with the money from the wallet. Total, I had eight dollars.
Maybe that would be enough for shoes and a new shirt. I could just wipe off my pants real good. Kids might not notice how old they were if I did that.
This plan felt like a good one. I actually smiled a little, and I never did that. Not here.
Keeping quiet, I snuck out the window instead of using the front door, worried I’d get caught, and ran as fast as I could down the street.
The closest store was a Payless Shoes. I walked inside and looked at what they had, picking out my favorite pair. They were all black with red stripes. I thought they looked so cool.
I took them up to the front where the woman was standing behind a tall counter, slid my box up beside the register, and dug my money out of my pocket. I flattened out the bills and handed them over.
The woman looked at the money, then at the shoes, and then back down at me. She was wearing a strange look, like she was a little sad about something. I didn’t understand why.
I was buying new shoes. That wasn’t sad.
“Um, this isn’t enough money, sweetheart,” she said, placing the bills down on the counter and sliding them closer to me.
I looked at the money and then back up at her. “What?”
“These shoes cost fifteen dollars. You only have eight.”
I frowned. “But I don’t have any more money,” I said.
She was frowning now too. “I’m sorry. You’ll just have to wait until you have enough.”
The phone behind her started ringing. She turned away to answer it. I looked at the money again and at the shoes I wanted.
No. Not wanted. Needed.
I needed those shoes. My feet hurt so bad from that run.
Again, I thought about what my teacher always said. Stealing was bad, but she was talking about people who took stuff when they had other choices, and I didn’t have other choices. My toes were bleeding now through my socks. I could feel it.
I wiped harshly at my face when I felt tears, and then, making sure no one was watching me, I did it.
I grabbed my money and the box of shoes, and I ran until I couldn’t anymore, because it hurt too bad.
Hiding behind a car, I pulled off my old shoes and put on my new ones. They fit so good. They didn’t hurt me at all. I thought I’d feel bad for taking them, but I didn’t. I needed these shoes.
The run home felt so much better.
Mom never noticed me, so I never got into trouble. But I would get into trouble eventually.
My teacher said stealing was wrong, but sometimes people needed to do things that were wrong, because they didn’t have another choice.
I was nothing to nobody.
I never had another choice.
I wanted to tell her no. I wanted to lie to Gladys or Dorothy, whatever this sweet old lady’s name was seated in my section, and say we were fresh out of ranch dressing, and the little cup of it that came with her large garden salad was the last drop. If I didn’t and obliged her request, it would mean walking back over to the kitchen window I avoided like the plague and speaking to him—Sean “Stitch” Molina. The keeper of the dressings. The cook at Whitecaps Restaurant. He hoarded the ranch back there, and the only way to get more of it was with words.
And we didn’t do words anymore. Not as of eight months ago.
So, instead of doing my job as a waitress, I contemplated the dishonest route, which could very well get me fired.
Was I willing to roll those dice? Maybe. It might be worth a shot. My boss, Nate, could overlook my wrongdoing. He was understanding enough.
We’re fresh out of ranch, I could tell the lady. And all other dressings, for that matter. I am so sorry. Could I maybe get you another refill? Or something else not located in the kitchen?
I thought on this plan—it could work. Maybe she would believe me. Or maybe she would rethink her request and decide she no longer needed more dressing.
Help a fellow woman out here, Millie. Christ.
“I just need a little bit more,” the lady requested with a gentle smile. “Would you be a dear? I won’t trouble you for anything else, I promise.”
“Of course,” I replied, the response compulsively leaving my tongue. I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t lie. I’d feel terrible.
Besides, this was my job. If someone requested more ranch dressing, I got them more ranch dressing, even if it meant speaking to the man I was completely and pathetically infatuated with, no matter how badly it hurt me to do so.
I gave the lady a smile in return before moving away.
My steps were slow as I weaved between tables and headed toward the kitchen. I tried to keep my head down, to focus on the tile floor disappearing beneath my feet, but I couldn’t.
I had to look.
Who was I kidding? I wanted to look.
As I approached, Tori was leaning close to the window that separated Sean’s domain from everyone else’s. She slid two plates of food off the ledge, commenting, “Looks good. Thanks, Stitch,” before walking off to deliver her orders, winking at me as she passed.
Sean only went by Stitch when he was here, I was assuming. I wouldn’t know for sure since I’d never spent any time with him outside of work. It was a nickname Tori and I had given him when he’d cut himself a bunch of times during his first week on the job, and he didn’t seem to mind being called that.
Back then, he didn’t seem to mind a lot of things, like listening to me talk and talk about anything and everything, putting my problems on him in between waiting tables, my stresses, my fears, needing a person to vent to and him being the only person I wanted to vent to because of the way he listened and looked at me.
No one had ever seemed so interested in what I had to say before.
Like what I was saying meant everything to them. Like it was a privilege just to listen.
And no one had ever looked at me the way Sean did—glances that only ever lasted a few seconds at a time, but those few seconds of eye contact—holy crap. I thought my skin was going to combust it would tingle and heat up so quickly. The man had a stare unlike any stare. Equal parts intense and intimidating. But his eyes, sweet mother of God, his eyes were unreal, this rich, golden copper color. And when they were on you, you didn’t just see that beauty—you felt it.
It was a two-punch combo that turned me into a puddle. No man had ever affected me that way before.
And that effect wasn’t going away. I was still feeling it.
Even now with us not speaking to each other, or rather, with me not speaking and him not listening, I still couldn’t get Sean out of my head. I missed what we used to have, yes, but it was more than that. It was so much more.
A man I barely knew, who seldom spoke, and who had never showed interest in me in that way had somehow taken hold of my heart and twisted it all up. I didn’t understand how it had happened, I just knew it happened.
I reached the counter silently, which was a miracle considering how loud my heart sounded in my ears. Keeping my breathing quiet, I looked through that window and peered into the kitchen.
Sean had his back to me as he flipped burgers and stirred something in a pot. I allowed my eyes to travel the length of him, something I hardly ever let myself do anymore. We shared quick glances now, that was it.
Sean was well over six feet tall—way taller than me. His back was broad. His hair was long, a beautiful caramel color, and almost always pulled back; his arms were covered in tattoos and roped in muscle; and he had a thick, short beard that hid what I just knew was a strong jaw.
Sean was beautiful. And he was intimidating. Not just how he looked, but how he acted too.
He smoked. He drove a motorcycle. He never smiled. He rarely said a word. Everything about Sean said leave me alone, but eight months ago I couldn’t.
And eight months ago, I didn’t think he wanted me to.
I thought that was why he looked at me the way he did and listened so well. I wasn’t even nervous when I finally asked him out after hearing about a local party. I was excited.
I wanted Sean. I wanted to kiss him and touch him and God, hear his voice more. I had gotten so little of it. I wanted to do everything with him. And I thought we would. I thought we’d go to that party together as friends and leave as something more.
But Sean wasn’t interested in the more I’d been after. He wasn’t interested in me at all.
Now, that was perfectly clear.
Sensing me, or maybe he was finished minding the burgers and whatever he was stirring in the pot—I didn’t know for sure, since I was still letting my eyes wander—Sean spun around and stepped forward, snapping my gaze off his body in a panic. Our eyes met.
His narrowed angrily, like I’d pissed him off and he hated me for it, and further hated me for catching him pissed off about it.
I didn’t understand that look, but no way was I asking about it. I was doing what I came over here to do, and then, hopefully, staying far away from this window the rest of the day.
Maybe I could convince Tori to put in my orders.
“My lady needs more ranch,” I informed Sean, swallowing thickly when my voice came out sounding stressed and distorted. “Could I get a little more for her?”
Sean’s gaze lowered to my mouth like he was waiting for more words, which didn’t make sense to me, until I considered the one word I left off he was most likely waiting for.
“Please?” I added.
His eyes lifted to mine and stayed narrowed. His nostrils flared. His jaw set.
I almost apologized for being polite and for not lying to that woman about our condiment supply. Things were so awkward now, I couldn’t stand it. I missed how easy this used to be.
Memories flooded my mind in an onslaught as I stood there waiting, and my back stiffened. I pictured Sean watching me with care and concern. I remembered the smiles behind his beard I used to catch, and the way his eyes would follow me through the restaurant and brighten when I would wave. We were friends. I wanted to scream at him for ruining that. I wanted to scream at myself for still caring. What was wrong with me? He had completely shut me out. We were nothing now. We were this.
But with a quick hand, Sean snatched a dressing cup off the shelf and ladled some ranch into it before I spoke another word. He sat the cup on the ledge, removing his hand before our fingers touched, and briskly turned back to the grill without giving me another glance.
“Thank you,” I mumbled at his back, turning before I lingered another second.
He shut me out. I needed to do the same to him.
I delivered the cup of ranch to the sweet old lady, picked up a check for a table who didn’t wait for change, and took care of their tab at the register. Then because I didn’t have any other tables needing anything from me at the moment, I moved to a vacant booth far away from that window and busied myself filling ketchup bottles.
The next time anyone needed extra dressing, I’d send Tori.
Three Days Later
I am getting one of everything.
Twisting the dial on the radio, I quieted the music I was listening to when the truck ahead of me pulled forward, allowing room for my Civic to squeeze up next to the speaker.
Mouth already salivating, I rolled my window down.
“Welcome to Taco Bell. Can I take your order?”
My stomach growled as I surveyed my choices.
I eyed the fiesta taco salad. The quesarito. The never-ending list of combos and the specialty options. Everything intrigued my taste buds.
I stuck my head out the window and directed my order at the speaker. “Can I have a number six, please? Chicken supreme with a soft taco? And a Mountain Dew.”
“That’ll be six fifty-seven at the second window, please.”
I couldn’t pull forward yet, so I kept my foot on the brake, and just as I was about to roll up my window to keep the cool March air from filling up my car any more, a song I knew and loved began playing low through the speakers.
I had no idea what the name of the song was or who sang it, but I knew every single word. And this was not a song you didn’t crank up and sing along to with your windows down.
Fingers twisting the dial until music poured out of my car, I started moving my hips in time with the beat and smacking the steering wheel, eyes closing and fingers snapping as the lyrics left my mouth.
“Oh oh oh oh oh oh,
You don't have to go, oh oh oh oh oh
You don't have to go, oh oh oh oh oh
You don't have to gooo.”
The drum kicked up. I shook my head and felt pieces of my short, dark hair lash against my cheeks.
The girl giggled through the speaker.
Smiling and not feeling one bit of shy about the audience I was entertaining, I leaned halfway out the window and sang to her as loud as I could, reaching and pointing like she was front row at my concert.
“Ay ay ay ay ay ay
All those tears I cry, ay ay ay ay
All those tears I cry, oh oh ah ay
Baby, please don't goooo.”
She laughed harder this time, whooping and cheering me on.
“How’s that?” I asked. “Think I got a career in singing if all my other options fall through?”
“You bet!” the girl yelled. “That was sick!”
Giggling at myself, I sat back in the seat and turned the volume down halfway, noticing through the windshield the space between the truck in front of me and the car in front of it.
My eyes narrowed. I beeped twice. I was starving, and this was not the time to be messing around. What was this person doing?
The truck jerked forward, gears grinding over the music, loud enough I actually cringed. It was an old, beat-up Chevy, covered in dirt and rusted all along the back, with most of the paint chipped off and the muffler barely hanging on by a thread. The well loved and very well used vehicle was probably on its last leg, as was the worn smiley-face sticker half peeled from the bumper, leaving only one eye and half a mouth showing.
That thing had definitely seen better days.
Staring at all that rust, I had a moment of panic when I imagined the truck dying on its owner and blocking my path. Come hell or high water, I’d get my chalupas. Though I really didn’t feel like stepping out of my car and walking inside where the lunch rush sat. I was wearing sweats covered in bleach stains, a baggy sweatshirt, zero makeup, and not a lick of dry shampoo. No way was I presentable for the public yet.
This was why God invented drive-throughs and curbside service—so women like me could sleep in on their days off and rush out the door when a hankering hit without even bothering to glance at themselves in a mirror.
But when the truck made it up to the window to pay without a hitch or stall, most of that panic left me.
And when the driver pulled away after collecting their order and turned out onto highway, all of that panic left me.
I rubbed my hands together. Come to Momma.
“Hello!” I greeted the young girl with a smile and a wave, feeling like we had one of those lifelong friendship connections since I’d just serenaded her.
Grabbing my bag off the floor in front of the passenger seat, I dug around for my wallet.
“No need for that!” she said, turning my head and pausing my search. “That guy just totally paid for you. God…I love it when that happens. It doesn’t happen enough. It’s such a treat!”
I sat up and looked at her more fully. “What? What guy?”
“The guy in the truck.”
Nobody had ever done that for me before, and I used drive-throughs a lot. Well, shit on my head. My first random act of kindness, and I had rushed the poor thing along.
I suddenly felt bad for beeping.
“Yep,” the girl said, smacking her gloss-covered lips. “He asked me how much your order was and gave me enough to cover you both. And he wasn’t bad looking either.”
I leaned closer to the window, my interest in this mystery man spiking off the charts. “Yeah?”
“Oh, yeah. He had that dark, smoldering look about him. Real sexy.”
“Did he say anything? Leave his number on a napkin or something?”
“No.” She shrugged. “Just paid for you and left. He acted in a rush.” The girl turned to pack up my order.
If he was interested, he would’ve gone beyond just paying for my food. I would think he would’ve at least waited before speeding out of here—at least pulled over and given me opportunity to thank him.
Maybe he was just doing a good deed?
Letting myself think on that, I smiled and took my drink. “I’d like to pay it forward. How much is the person’s order behind me? I’ll take care of them,” I said while blindly digging my wallet out of my bag.
“Really?” The girl clapped her hands together and squealed. “This is awesome! And they say there’s no good people left in the world.”
I laughed and made a face like I was agreeing with her, though I really didn’t. I knew a lot of good people. Dogwood Beach was full of them.
And I was blessed to have a lot of those people in my tribe, supporting me, giving me friendship and love, and others, not necessarily in my tribe, but around me enough I got to see their good.
Still, I understood this girl’s excitement. It wasn’t every day a complete stranger did something out of sheer generosity. And selfless to boot. Who didn’t stick around to take credit when credit was due? That was practically unheard of.
It’s funny how a simple gesture can affect you. But kindness was powerful that way. It not only had the ability to alter moods, but it was also infectious. People wanted to spread that good around once they got it put on themselves.
Hell, I was doing it. Maybe the person behind me would do it too, and so on. We could all pay it forward.
Smiling, I thought about that mystery man in the beat-up truck, wondering if he knew just how inspiring he was. How good he was. I hoped someone was telling him.
After safely securing my bag of deliciousness in the front seat, I got the total of the order from the car behind me, paid, got my change, cranked up my stereo again, and sped off, leaving my window cracked so I could serenade Highway 355.
Even though I lived in a beach town, my two-bedroom, one-bath apartment wasn’t even within walking distance of the beach. But just being within a half-hour drive of the ocean made me happy. And I swear, you could still smell the sand and saltwater from the parking lot surrounding Pebble Dune Apartments.
When the wind picked up…
Bottom line, it worked for me.
It was old; the building and the apartments themselves could use a remodel, new plumbing, and some fresh carpet. It was tiny—the bedrooms, the kitchen/living room/entryway, which combined, could fit inside my parents’ two-car garage. But I truly loved it.
It had promise. It held history. And most of all, it had the spare bedroom I needed to kick-start my career.
Hair styling was my passion, and for the past three years, I’d been living that passion and loving every second of it.
Until three months ago, I’d been a stylist and color specialist at an upscale boutique in Dogwood. The atmosphere was sleek and edgy. The other stylists were pleasant. I got along great with my boss. All in all, it was an amazing learning experience for me, but it wasn’t mine
- "If you're a fan of tortured bad boy heroes with hearts of gold who fall head over heels for their one true love, then you are going to absolutely adore this book!!! I read this book in one sitting and loved the story, loved the writing, and loved the romance. This is definitely a new favorite!"—Aestas Book Blog on Bad For You
- "Bad For You is a distinctive blend of passionate romance, heartrending story and hopeful message, and it left me a satisfied mess with a big smile on my face. ...A beautiful romance that is a testament to acceptance, love and second chances."—USA Today, Happy Ever After
- "Love! That's the four letter word to describe how I felt about this unique, sexy story. J. Daniels' hottest book to date."—Penelope Ward, New York Times bestselling author on Four Letter Word
- "An emotionally intense journey with the perfect balance of funny and steamy. You'll swoon over Brian and fall in LOVE with Four Letter Word."—Helena Hunting, New York Times bestselling author
- "Consider yourself warned: Four Letter Word will grab you from page one and won't let you go! It was deliciously sexy, and achingly beautiful. Completely and utterly brilliant, I loved every word!"—Tara Sue Me, New York Times bestselling author
- "Sweet and seductive. This is the type of book that steals your entire night. Get ready for Trouble."—R.S. Grey, USA Today bestselling author on Four Letter Word
- "Bad For You is chock full of soul and feels upon feels. ...emotional, inspiring, and heartwarming-not to mention fun and sexy. Winning!"—Reading Frenzy Book Blog
- "Absolutely breathtaking and heart-wrenching - my heart nearly couldn't handle all the feels that were being dished out. I freaking adored Shayla and Stitch - these two are my new favorite couple."—Booklovers For Life
- "Bad For You put me into an emotional wringer. It broke me but healed and pieced me back together beautifully. Such a beautiful story that did not just stir my emotions but pulled my heart strings one by one. ...Bad For You is a must read. It's equal parts humor, heat and heart. It's brilliantly executed and awesomely delivered. Kudos J.Daniels!"—Chatterbox Book Blog
- "Buckle up and get ready to read one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching, yet beautifully scripted romances of 2018."—Enamoured Reads
- "Hello, book hangover."—The Bookish Sweet Tooth
- "This was such an enjoyable read. This book has the perfect mix of sexy and sweet."—Steamy Reads Blog
- "Bad For You was addicting in the best way possible."—Red Cheeks Reads
- On Sale
- Jan 23, 2018
- Hachette Audio