* * *
Thank you for downloading this eBook.
Find out about free book giveaways, exclusive content, and amazing sweepstakes! Plus get updates on your favorite books, authors, and more when you join the Simon & Schuster Teen mailing list.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE
or visit us online to sign up at
* * *
To every reader out there who wanted me to write a “bad girl” heroine. This one is for you.
I should’ve known better. But I was an idiot. All it had ever taken from Hank was one pitiful bat of his eyelashes and a pout, and I came running. Well, not anymore. I’d forgiven him for becoming someone’s baby daddy. But there was only so much a girl could forgive.
Hank Granger had just screwed me over for the last time. I wasn’t one to be a doormat. My momma had taught me better than that. It was time I stopped letting our history play on my emotions. He was nothing close to being a real man. The boy I’d grown up loving had become a low-down good-for-nothing. He’d never settle down, and I was done letting him trample all over my heart.
He thought parking his pimped-out truck behind the bar was smart. The boy should know better than to think I wouldn’t know where to look. Jackass. I’d found him, all right. We were supposed to have gone out tonight. He had promised me dinner. A real date. But then he’d called two hours ago and canceled, saying he wasn’t feeling good. Being the dutiful girlfriend, I’d decided to make him some soup and take it over to him. Big surprise that he wasn’t there. Not really. I think deep down I’d known he was lying.
I stepped out of the trees I’d walked through for over a mile, and into the darkness of the back of the local bar, Live Bay. I didn’t want my truck to be seen here tonight, and it would be easier to run on foot into the darkness if I needed to make a fast getaway.
I gripped the baseball bat I’d borrowed from my cousin Rock two weeks ago when I’d had to go pick Momma up from work because her car wouldn’t start. Three in the morning outside a strip club wasn’t exactly safe. Momma kept a gun, but I didn’t have a clue how to use it. When I had asked her to teach me, she’d laughed and said that I’d end up shooting Hank’s balls off one night in a fit of rage and refused. Not because she cared for Hank, but because she didn’t want me in jail.
Feeling the weight of the bat in my hands, I smiled. This bad boy would do some serious damage. Then there was the knife in my pocket. The paint job was also going to hell, and if I had time, all four tires were going down.
As I walked around the truck that Hank had pampered and treated like a damn baby for the past four years, a sense of power ran through me. He’d hurt me over and over again. This time I was going to hurt him. Me. Not Rock. Me.
I checked the dark area around me and made sure no one was out here. The busting of the glass was going to make some noise. I wasn’t sure how much I could get away with before someone caught me. Hopefully, the local band, Jackdown, would keep everyone inside entertained enough that no one would leave anytime soon.
Biting back the roar of victory I could feel pumping through my veins, I held the bat back as I shifted my feet and focused on his driver’s side door window. It was going to be the first to go. With all the anger and pain that had consumed me since the first moment I’d found out the boy I’d loved since I was ten years old had been sleeping around on me, I swung the bat. The ski mask I was wearing protected my face. The laughter bubbling up in my chest burst free, and I continued to shatter every window on his pretty little truck.
High on revenge, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my knife and flipped it open. I decided to write a few choice words in the paint job with my sharp blade, then bent down to jam it into the front tire.
“Hey!” a deep voice called out, and I froze. It wasn’t Hank, but it was someone.
I picked my bat back up and pulled the knife out of the tire before breaking into a sprint back into the woods. He’d never catch me, but I still needed to get this stupid mask off so I could see. Running into a tree and knocking myself out wasn’t exactly a great getaway plan.
The sound of feet hitting the pavement let me know I was being chased. Well, shit. Not what I needed. I was having so much fun. Hank deserved that. He did. He was a rat bastard. I did not want to go to jail over this. Plus my momma would be pissed.
“Hey!” the deep voice called out again. What did he expect me to do? Stop and let him catch me? Not likely.
Other voices came from the distance. Great. He was drawing a crowd. I turned off the path I’d followed earlier and headed deeper into the woods. I wouldn’t have this cover for long. I’d be coming out onto a back road in a few more feet. I couldn’t get my truck because it was outside my momma’s house. I needed everyone to think that was where I was. I’d have to stay on foot and beat anyone there. Dang it.
I couldn’t hear the sound of anyone else’s feet hitting the ground, so either I’d lost them or they were talented in the art of stealth. Breaking out of the wooded area, I stopped on the side of the road. It was deserted.
Glancing back, I saw no one. Hank would know who to come looking for, but he would have no proof. Smiling, I took a deep breath. That would be the end of us. Finally. After what I’d done, Hank would never forgive me, so I wouldn’t be tempted to go running back to him. He’d hate me now as much as I hated him.
“JESS!” Hank’s familiar voice roared. Spinning around, I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him running through the woods behind me. Shit. Shit. Shit. He’d come after me. How’d he find out so fast? Panicking, I looked around to see where I could run to hide from him. There was nothing but miles and miles of road. No houses, nothing.
Headlights came around the corner, and I did the only thing I could think of: I ran out into the middle of the road and started waving my arms in the air, still holding on to Rock’s bat.
The car started slowing down and cut the bright lights. Thank God.
Wait . . . was that a Porsche? What the hell?
All I could see was a girl dressed in tight black clothing with lots of long blond hair, and she was standing in the middle of the road . . . holding a baseball bat. Only in Alabama did stuff like this happen. Stopping before I hit her, I watched as she ran over to the passenger-side door and knocked. The wild, panicked look in her eyes might have been disturbing if they weren’t a bright, clear blue with thick black lashes. I pressed the unlock button, and she jerked the door open and climbed inside.
“Go! Go! Go!” she demanded. She didn’t even look my way. Her eyes were focused on something outside. I turned my attention to the side of the road, where she was watching with such intensity. There was nothing. . . . Then a guy came bursting out of the woods with an angry snarl on his face and I understood. No wonder she was terrified. The guy was huge and looked ready to murder someone.
I shifted gears and took off before he got any closer.
“Oh my god, thank you. That was so close.” She let out a sigh of relief and leaned her head on the headrest.
“Should I take you to the police station?” I asked, glancing over at her. Had he attacked her before she’d gotten free?
“Definitely not. They’ll probably be looking for me in about ten minutes. I need you to take me home. Momma will cover for me, but I gotta get there quick.”
They’d be looking for her? Her mom would cover for her? What?
“It ain’t like he’s got any proof. The only thing I dropped was the ski mask, and it was a cheapo I bought at the Goodwill a couple of Halloweens ago. Not something he can trace back to me.”
I slowed the Porsche down as her words started sinking in. I hadn’t ju
st saved a girl from being attacked. If I understood this babbling correctly, I had just become the getaway car driver.
“Why’re you slowing down? I need to get to my momma, like, now. She’s just two miles from here. You go up to County Road Thirty-Four and turn right, and then you take it about three-fourths of a mile to Orange Street and take a left. It’s the third house on the right.”
Shaking my head, I pulled over to the side of the road. “I’m not going any farther until you tell me exactly what it is I’m helping you escape from.” I glanced down at her baseball bat tucked between her legs, then up at her face. Even in the darkness I could tell she was one of those ridiculously gorgeous southern blondes. It was like the South had some special ingredient to raise them like that down here.
She let out a frustrated sigh and blinked rapidly, causing tears to fill her eyes. She was good. Real good. Those pretty tears were almost believable.
“It’s a really long story. By the time I explain everything, we’ll have been caught and I’ll be spending the night in jail. Please, please, please just take me to my house. We’re so close,” she pleaded. Yeah, she was a major looker. Too bad she was also bad news.
“Tell me one thing: Why do you have a baseball bat?” I needed something. If she’d knocked someone unconscious back there, then I couldn’t help her get away. They could be injured or dead.
She ran her hand through her hair and grumbled. “Okay, okay, fine. But understand that he deserved it.”
Shit. She had knocked someone out.
“I smashed all the windows in my ex-boyfriend’s truck.”
“You did what?” I couldn’t have heard her correctly. That did not happen in real life. Country songs, yes. Real life, no way.
“He’s a cheating bastard. He deserved it. He hurt me, so I hurt him. Now please believe me and get me out of here.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. This was the funniest damn thing I’d ever heard.
“Why’re you laughing?” she asked.
I shook my head and pulled back onto the road. “Because that’s not what I was expecting to hear.”
“What did you expect me to say? I’m carrying a bat.”
Glancing over at her. I grinned. “I thought you’d taken someone out with the bat.”
Her eyes went wide, and then she laughed. “I wouldn’t have knocked someone out with a bat! That’s crazy.”
I wanted to point out that smashing your ex-boyfriend’s truck windows and then running through the woods in escape at night was crazy. But I didn’t. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t agree.
“Right here, turn right.” She pointed up ahead of us. I didn’t bother putting on my blinker since no one was around us. “So, what’s your name? You look familiar for some reason, but no one I know around here drives a Porsche.”
Did I tell her who I was? I liked the privacy that Sea Breeze, Alabama, afforded me. I had a lot to think about over the next month, and making friends with the locals wasn’t on my agenda. Even if she was smoking hot.
“I’m not from around here. Just visiting,” I explained. That was the truth. I was here staying at my brother’s beach house while deciding on my next move.
“But I’ve seen you before. I know I have,” she said, tilting her head and studying me.
She’d figure it out soon enough. My brother was Jax Stone. He had become a teen rock star, but now that he was twenty-two he was a rock god. We looked similar. And the media loved to follow me around when they couldn’t get to Jax. While I loved my brother, I hated getting the attention. Everyone saw me as an extension of Jax. No one, not even my parents, cared about who I was as a person. They all wanted me to be who they expected.
“This is a Porsche, isn’t it? I’ve never seen one in real life.”
It was also one of my brother’s toys. I didn’t have a car here, so I just used the five he had in his garage. The house in Sea Breeze was where our parents used to make us spend our summers while Jax was juggling fame at a young age. But Jax was no longer a teenager and the house was his now. He’d turned twenty-two last month. And I’d turned twenty the month before that.
“Yes, it is a Porsche,” I replied.
“Turn here.” She pointed again toward the road ahead of us. I took the left and then came to the third house on the left. “This is it. Thank God no one is here yet. I gotta go. You need to get out of here so no one comes questioning you. But thank you so much.”
She opened the door and then glanced back at me one last time. “I’m Jess, by the way, and tonight you saved my ass.” She winked and closed the door before running off toward her front door. Her ass in those tight black jeans was worth saving. It was the nicest ass I’d ever seen.
I shifted the car into reverse and pulled back out onto the road. It was time I headed back to the private island where my brother’s house was. This night hadn’t turned out quite like I’d planned, but it’d been pretty damn entertaining.
The sound of something sliding across the seat and hitting the door startled me, and I glanced over to see the baseball bat. She’d forgotten it. I looked back at her house and smiled to myself. I’d be sure she got it back. Not tonight, but soon.
I let the screen door slam behind me before I thought about it, then turned to lock it. Just in case Hank decided to take the law into his own hands. Not that I thought he was that stupid. He knew better than to screw with my momma.
“That you, Jess?” Momma called from the kitchen.
I might as well go tell her what I’d done. If the cops showed up, she needed to have her game face on. “Yeah, it’s me, and we might have some trouble,” I replied, walking through the small living room and toward into the kitchen. The five-room house I’d grown up in was cinderblock and nothing special, but the rent was affordable. No man had to help us get the bills paid. Momma had always taken care of things.
“What the hell have you done now?” Momma asked as I stepped into the kitchen. She was standing at the coffeepot with a cigarette between her red lips. Her favorite hot-pink satin robe was all she had on. She must have been getting ready for work and decided to stop and make some coffee.
I pulled out one of our vinyl-covered kitchen chairs and sat down. “I beat the shit out of Hank’s truck.”
Momma pulled the cigarette from her lips. “You did what?” she asked.
“He was at Live Bay with that whore he’s messing around with. He lied to me again. I’m done with him, and I wanted to make him hurt.”
Momma got rid of her ashes in the sink and, shaking her head, reached for a coffee cup. Her long blond hair was still pretty, but the face that had once been strikingly beautiful now showed hard lines from life. I was sure her smoking didn’t help things either. “Shit, girl. I need to go to work in an hour. What if the cops show up?”
I hadn’t thought of that. No alibi. I shrugged. “If they’re coming, maybe they’ll come before you leave.”
Momma took her coffee black and walked over to sit down across from me. “Did you at least get it good? If we have to deal with the poe poe, then you better have made it worth it. I ain’t in the mood for those bored shits tonight.”
I smiled, thinking about how good it had felt to see his pretty truck’s windows shatter. “Yeah, I think I got it good.”
Momma nodded and put her cigarette out, then took a sip of her coffee. “He’s a stupid, sorry-ass fucker who you need to stay away from. You’ve got a life ahead of you, and I’ll be damned if you end up like me. Hank’s already knocked up one girl he ain’t gonna marry. I sure don’t want you to be his next victim. This life ain’t easy, and you know it. You got the looks to buy you a life outta this. I intend for you to do it,” Momma said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her long legs.
This was a conversation we had been having since I was old enough to understand things. Which was since I was about nine. When your momma is a stripper in town, you learn things a lot sooner than other
kids. There is no time for innocence.
“I’m done with Hank for good this time. I promise,” I assured her.
Momma didn’t look like she believed me. I couldn’t blame her. This thing with Hank had been going on for years. I really needed to let him go. He was a one-way ticket to the life I’d watched my mother live. As much as I respected her for not leaning on a man to take care of us, I didn’t want that life. I knew how much she hated it.
“My escape car was a Porsche,” I told her with a grin. I still couldn’t get over that car . . . and the guy in it. Way out of my league. Way, way out of my league. He was so wealthy he reeked of it. He also looked at me like I was a strange bird he didn’t know what to do with. I had probably scared the guy to death. He wasn’t from here. He was just visiting and would have gone back to whatever mansion he hailed from.
“Don’t see many Porsches around here,” Momma replied with a skeptical look on her face.
“He wasn’t a local. I imagine he’s vacationing on the island. He looked like one of those.”
Momma nodded. She knew all about those kind. I had been warned off two kinds of boys my whole life: the ones like Hank, who were “nothing but sorry shits,” and then guys from the island, who Momma said were “only after you for the sex and then they split.”
“Don’t worry about him, though. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a crazy person,” I assured her.
Momma raised her eyebrows and leaned on the table to look at me. “You really think that? I didn’t raise you to be so damn naive. He’s a man, baby. That’s all that matters. One look at you, and he’ll be back. You just be careful.”
I had tried to land more than one wealthy local in Sea Breeze, but that had never happened. Marcus Hardy had been in my sights from the time I was a little girl. He was my cousin Rock’s friend, but he was different than us. He lived in a big pretty house on the beach. But Marcus never saw me as anything but a fun time. When he laid eyes on Willow, no one else stood a chance. Now he was married with a kid and completely off-limits.