Rating: 4.75 stars
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After being kicked out by his parents at 17 for being gay, living on the streets and turning tricks to survive, the boy that once was Jordan Barnett has become Silver. Silver is tough and streetwise, and he knows how to protect himself and his heart after having it broken years before.
When Silver sees Zeb Harris again, the man who was once the object of Silver’s love and also the one who betrayed him, Silver’s life gets turned upside down. Zeb failed him when he was most in need, and encountering the man again is almost more than he can bear. Especially when the two end up in jail together overnight after Zeb’s efforts to talk to Silver get them both in trouble with the cops. Although those charges don’t stick, Silver has been using a false ID on the streets, and those charges could land him in jail for real.
Fortunately Silver has some good friends who jump in to help him out, including his friend Eli, Eli’s boyfriend Quinn, and their friend Gavin. Gavin helps out with a lawyer and Eli and Quinn take Silver into their home to satisfy his release on bail pending the trial. It is at Quinn and Eli’s that Silver starts to get his life together, realizing that he has people who care about him and who will help him however they can.
It is also there that he takes the first steps toward reconnecting with Zeb. At first Silver’s only goal is to befriend Zeb with plans to then turn him away, hurting Zeb like Silver had been hurt years before. But soon Silver begins to see how truly remorseful Zeb is for what happened, and how much he wants to be part of Silver’s life again. Silver has never stopped caring for Zeb, even when he hated him for what he did. But exposing his heart again after so much pain is truly difficult. Not to mention that Silver isn’t sure he isn’t going to end up in jail soon anyway. As Silver and Zeb fall for each other once more, Silver must decide if he can risk his heart for a chance to be with the man he once loved so much.
Ah, K.A. Mitchell is such a genius, you guys. Her writing is amazing and she has a way of creating such complex, wonderful characters that can totally steal your heart. Even as maybe you want to yell at them a little bit. And she has once again succeeded in giving us just a fabulous story in Bad Influence, the fourth book in her Bad in Baltimore series.
At the heart of this book is Silver. His story is horrible, just like those of so many throwaway kids who are tossed out of their homes for being gay. As a teen he met and fell for Zeb, lying about his age to make Zeb think he was two years older than his actual 17. Silver fell in love with Zeb, but his parents found out about the relationship and shipped Silver off to a “camp” in attempt to pray away the gay. When Silver managed to get away and get to Zeb, pleading to be taken in, Zeb refused him. Silver ended up on the streets, turning tricks and then doing porn, struggling to survive. Now Silver is much more hardened than the kid he once was. He has learned to depend on only himself to survive. But he is also just treading water, trying to make it day by day and with no real idea how to move forward with his life.
What Mitchell does so well here is take what we know about Silver, and then give us the other side, from Zeb’s experience. All Silver knows is that Zeb rejected him when he needed it most, setting up the next step in his downward spiral. But we learn there is much more that was going on here. Zeb was racked with guilt after learning that Silver was underage. Silver’s parents were threatening to send Zeb to jail. As the story unfolds, we begin to understand how difficult the situation was for Zeb as well. And of course, he had no idea what horrors Silver had faced at the camp, and how many more awaited him. Zeb is truly so remorseful, so full of pain over what happened years ago that it is hard to resent him for his actions. The difficulty these men have though is separating past from present, stepping away from the people they were years ago, and the experiences they had, and figuring out if they are right for each other now, as adults. It is interesting because their past is so messy, both full of love and pain, and it is not always obvious if that connection can translate into a real relationship now. It is a slow build and it takes some time for these guys to really find their way together again, but it is a very rewarding experience.
One thing I really loved most about this story is how Silver slowly realizes that he has people in his life that really care about him. That even though his biological family has abandoned him, he has a family of friends who care what happens to him and will do whatever they can to support him. And lucky for fans of this series, these guys are our old friends. Silver and Eli met on the streets, and Eli and Quinn take Silver in, letting him live with them to give him a permanent address for the judge. I adore Eli; he is my favorite character of this series, so I really loved the chance to see him again here. We also spend a lot of time with Gavin and Jamie from Bad Attitude, as they are also good friends of Quinn and Eli.
What is most interesting is not just that these guys care about Silver, but also how they end up being role models of sorts. Silver watches Eli and Quinn, and as much as he mocks Eli for being a “house husband,” it is also clear that part of Silver wants what they have — someone to love and care for him, a partner, that closeness with someone else. Seeing Eli having success in love and his career on one hand makes Silver a little jealous, but also gives him a sense that this is possible for him as well. I also really liked his developing relationship with Gavin. Silver is kind of in awe of Gavin, who is incredibly rich and polished. What blows Silver away is that Gavin not only seems to like him, but sees them as similar in many ways. I loved the kind of friend and mentor role Gavin takes on with Silver and it is a lovely relationship.
My only quibble here is that with so many important characters, I found Zeb got a bit lost for me. I think we get a really fascinating look at him in relation to Silver – what happened in the past, what he is feeling now, etc. But I didn’t ever feel like I completely got him as an individual. How did he move from that shy, church loving man he was to the person he has become? I just think with so many big personalities in Eli, Jamie, and the rest of the gang, Zeb got a teeny bit lost for me in the crowd.
But overall I think this is another fabulous story by K.A. Mitchell. For fans of the series especially, it is so much fun and incredibly rewarding to see all the guys we love back together and looking out for one another. We get such a fascinating and complex relationship with Silver and Zeb, and I loved how they learn to balance the past with their future. So I totally loved this one and very highly recommend it.
P.S. In case it isn’t clear, this book does rely pretty heavily on past books in the series. Although you could probably manage it as a stand alone, I think you would miss a lot of the dynamics between the couples, as well as parts of the back story (Zeb and Silver have their first encounter in the previous book, Bad Attitude). So I’d suggest starting from the beginning of the series, or at least with the fabulous Bad Boyfriend, to catch yourself up first. (Nate and Kellan from Bad Attitude do appear here but in a much smaller role than any of the others.)