Family, abandonment, and forbidden romance are at the core of SM Koz’s powerful and emotionally charged novel about a teen who falls for her foster brother.
When Hailey Brown is removed from her home and put into foster care, all she wants is a safe, comfortable place where she can finish school and move on with her life. It’s not easy adjusting to a new school and a new life, but Mr. and Mrs. Campbell and their teenage son, Brad, welcome Hailey with open arms.
As Hailey begins to adjust to her new life, she and Brad grow closer. For the first time, Hailey feels like she might have a real shot at a future. Soon, however, Hailey realizes her relationship with Brad has crossed the line from friendship into something more. But being with Brad would mean giving up the perfect life that Hailey has waited so long to have.
Can Hailey and Brad resist the feelings that are developing between themor will they risk it all to be together?
Chosen by readers like you for Macmillan’s young adult imprint Swoon Reads, SM Koz delivers a powerful debut about the ups and downs of being a foster child.
Praise for Love Me, Love Me Not:
“Hailey's history is real and true.” LydiaBeach, reader on SwoonReads.com
“I could feel every emotion through the author’s words.” AnnaBanana, reader on SwoonReads.com
“ Gripping and pulls at the heart strings.” R. Turner, reader on SwoonReads.com
|Publisher:||Feiwel & Friends|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||13 - 18 Years|
About the Author
SM Koz was born in Michigan, but moved to North Carolina for college and never left. In her day job, she creates online training for pharmaceutical companies; in her spare time, SM enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with foster kids who call her house home.
She is the author of Breaking Free and Love Me, Love Me Not.
Read an Excerpt
"You need to be quiet," I whisper, steadying Chase's elbow while he clears the windowsill with his leg.
"Dammit, Hales, you're pinching me!"
"Sorry," I murmur, loosening my grip and helping him land his other leg on the worn carpet that still looks a hundred times better than the carpet I'm used to. The fact that I actually have my own room is another bonus. Of course, the biggest bonus of all is that unfamiliar tightness in my stomach, telling me I can't eat another bite, despite desperately wanting to.
"Not bad," Chase says, casing my new bedroom. "The TV's kind of old, but I could get a few bucks for it."
"You're not stealing from my new foster mom," I say. "I've been here less than three hours, and I already kind of like her."
"You liked the last one, too."
"And you ruined that for me."
"I didn't ruin nothing," he says, pulling a plastic bag out of his pocket. "I got us a half zip."
I frown at what the bag contains. It's not for us — it's for him. "You're not smoking that here."
"Shit, Hales, what's up your ass tonight?"
"I've spent the last three nights in three different houses!" First was my mom's, then Mr. and Mrs. Garner's, and now Ms. Jacobson's.
He rolls his eyes and then plops himself on the bed. Before I can join him, his shirt is off and his pants are unzipped, making it clear what we'll be doing if I don't let him get blazed. My eyes drift up from the plaid boxers peeking out between his fly to his long, bony arms, and then to his face. He's got a sharp brow and jawline and sunken cheeks. It's from not eating enough, and I know I'd look the same if I glanced in a mirror. I suddenly feel guilty for not sneaking anything from dinner for him.
"Come on," he says, shimmying out of his jeans.
I sit on the edge of the bed and allow him to wrap his arms around me. I'm exhausted, but it feels nice to be close to him. Sighing, I lay my head on his chest like usual, clinging to something familiar when everything else has been turned upside down.
After not even a minute, he lifts my skirt and slides down my underwear. Stifling a yawn, I slip my fingers under the waistband of his boxers and ease them over his hips. When they're only at his knees, he flips himself on top of me. I focus on the strip of light under my door. Ms. Jacobson made it clear I could not have boys in my room. I waited to call Chase on her phone until I was pretty sure she had fallen asleep, though. As long as we're quiet, I doubt she'll ever find out.
"I need this right now," Chase says, his eyes closed, his hands roaming under my shirt and up my body.
"Hmmm ...," I murmur, as I continue to focus on the light in the hallway.
Without warning, he rocks into me hard and the headboard slams against the wall. "Chase!" I yell in a whisper, ignoring the pain.
"Baby ...," he moans.
I mimic his moaning and try to move things along quickly, but he becomes unusually slow and gentle. I grip his rear end harder and urge him to speed things up.
"You want it rough?" he asks, pinning my arms to the mattress.
Without waiting for an answer, he picks up his intensity. Moments later, the headboard bangs again, and I know I need to end this immediately.
"Now," I say.
"Come on, baby. Now," I urge.
Just then, I hear a click and the strip of light becomes a flood. Chase, naked, is still on top of me with my skirt around my waist. Ms. Jacobson is in the doorway holding her hand to her mouth.
For a brief moment, no one moves. Then Ms. Jacobson turns around. I push Chase off me, throw him a blanket, and yank down my skirt.
"I'm sorry," I yell to her back. "I didn't mean to! I promise I won't do it again!"
"I'm calling DSS," she replies, causing my shoulders to slump. The Department of Social Services. Sherry's going to kill me. "When I get back, he needs to be gone."
Chase is already dressed and halfway out the window. "Call me when you get settled at your new place," he says with a wink and a gleam in his eyes. For him, this was an exciting night.
For me, it was another mistake.
A huge mistake.
Moments later, I hear the roar of his recently borrowed motorcycle grow loud and then fade away as he leaves me alone to deal with the mess.
* * *
"Hailey Marie Brown, what am I going to do with you?" Sherry asks, shaking her head. She's my social worker and was not at all happy about being woken up in the middle of the night to remove me from another foster home.
I stare at the dotted yellow lines in the road so I don't have to see any more disappointment on her face as we travel through rural North Carolina. I've known Sherry for a couple years but haven't had to deal with this look from her until the past two days. She gave me what I wanted — a place to stay far away from my mom — but it seems all I can do is mess things up.
"Chase is a negative relationship. You need to start building positive relationships," she says.
"He's all I have," I mumble.
"You have me."
"It's not the same." Chase made me feel loved when no one else did. He came into my life when I needed him the most. I mean, when the options are a screaming, drunk mom threatening to lock you out of her house or a guy who welcomes you into his home and can't get enough of you, the choice is pretty easy. Sure, he's not perfect, but who is?
We're quiet the rest of the way to DSS. In fact, she doesn't say anything until she's given me one of their prefilled hygiene packs, I've washed my face and brushed my teeth, and I've settled onto a sofa in the children's playroom. She's lying on another sofa in the same room with her eyes closed. I think she's asleep until she asks, "Are you still taking your birth control?"
"No," I reply, wishing I had remembered to grab it from the trailer when I left. It was just so hectic with Sherry there and my mom screaming at her and me trying to throw a few things into a backpack.
"Did he use a condom?"
"No," I say again, readying myself for a lecture. Instead, I'm met by more silence.
"You should go home," I say. "I'll be fine here by myself."
"That's not how it works."
"Won't Jared miss you?" Jared is her boyfriend. I've only met him once but liked him immediately. He's a second-grade teacher and adores Sherry. I could tell by the way he constantly touched her arm or guided her through a door with his hand at her back. I can't imagine Chase ever treating me like that. The closest I've ever gotten is when he put his arm around my shoulders during a pep rally at school. Of course, that could have been to keep himself steady since he was also trashed that day.
"Jared knows this comes with the territory," Sherry says, and then rolls over to face the back of the sofa. I take the hint and close my eyes, praying tomorrow will be a better day.CHAPTER 2
Way earlier than I want to get up, I feel the cushion beneath my butt dip, followed by the sound of papers shuffling. "The good news is I've found you a new home," Sherry says.
"Great," I reply without opening my eyes. If this is anything like the other two foster homes, I'll be out before the day is over thanks to Chase.
"The bad news is it's not in your current school district. You'll be living in Pinehurst."
"Wait. What?" I ask, bolting upright. I can't go to a different school. I'm a senior. I'm almost done. I know all my teachers. I even have a few friends. And Chase is nearby.
"Sorry, but there were no more options in your district. You know it's hard to find placements for older teens."
"I can't go to a different school."
"You have no choice."
"There has to be another option."
"No, there's not. And, to be honest, I'm happy you'll be starting off fresh somewhere new. I think you'll like the family, and the best part is it's far from Chase."
I narrow my eyes at her. She's happy about the one thing that scares me the most. What if the placement turns out to be awful and I need him?
Holding up her hand, she says, "You can glare at me all you want, but he's ruined two placements for you already, has left you to take the blame for stolen property, and may have impregnated you or given you an STD. Putting on a condom is not rocket science, you know."
I flop back on the couch and cover my eyes with my hand.
"Oh, no, you don't. It's time to get up," Sherry says, pulling on my arms until I'm on my feet. "We'll make a stop at the health department, and then I'll take you to school. You'll meet the Campbells this afternoon."
"You just took me to the health department a couple days ago," I complain. That was the first thing she did after rescuing me from my mom.
"And you had unprotected sex last night," she says before turning around and heading back out the door, making it clear I have no choice but to follow.
The morning turns out to be as awful as expected. In addition to making me pee on a stick, the doctor at the health department made me get another full exam. There has to be a better way of getting checked out than being prodded with cold metal tools like I'm a beat-up old truck and the doctor's my mechanic. At least my tune-up turned out fine.
After that, we headed to school, where I'm currently sitting in the office biting my nails as Sherry talks to the young, bored-looking woman behind the desk.
This school is bigger and nicer than what I'm used to, which only makes me more nervous. More kids to make fun of me.
"Thanks for all your help," Sherry says to the woman before turning around to face me. "You're all set. I'll pick you up after school right out front."
"Great," I mumble, still chewing on my thumbnail.
The woman approaches me from behind the desk. "I'll take you to your classes today to make sure you learn your way around here."
With a final wave, Sherry leaves, and I feel like I've been abandoned in a foreign country.
It's already the middle of third period, so thankfully, the pristine halls are empty. We pass a few display cases overflowing with trophies, which is also different from my school. We had a few trophies in the office but not enough to fill multiple cases, each one dedicated to its own sport. I don't like sports at all, but football and wrestling seem to be big here.
As we walk, the office assistant points out a few things, but I barely hear her. I'm trying to peek through the small windows of the classroom doors to get a glimpse of my new classmates. Pinecrest has the reputation of having a lot of rich kids, which means I'll stick out even more than usual.
"Here we are," the woman says, stopping at door 216. "Geometry with Mr. Picciano."
Of course I would have to start with geometry. My least favorite subject. At my old school, I had As or Bs in all subjects except math. With math, I was lucky to pass each semester.
She opens the door, and I take a deep breath as my eyes tingle with the threat of tears. I cannot cry. Not here, not now.
She walks toward the teacher, and I immediately head to the back of the room, staring at the floor and praying I can hold back the tears for just a while longer.
Even though I'm looking down, I can tell all the other students are watching me in the hand-me-down and two-sizes-too-big jeans and wrinkled T-shirt Sherry found for me at DSS this morning. It's going to be just as bad as I expected here. At my old school, everyone knew my story starting in the first grade, so I was able to blend into the background as we got older. Here, being the new kid, I'll stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone will stare and talk.
I finally make it to an empty desk and slide in. They're still staring. I've never had dreams of being head cheerleader or president of my class. My dream has always been to go unnoticed. I realize it's not much of a dream, but it works for me. At least it did at my old school.
"Everyone, please welcome Hailey. She's new," the teacher says.
I feel my cheeks heating up. Why couldn't he ignore me and go back to the problem on the board?
Although I can't see who's saying it because my eyes are plastered to the top of my desk, I hear a number of different voices murmuring hi. Then there's some shuffling noises, and the teacher starts talking about isosceles triangles.
The tingling behind my eyes is even worse now. I shift my eyes up to the ceiling, trying to stop the tears, but it's no use. A couple roll down my cheeks, and my hand darts up to wipe them away. Luckily, everyone seems to be focused back on the teacher.
I try to follow the lesson, but it's useless. On a good day, I'd have trouble with math. On a day like this, there's no chance.
When the bell rings, I lower my head, letting my long hair provide a curtain between me and everyone else as I slowly gather my belongings and hope no one will remember I'm in the class. It works, and I slip in behind the last student to leave.
"Ready for lunch?" the office assistant from earlier asks as I exit the room.
I can't handle lunch. I'm not about to sit at a table all by myself. I'd rather forget about food and hide in the library. It's not like I'm not used to being hungry anyway. It was rare for my mom to keep anything other than beer in our fridge.
"I'm not hungry," I say. "Where's the library?"
"You have to eat. Plus, I need to make sure your meal-plan information transferred over here correctly."
She tugs on my arm and leads me back down the hallway toward the cafeteria. This time, though, the hallway is packed with students. They're rowdy — yelling, laughing, and a few guys throwing mini footballs — but no one seems to be paying attention to me. Maybe I will eventually be able to blend in here. Maybe it won't be so bad.
"What would you like for lunch?" the office assistant asks when we get to the cafeteria. The line extends out the door and down the hallway, but she just slips through the door and past the entire line of students being handed hamburgers, soup, and grilled cheese.
"I told you I'm not hungry."
"You've got to eat something. How about some fruit and a sweet tea?"
I don't reply, but she reaches between the students anyway to fill a foam cup with tea and then plucks an apple from a bowl. I reluctantly accept them when she hands them to me. She then steers me toward the front of the cafeteria line, which earns a scowl from some of the students. At least it seems more directed at her than me.
"Enter your number," she tells me, pointing to a small machine like the one I'm used to from my old school.
I do, and the machine beeps.
The cafeteria worker standing there swivels the machine around and squints his eyes to read the display. "There's an error. Did your parents say anything about needing to add more money to your plan?"
I shake my head, keeping my eyes down.
"I was worried about that," the assistant says in a lowered voice, but still loud enough for the crowd of students to hear. I feel their stares at my back and want to crawl into a hole. So much for being able to blend in.
"She gets free state-subsidized lunches. We'll work with DSS to get that straightened out. Until then, let her get whatever she wants."
"All right," he says, nodding. "Does she get breakfast, too?"
Now everyone within earshot knows exactly how poor I am.
The assistant looks back at me. "Breakfast?" she asks.
"I — I don't know," I whisper. Will my foster family feed me breakfast before school? Will I get to school in time for breakfast? How will I even get to school?
"Well, it's yours if you want it."
I nod, and then the assistant disappears, leaving me alone in the middle of the crowd. I stand at the junction of the food line and the tables, looking back and forth. Most of the tables are packed with a mixture of guys and girls, laughing. There are a few tables in the back that are empty, so I decide to go that way. I hide behind my hair again, so no one can make eye contact with me, and begin the hike, trying to melt into the floor.
About halfway to the table, my eyes land on a pair of Nikes right in front of me. I glance up and find a large frame walking backward as he yells something to his friends and gestures wildly with his hands.
I jump to the right, trying to get out of his way, but I'm not fast enough. His elbow smashes my face. My nose, actually. The jolt causes me to drop my cup. It goes flying in the air, sending sweet tea everywhere — onto the floor, onto the guy's pants, onto my borrowed shirt — as I stumble.
"Oh shit, I'm so sorry," he says, grabbing my shoulder to steady me. "I didn't see you."
"It's okay," I say quietly, trying to step away from him.
"No, it's not. Let me grab some napkins for you."
"Really, it's fine," I say, pulling back.
He takes the hint and lets go of my shoulder, but doesn't stop talking. "You're bleeding."
I wipe under my nose and sure enough, my fingers are covered in blood. My day is just getting better and better.
"I'll take you to the nurse."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love Me, Love Me Not"
Copyright © 2018 Shannon Kozlowicz.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.