Celebrating L.J. Shen’s new book, Damaged Goods!
Title: Damaged Goods: An Angsty Football Romance (All Saints High Series)
Author: L.J. Shen
Genre: New Adult, Sports Romance
Release Date: January 23, 2024
Bailey Followhill is the perfect daughter.
Sweet. Charitable. Pretty. Control freak.
Not a hair out of place, not an inch out of line, she is everything her troublemaking sister Daria isn’t.
But when her A game turns out to be a lukewarm C- at Juilliard, Bailey’s picture-ready life starts fraying faster than the worn satin ribbons of her pointe shoes.
She’s becoming a piece of gossip.
The Troubled Child. A drug abuser.
No longer the girl her best friend once knew.
Lev Cole is so golden, he’s got the Midas Touch.
Prized quarterback. Football captain. Hottest guy in SoCal. A textbook cliché.
But with a girlfriend he doesn’t love and a career path he doesn’t value, Lev is coasting.
The only two things he cares about―Bailey and becoming a pilot―are out of reach.
But Lev is done being satisfied with the life others have chosen for him. He wants to pick his own cards. To demolish the seamless kingdom of lies his family stitched together on the ruins his mother left behind.
The question is, can he save his best friend and his dream before too much damage is done?
Keep reading for a look inside Damaged Goods!
I’m standing over my mother’s grave, wondering why the fuck my eyes are dry.
I couldn’t look at the coffin back inside the church. Knight said she looked pretty. Calm. At peace. But also…nothing like herself.
I squeezed my eyes shut the entire way through, the way I did when I was really little and went on spooky rides at theme parks. Now I’m freaking out because maybe I made a mistake, because it was the last time I could look at her face not through a picture.
That’s the thing about losing someone—there are so many losses along the way that make up a big loss.
No more cuddles in bed on rainy days.
No more heart-shaped fruit in my lunch box.
No more singing lullabies to me when I’m sick, with me pretending I’m embarrassed and annoyed by it when actually Mom singing lullabies is the best thing to happen to this universe since sliced bread.
Bailey is hugging me so close, my bones are about to dissipate to dust. She’s about four inches taller than me now, which is stupid and embarrassing and just my luck. My face is hidden deep inside her hair, and I pretend to cry because it seems rude and screwed up if I don’t. But the truth is, I’m not sad or gloomy or any of those things. I’m fucking pissed. Angry. Enraged.
What if she’s cold? What if she’s claustrophobic? What if she is struggling to breathe? What if she’s scared? Reasonably, I know she isn’t. She’s dead. But logic isn’t my friend right now. Not even an acquaintance. Hell, I doubt I could spell the word in my current state. I feel like Bailey is physically keeping me together. Like if she loosens her arms around me, I’ll collapse into thousands of little marbles, scatter and disappear into the nooks and crannies of the cemetery.
Everyone files back to their cars. Dad claps a shaking hand over my shoulder and steers me away from the grave. Bails reluctantly releases me. I clutch the tips of her fingers. She’s gravity. She’s oxygen. In this moment in time, she’s everything.
Sensing my unspoken need for her, Bailey turns to my dad. “May I please catch a ride with you, Uncle Dean?”
Thank you, Jesus.
“Yeah, Bails, sure,” Dad says distractedly, laser-focused on Knight’s back. My brother is going through his own stuff right now and my dad is trying to ensure he doesn’t lose another member of our family. Usually, I’m cool with being the low-maintenance, “background” kid. Not today, though. I just lost my mom at fourteen. I want the world to stop, but it disrespectfully keeps on spinning and functioning like my life wasn’t just destroyed.
Before we hop into the car, I clutch Bailey’s fingers and pull her to me. “If I told you I want to run away from here, somewhere really far, like…I dunno, Kansas far, what would you say?”
Her big blue eyes hold mine like my eyeballs are about to fall off. “We ride at dawn, bitch.”
“Really?” I ask.
She nods once. “Try me, Lev. You’re my best friend. I’ll never let you down.”
It’s weird, but the possibility of Bailey and me running away from all this is the one thing holding my ass together right now. She might be everyone’s good girl, but to me, she’s a bad addiction.
The drive is silent. I’m a page torn out of a book. Out of place and floating aimlessly. All I have is the memory of once belonging. Then, we’re in front of my house. Everyone trickles inside in their black frocks. They look like ghouls. Home without Mom isn’t a home. It’s a pile of bricks and expensive furniture.
Invisible ivy roots me to the ground. Bailey is the only one who notices. She loiters behind with me, and suddenly, I really hate that I’m putting all my dreams and hopes on her. Because she could be gone tomorrow too. Bus accident. Freak heart attack at fifteen. A kidnap-and-murder plot. The options are endless, and I have really shitty luck with people.
“Kansas?” She grabs my fingers, playing them like they’re keys on a piano.
I shake my head, too choked up to produce actual words.
“We don’t have to go inside.” Her hands slide up to grab my arms and keep me standing. How did she know I’m close to falling? “We can hang out at mine. I’ll make fondue. We can watch South Park.” Her blues gleam like sapphires.
Fresh irritation floods me. Bailey is being soooo understanding, even though she doesn’t understand jack shit. She does have a mom. A healthy one. And a dad. And a sister who isn’t an addict. Her life is perfect, while mine is a pile of calamities.
She’s a blossoming flower, and I’m dirt, but that’s okay because the thing about flowers is they’re buried in dirt, so I know exactly how to cut her off.
Shaking her off, I swivel and stomp my way out of our cul-de-sac. She races after me, calling my name. Her Mary Janes clap the ground urgently.
“Lev, please! Did I say something wrong?”
To be fair to her, she stood no chance at saying anything right. But screw being fair. I’m hurting, and she is baggage. Just another person to love and to lose.
I pick up my pace, running now. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m eager to get there. The sky—completely blue just seconds ago—cracks like an egg. Thunder rolls, gray washes over it, and rain starts pouring in thick sheets. It’s summer in SoCal and shouldn’t rain. The universe is angry, but I’m angrier.
Whenever Bailey manages to catch the sleeve of my shirt, I speed up, but even after thirty minutes of running in the rain, soaked to the bone, she doesn’t quit. Somehow, we find ourselves in the woods on the outskirts of town. The thick, tall branches and blankets of leaves intertwine together like laced fingers above us, creating a makeshift umbrella. I can sort of see my surroundings now, and it’s pretty and it’s calm and far enough away from that stupid cemetery. I stop running when I realize I’m not gonna escape the new reality: Mom’s dead.
I finally understand the term heartbreak. Because that thing in my chest? Split open clean in two.
I turn around, my lungs scorching. Bailey is pale and sodden, her black dress clinging to her body. Her lips are blue and her skin is so pale, I see a map of purple and red veins under her flesh.
“Go home,” I growl. But I don’t want her to go home. I want her to never leave.
She steps closer, tilting her chin up defiantly. “I’m not leaving you.”
“Fuck off, Bailey!” I fold in half, screaming. I feel like she kicked me in the stomach.
She’ll leave. She’ll let you down. Don’t fall for this, Lev.
“I’m so sorry.” Her eyes are full of tears, and she flexes her fingers, itching to grab me.
My mouth opens again and more bullshit spews out. “Don’t be sorry for me. Be sorry for yourself. You’re the loser who hangs out with an eighth grader instead of people your own age.”
“I wish it didn’t happen.” She ignores my insults, trying to grab my fingers again and play them like a piano, like she does every time I’m upset.
Laughing, I rasp, “I wish you didn’t happen.”
“I wish it were me who was dead.” Her face is covered with tears and pain and mud, and I can’t do this anymore. I don’t care how much I’m hurting, I can’t ruin the only good thing about my life right now. She gives me something to fight for when every cell of my body wants to give up.
“Now you’re just talking outta your ass.” I spit phlegm between us.
She shakes her head, quivering fingers darting to her hair, massaging her scalp. I believe her. And it kills me that even though I feel like someone slashed me open and my guts are pouring out, I still wouldn’t want Bailey to be in Mom’s place.
“I’m not. I’m serious. I would die before willingly watch you suffer.”
There’s a beat of silence. Then I open my mouth and the most feral, scary, loud cry I’ve ever heard tears out of it. It echoes in the sky and bounces off the trees. A flock of ravens takes flight from the treetops.
And then I go to the only place I need to be right now—I go mad.
L.J. Shen is a USA Today, Washington Post and Amazon #1 best-selling author of contemporary, New Adult and YA romance. Her books have been sold to nineteen different countries.
She lives in California with her husband, son, cat and eccentric fashion choices, and enjoys good wine, bad reality TV shows and catching sun rays with her lazy cat.