Bullied by the Baseball Captain: An Academy Reverse Harem Bully Romance (The Bullies of Strathmore Reform Book 1), page 1
Bullied by the Baseball Captain
The Bullies of Strathmore Reform Book 1
The Bullies of Strathmore Reform Series
About the Author
“You’re only as old as you feel!” Tamar laughed as she tugged me by the wrist up the long, curving driveway to the Baker mansion. Her fingers caught in the gauzy silver sleeve of my Daenerys Targaryen gown. “C’mon, Kaleesi.”
“They’re not gonna give us any candy,” I insisted, laughing in spite of myself as I raced alongside her. “We’re too old!” I clapped one hand to my head as my long platinum wig slipped a little. My pumpkin-shaped plastic bucket rattled with what few treats I’d collected.
“They will when they see your costume.”
I tried not to flush with pride. She didn’t mean it. Did she? Tamar was the closest thing I had to a friend, but sometimes I wasn’t all that sure she even liked me. She complimented me when it suited her. When she wanted something from me. But sometimes I caught a barely-concealed disdain in her eyes. It was an expression I was familiar with—from everyone in Highview: Amma Reiter. Trailer trash. Bad news. Just like her brother. You heard what happened to him, right? The family has nothing. My God, have you seen that girl’s clothes?
From somewhere in the distance came laughter from the group of six-year-olds we’d followed when they’d been buzzed in through the property’s iron gates. We’d done our best to play it cool as we trailed after them, hoping any Bakers watching us on the security cams would assume we were the kids’ chaperones.
“Well, at the very least, I want to see this fucking house,” Tamar said. She slowed as the four-story structure came into view, its turrets silhouetted by the purple-blue evening sky. I took the opportunity to fix my wig. “Holy shitballs.” She dropped my wrist and stepped closer.
The Bakers weren’t even that rich—at least, according to my parents. They had been, once upon a time. Old money. But rumor had it the family had lost its luster. I saw the daughter, Laura, around town sometimes, and she always went out of her way to give me nasty looks. Their son, Bennett, had graduated last year, and now he had some TA job at Strathmore Reformatory, a high-end academy for wayward youth. People acted like he was doing God’s work or something, helping out at the Bad Kids’ School. When really he just got the job because his uncle was on the board. Rumor had it that his parents hadn’t wanted him to work at all, but Bennett had insisted. Which just made him more of a god in everyone’s eyes. Except my parents’.
“It’s not like they’re better than us,” my mother often said.
I tried to remember that as Tamar and I stood in the shadow of the Bakers’ house. Their Halloween decorations were elaborate. No giant fuzzy spiders or inflatable pumpkins for them. The yard was filled with real pumpkins—giant pumpkins—painted with recreations of famous works of art—with a Halloween twist. There was Whistler’s Mother, her head a skull. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the stars blocked by bats. The tombstones that lined the drive looked real—not the cheap plastic ones you saw at the Dollar Tree with BARRY M. DEEP on them or whatever.
I glanced down. The hem of my dress was covered in dirt, and I silently hoped I’d be able to hand wash the stains out. This costume was everything to me. I’d made it myself, over the course of many painstaking hours, out of fabric I’d saved up for a year to buy. And it looked damn good, if I did say so myself. Good enough that Tamar and I had been able to snag some candy this evening, despite the neighborhood’s twelve-and-under rule for trick-or-treating. My parents would kill me if they knew I was wearing this, though. Good Christian girls didn’t dress like Daenerys Targaryen.
“Ooh, what is this?” I asked. There was a Zen garden type thing off to our right. Little sculptures and a collection of ornate bird baths. A trellis covered in vines. A low stone bench. I wanted to resent the bakers for having all this, but instead I found myself overcome by admiration. Some part of me hungered to sit there, in that little oasis. There was never a moment’s peace at my house—my parents were always shouting about something. And back when Mason lived with us, it was pure chaos. For a moment, I stared at the stone bench and allowed myself to imagine I was as rich as the Bakers. That I could buy myself some peace and some privacy. A home with my own sewing room. And a recording booth where I could sing…
“It’s sooo tacky,” Tamar said, sticking a knife through my fantasy.
I frowned, raising my phone. “Well, let’s get pictures of the tackiness, then. Get on the bench.”
Just then, we heard a loud, metallic crash behind us. I whirled toward the sound, heart pounding. No doubt the Bakers had discovered our intrusion and were coming to confront us.
There was laughter now, male laughter. Tamar edged closer to me. From out of the shadows emerged three figures. As I watched, the lead figure—tall, muscular, with a body that was a work of art itself—swung a baseball bat at one of the antique stone bird baths. The stone merely rang with the impact. But he immediately landed another blow, with a force that terrified me, and the stone cracked, half of the basin collapsing onto the manicured grass. The trio laughed. The leader swung the bat again and shattered more stone. The bat was badly dented now, but he didn’t seem to care. Tamar gripped my arm. “What the fuck?” she hissed.
They stopped when they saw us. My mind was spinning and my heart pounding. I couldn’t make out any of their features at first. Then, the leader’s eyes met mine, and with a horror that sent my heart slithering down to my feet, I put a name to the face.
He was a senior at Monroe High, like me—but for the second time. He’d failed last year and been held back. He didn’t know me, I didn’t think—few people at Monroe noticed I existed—and I’d always been incredibly grateful for that. Because if Cole Heller knew you and didn’t like you? Then you were better off dead.
Tamar had let go of my arm, but I had the urge to grab hers. I’d heard all the rumors. The things Cole and his gang had done to people. The amount of money his parents had spent to keep him out of jail. He was an athlete, and you could tell—broad shoulders, muscular arms. Black, shaggy hair framed a face with perfectly proportioned, chiseled features, ending in a strong, angled jaw that always looked set in a challenge. As his gaze held mine, his eyes flashing silver—not blue, not grey, but silver, like razor blades—I became aware of two things. One: Cole Heller was the most handsome man I’d ever seen. And two: I should have started running about twenty seconds ago.
“Well, well, well,” he said with a sneer.
His cronies laughed. I didn’t know their names, but I knew they’d go along with whatever Cole wanted them to do. My eyes darted around the property, hoping those six-year-olds would walk by. Surel
His lips curved up in a cruel smile, and the tip of his tongue pushed between his teeth. “If it isn’t TT.”
I started again. TT was what some of the kids at school—the ones who did know me—called me. Short for Trailer Trash.
How the hell did Cole Heller know who I was? Those razor eyes seemed to be splitting me down the middle, peeling aside layers of skin and muscle to discover that the inside of me was just as pathetic and ordinary as the outside.
“Who’s your friend?” He glanced at Tamar.
“Why the fuck are you busting the Bakers’ bird baths?” Tamar demanded. I wanted to clap a hand over her mouth. Why was she riling him up? “They’ll have your ass thrown in jail.”
He grinned, but there was nothing friendly or amused about it. He looked feral. “Because I can.”
He punched the end of the bat into the Bakers’ manicured lawn.
“And because the Bakers aren’t as great as they fucking think they are.”
I could name someone else who wasn’t as great as he fucking thought he was.
He raked his gaze up and down my body, predatory hunger in his eyes. His pack snickered behind him. “Almost didn’t recognize you, TT. You look fine as hell. Nice to see you in something besides those church blouses.”
Some pathetic part of me wanted to take it as a genuine compliment.
He reached out, brushing his fingertips along my shoulder. I jerked away.
“Aww.” He laughed. “Don’t be like that, TT.”
“Don’t call me that,” I said. But my voice came out a shaky whisper.
“You know what it needs, though?” he asked, taking the bat in both hands.
My throat tightened in terror. What was he going to do?
He suddenly swung hard at the pumpkin closest to us. Whistler’s Mother. It split open with a wet thud, and I was sprayed with pumpkin guts and seeds.
I gasped, staring down at my dress. Viscous strands of orange clung to the fabric. Seeds dropped from my wig.
“Much better.” Cole laughed.
“Jesus Christ, Cole,” Tamar said. “This isn’t funny.”
He was still staring directly at me. “Relax, TT. You look tense.”
He reached for me again. This time I was too frozen to pull away as his fingers swiped pumpkin innards off my shoulder.
“You should bust a few bird baths. Might help you loosen up a little.” His grin broadened. “’Course, I know something else that would loosen you up a little.”
I shivered, a choked sound coming from my throat.
“Let’s just go, Amma.” Tamar sounded nervous.
I wanted to. More than anything. But I knew Cole wasn’t going to let us. I took another step back and stumbled over one of the tomb stones. Cole’s hand shot out and caught my arm, steadying me—but then gripping way too hard. I clenched my teeth as his strong fingers dug into my flesh. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of crying out. I tried to yank my arm away, but he held tighter. His eyes were so sharp and cold, it really was as though I was being sliced apart.
“Cole!” Tamar said. “Knock it off!”
Cole grinned down at me. Some of the fabric of my dress was caught under his warm palm, and the fear that the delicate fabric would tear was suddenly greater than my fear of him.
“Let me go,” I ground out through my clenched teeth. “Right. The fuck. Now.” It was one of maybe three times in my life I’d ever said “fuck” out loud.
His laugh this time was a whisper—cruelty mixed with genuine delight, meant just for me to hear. “You’ve got a mouth on you.” His voice was silky, deep, with an edge I could feel as solid as a blade against my thumping pulse. “You dirty girl.”
Somewhere in the storm of my terror was a still and silent eye, filled with a languorous heat I didn’t understand. His words made me burn, but with more than humiliation. For a second, my eyes nearly drifted shut. His grip loosened slightly, but I remained where I was, transfixed. Then he yanked me over to the only bird bath still intact. I struggled, but it was too late. He had me in a death grip. “Maybe what you need is to take a bath,” he said. “Right here where all the little birdies shit. Don’t you think?” One rough hand gripped the back of my head and started pushing it down toward the shallow, dirty water in the basin. I struggled, but he only pushed harder, the laughter growing around me as my nose hovered just above the surface. The water rippled with my falling tears. My neck muscles strained, pushing against his hand, my breath coming out in harsh gasps.
Then I lost the fight, and my face plunged into the water. It was only a couple of inches deep, but with Cole holding me there, I couldn’t breathe. I flailed my limbs desperately, trying to turn my head enough to grab air. I could hear Tamar shouting.
Finally, I punched backward with all my might, and must have landed a lucky blow, because Cole oofed and staggered back, pulling me with him. I took a wheezing gasp of air, then lashed out again. But he still had my arm, and he shook me, hard enough to make me go still with terror again.
“Stop!” I cried, more scared now than I’d ever been in my life.
And to my surprise, he did.
“I’ll make you a deal, TT.” He said, lifting the baseball bat with his other hand. “You smash one of these bird baths, and you don’t have to go back into the water.” He offered the bat to me. “Go on. Just one good swing.”
My mind was racing. Could I grab the bat and hit him with it before he was able to react?
The laughter had died to a few uncomfortable snickers, as though even his sidekicks were beginning to grow unsettled—or maybe bored—by the game.
“C’mon,” Cole urged, his smirk inches from my face. “What’s wrong? Afraid you’ll end up in jail, like your brother?”
I shoved him with a force I didn’t know I was capable of.
Cole clearly hadn’t known I was capable of it, either. He let go of my arm, and I lunged at him again, clobbering the side of his head, raking my nails across his cheek. His sidekicks grabbed me, one by each arm. I was vaguely aware that my left sleeve had ripped, that my dress, the dress I’d spent so much time on, was hanging in tatters on one side. But it felt like this was all happening to someone else, some scared little girl I couldn’t afford to be right now. Someone grabbed my wig, yanking some of my own hair out by the roots as the last of the bobby pins came free. The mass of long platinum locks dangled from my head by a few bobby pins, clinging wetly to my chest. I was still kicking and spitting as they pulled me back. It was like I was watching myself from a distance—I’d never done anything like this before. The only time I’d ever shouted was at my mom, when I was eight, and she’d slapped me so hard across the face, I’d never raised my voice again. I made one last desperate lunge, and managed to free my arm and grab the bat from Cole.
I held it up in a defensive stance, ready to use it if necessary.
“Holy shit!” one of the sidekicks yelled. “Bitch is crazy.”
“All of you, back off!” I said.
Rivulets of filthy water mixed with tears that ran down my face, no doubt taking with them the mascara I’d bought and applied without my parents’ knowledge.
Cole wasn’t laughing. But he wasn’t flinching either. He stared at me, those metallic eyes catching the moonlight and flashing like steel. “Go ahead,” he said, so softly that the words might have been my imagination.
I stared at him, clutching the bat in both hands and panting. On some level, I was aware that Tamar had fled the scene. It was just me and these assholes. Not even these assholes, though—the sidekicks were just wasted space.
This man—barely old enough to be called a man—with his glinting eyes and teeth bared like some horrible beast. I looked at the taut, coiled muscles of his arms, and I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to dig my nails into them until I sliced through muscle fibers and he screamed for mercy…or trace them
That thought snapped me back into myself. I was Amma Reiter again. Terrified, timid. In way over my head. I didn’t want to touch Cole; I wanted to get him away from me. Beside me, pumpkin seeds floated in the single intact bird bath. Don’t break, I urged myself. Don’t let them win.
Suddenly there was a shout, and footsteps pounded down the driveway. Bennett Baker was racing toward us, gold curls catching the moonlight. “Get out of here! Get the fuck out!” Bennett shouted furiously.
Cole turned to him, and I thought I saw a cold smile twist his lips. But then police sirens sounded nearby, and Cole froze. “Shit!”
He and his cronies took off, blue and red flashing lights catching the backs of their shirts as they clambered up the iron fence at the side of the property. Bennett gave chase. “Heller!” he shouted, gaining enough ground that he was almost able to grab one of the sidekicks.
As the cops came clomping up the driveway, I became aware that I was alone, holding a baseball bat, surrounded by the Bakers’ shattered bird baths.
I must have a sign on my forehead that says EASY VICTIM, I thought, as some girl I didn’t know stuck a foot into the aisle to trip me. Years of experience at Monroe High had trained my reflexes, and I dodged. I willed myself not to tremble as I slid into a seat in the back row of the orientation classroom at Strathmore Reform.
“You there!” a voice barked. I turned to see a tall, thin woman glowering at me. She had high-arched brows that were plucked to almost nothing, and small black eyes. She wore a dark grey skirt and blazer, with a name badge reading Headmistress Callahan. “What’s your name?”