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Bad Boy Hero – Tanglewood Academy
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I have a secret.
Tanglewood Academy, a place where elite students prepare for their future at the top of the food chain. They’re snooty, stuck up, rude, self centered.
Thanks to working my knuckles to the bone, I get to live on campus, pretending I’m one of them.
But I’m not.
My scholarships can’t pay my bills. I’m barely above water. Bullies, gossip, cruel professors… I don’t think it can get worse.
Then Keanen Kross, the son of the headmaster, catches me working as a waitress at a seedy bar. I’m sure I’m screwed.
He becomes my hero.
But even if our attraction is hot enough to burn the whole school down, we know we can’t ever be together. Even if he’s a bad boy, he’s still a golden prince in the eyes of his family.
No way he’d sacrifice his future for a girl like me…
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The morning the letter comes is one of the worst days of my life. I spent the entire night at the bar, even though my shift was supposed to finish at 1am. I had to clean up after a bar fight spiraled out of control and wound up crashing into the shelving. It broke nearly every glass behind the bar—and my manager threatened to take it out of my tips unless I helped him clean up the whole place.
I trudge home in the predawn light, aching from the crown of my head all the way down to my toes, just wishing for a different life entirely. An easier life. The kind of life all my friends have. When we graduated from high school together two months ago, most of them signed on to similar summer jobs as me. Jobs in food delivery, Uber driving, gig work, anything they could find—but for them, unlike for me, it was just temporary. After this summer ends, they all have colleges to attend. Big, fancy, elite universities, either nearby in Boston or in big cities further down the coast in New York or Philadelphia.
Everyone I know is moving on with their lives.
Everyone but me.
Even though I have an acceptance letter from Tanglewood University sitting upstairs in my desk drawer… I can’t take them up on it. I’ve crunched the numbers over and over, but there’s just no possible way. Not with the crazy tuition costs. I can take out some loans, but to cover the cost of a private university like Tanglewood, I’d be putting myself into debt I’d never climb out of. Not even by the time I’m 50 years old, and by then, I hope to have a family of my own to support.
Besides, with how tight money has been at home, for my mom and my younger brother… it just makes more sense if I skip college. I can work at the bar like I’ve been doing, maybe work my way up to managing a nightclub or a nice restaurant in downtown Boston eventually. You can make decent money off of tips that way. And I can support my mom, maybe even pay toward my little brother’s college fund.
Jake can go to college one day. Bear that flag for our family. But for me… the ship has sailed.
I need to get used to nights like tonight.
I shove open the front door of our house, so tired that it took me three tries just to fit the key into the lock. My muscles scream for release, my whole body just one throbbing ache by now. But before I allow myself to head upstairs, I stop by the mailbox to scoop out the contents and sort through it, depositing Mom’s heap of bills next to brochures for various colleges for Jake and me. Colleges I’ll never be able to afford.
But right at the bottom of the stack is a letter that makes me freeze in my tracks. It’s addressed to me, and the return address is Tanglewood University. It’s in the fancy traditional letterhead that they use for all official communications. I recognize it from my acceptance letter, which I received nearly six months ago now.
I can still remember the excited swoop in my stomach when it first arrived. The way it felt like I was sailing over the edge of a roller coaster, reading those words.
Congratulations, you have been accepted…
But before long, the roller coaster slammed down to the bottom of the tracks, and my swooping excitement turned to nausea as reality hit me. I couldn’t accept. Not really. It was nice to daydream about, but…
Still, I pause in the hallway, waylaid by that letterhead. That font. By all the memories of what could have been. The daydreams about college that I’d had through high school life, even though Mom always warned me it would be tricky.
I try to remind myself of my practical solution. I can enroll next year at the local community college. Maybe a two-year program, something easy, like business or restaurant management. Something that will work with my hectic schedule at the bar, and allow me to use all the work experience I’m building up toward some kind of associate’s degree.
I tell myself to think about that backup plan as I slit the envelope open, dropping my keys onto the side table and tugging the door shut behind me before I unfold the letter inside. I do my best to prepare myself for disappointment. I’m expecting some kind of note about how they didn’t hear from me regarding whether I accepted my admission, so they’ll have to ask me not to attend after all.
It’s fine. No matter what this letter says, you’re going to be fine.
But then I actually read the header. And my stomach drops like I’m right back on that roller coaster all over again. Because whatever I’d expected to read in this letter, it’s not this.