The Pretender by Cora Brent

BEN

They all know me as Ben Beltran, a poor kid from a working class town who lucked into a baseball scholarship at elite Black Mountain Academy.

That’s mostly a lie.

There’s a lot at stake and I have no patience for some uptight snot who sticks her nose in where it doesn’t belong.

Camden Galway is another scholarship case from my crappy neighborhood and she’s just begging to be taught a lesson.

She’ll find out the hard way that she has no idea what she’s dealing with.





CAMDEN

I need to succeed for my family’s sake as much as my own.

And I refuse to be interrupted by some brooding jock with a wicked reputation.

Sure, Ben Beltran can turn heads by rocking that bad boy heartbreaker vibe.

But some things about him don’t add up.

He assumes the taste of his lips and the feel of his muscles can distract me from digging for the truth.

I’m going to prove him wrong.

No matter how much he hates me for it...





This high school enemies romance is a stand alone and part of the Black Mountain Academy series.





Ben





The bus is late and this is bad news.

Teachers at Black Mountain Academy are obsessed with punctuality. They don’t want to hear it if your dog died or your tooth broke or you had the shits. You can expect some grief if you don’t have your ass in a chair when the bell rings.

Plus it’s cold as fuck out here. The temperature plummeted right after last week’s Thanksgiving holiday and all the local business have already begun sticking random Christmas crap all over the place.

I’m standing at the very edge of the corner, partly so I can squint down the flat road in search of bus headlights and partly to stay far away from the only other person in sight. Usually Mrs. Copella is also here, complaining out loud to no one in particular about her arthritic knees. She works in the Black Mountain town library and this is the only bus that runs between there and Devil Valley. Mrs. Copella isn’t around today so that leaves just me and Camden Galway eyeing each other in tense silence.

A flash of headlights in the distance fools me for a second but turns out to belong to a garbage truck. It makes a right on Cardinal Street and disappears.

“Fucking hell,” I mutter.

Puffs of frost fly out of my mouth and Camden shoots me a disturbed look from where she’s propped up against the lone bench. When Mrs. Copella is here, Camden always takes a seat beside the old lady and crosses her legs at the ankle but today she stands around awkwardly while scribbling something in a notebook with a fat black pen. Maybe she’s afraid that if she sits down I’ll decide to sit next to her. That’s funny because I would no sooner do that than I would break into spontaneous tap dancing.

I leave Camden to her mysterious scribbling and stare down the road once more. I should feel lucky that the public bus route still exists. There has been all kinds of talk about county cutbacks and election bonds and other fascinating nonsense that would have added up to a problem in my world. There’s no way I’d be able to afford a car. I’m barely able to keep my mother’s old bucket of metal working so she can get back and forth to her job at the diner. Without a way to get to Black Mountain I’d be stuck returning to Devil Valley High, which isn’t the worst place on earth but it’s not great either. People are always brawling over garbage like who looked sideways at someone else’s girl or who got disrespected while walking down the hallway or who is owed drug cash. There are plenty of decent kids at DVH but they try to stay under the radar and make do with the weak academic offerings. Besides, the sports situation sucks. I didn’t like being the only player on the baseball team who was able to handle the ball. So when Black Mountain Academy called me up last year and offered me a scholarship I didn’t hesitate.

My mother had been less excited. She’d twisted her nicotine stained fingers together and blinked sad eyes ringed with smeared mascara. “Ben, Black Mountain is a very elite school. You’ll be more visible. THEY might find you.”

But I was tired of worrying about THEM. Because of THEM I’d lost my name and my home and my friends and the life I was supposed to have. And I also lost my father. No, I couldn’t forget about him. Besides, if THEY had been able to track us down then THEY probably would have found us years ago.

“THEY aren’t even looking,” I assured her, though I had no clue if that was true.

In the end she didn’t try to stop me from going to Black Mountain.

As far as anyone around here knows, I am Ben Beltran, a hard luck working class kid with a good throwing arm who has been living with his mom in a rented two bedroom eyesore ever since moving to Devil Valley nearly four years ago. I never had to invent much of a backstory because no one cared about where I came from. My mom told anyone who asked that we we’d moved from the Chicago area. She was born there and could sound like she knew what she was talking about.

As for me, it’s not hard to avoid giving out details. Guys generally don’t give a flying fuck about my history while girls think it’s hot when I glare at people and don’t say much. Works out for everyone.

Minutes tick past. I don’t know how many because I can’t check my phone. The cell phone service was shut off last week after two months of overdue bill warnings. My mother doesn’t have the cash to pay the outstanding balance. Sometimes her eyes well up with tears just from looking at me so I make an effort to act all cheerful about having no phone, owning three pairs of jeans and eating canned pasta for dinner most nights. Maybe she’s thinking about our old life in a seven thousand square foot estate within sight of the ocean and how there was a maid to clean up after us while half a dozen luxury vehicles languished in the cavernous garage. Or maybe she’s just thinking that the older I get the more I look like my father and the rest of the Drexler men. Either way, she never says what’s on her mind.