Paper Princess Page 11

They all follow like baby ducks. Or maybe the better analogy is soldiers.

“I’m sorry.” Callum heaves a sigh. “I don’t know why they’re so upset. I planned on driving you to school regardless. I just hoped they’d be more…welcoming.”

The smell of burning eggs has us both turning toward the stove. “Shit,” he curses. I move next to him and see a dark congealing mess. He smiles ruefully. “I never cook but I figured I couldn’t screw eggs up. Guess I was wrong.”

So he never cooks but he does for some strange girl he brought home? Not hard to see the source of resentment.

“Are you hungry? Because I’m okay with fruit and yogurt.” Fresh fruit is something I haven’t had the privilege of eating often. Fresh anything is a sign of privilege.

“Starving actually.” He gives me a pitiful look.

“I can cook some eggs”—before I can even finish, he pulls out a package of bacon—“and bacon if you have it.”

As I cook, Callum leans against the counter.

“So five boys, huh? That’s a handful.”

“Their mother died two years ago. They’ve never really recovered. None of us have. Maria was the glue that held us together.” He shoves a hand through his hair. “I wasn’t around much before she died. Atlantic Aviation was going through a rough time and I was chasing deals around the globe.” He lets out a gusty sigh. “The business, I’ve managed to turn around…the family is still a work in progress.”

Based on what I saw of his sons, I don’t think they’re even close to the bend in the road, but Callum’s parenting skills aren’t any of my business. I make a noncommittal noise at the back of my throat that Callum takes as encouragement to continue.

“Gideon’s the oldest. He’s away at college but comes home on the weekends. I think he must be seeing someone around town but I don’t know who. You should meet him tonight.”

Goodie. Not. “That’d be nice.” In the way an enema is nice.

“I’d like to take you over to the school, get you enrolled. After we get you squared away, Brooke—that’s my girlfriend—has offered to take you shopping. I figure you can start school on Monday.”

“How far behind am I?”

“Classes started two weeks ago. I’ve seen your grades, so I think you’ll be fine,” he reassures me.

“Your PIs must be pretty good if you have my school records.” I frown into the eggs.

“You’ve moved around a lot, but yes, eventually when I found out your mother’s full name, it wasn’t too hard to backtrack and obtain everything I needed.”

“Mom did the best she could with me.” I jut out my chin.

“She stripped. Did she force you to do that, too?” Callum reacts angrily.

“No, I did that all on my own.” I slap his eggs onto a plate. He can cook his own stupid bacon. No one gets to run down my mom in front of me.

Callum grabs my arm. “Look, I—”

“Am I interrupting something?” A cold voice sounds from the doorway.

I whip around and see Reed. His voice is icy but his eyes are full of fire. He doesn’t like me standing close to his dad. I know it’s a total dick move, but something drives me to step even closer to Callum, almost under his arm. Callum’s paying attention to his son, so he doesn’t realize the reason for my sudden closeness. But Reed’s narrowed eyes tell me he gets the message.

I raise my hand and place it on Callum’s shoulder. “No, I was just making your dad some breakfast.” I smile sweetly.

If possible, Reed’s expression gets even stormier. “I forgot my jacket.” He stalks over to the table and pulls it off the chair.

“See you at school, Reed,” I taunt.

He spears me with another glare before turning and leaving. My hand falls away. Callum looks down at me, bemused.

“You’re poking a tiger.”

I shrug. “He poked me first.”

Callum shakes his head. “And I thought raising five boys was an adventure. I haven’t seen anything yet, have I?”

6

Callum drives me to the school I’ll be attending for the next two years. Well, Durand drives. Callum and I sit in the backseat, and he’s shuffling through a stack of what looks like blueprints while I stare out the window, trying not to think about what went down in my bedroom earlier with Reed.

Ten minutes pass before Callum finally looks up from his work. “I’m sorry, I’m playing catch-up. I took some time off after Steve’s death, and the board is on my ass to get on top of things.”

I’m tempted to ask him what Steve was like, if he was nice, what he did for fun, why he screwed my mom and never looked back. I keep my mouth shut instead. A part of me doesn’t want to know about my father. Because if I know about him, he becomes real. He might even become good. It’s easier to think of him as the jerk who abandoned my mom.

I gesture to the papers. “Are those plans for your airplanes?”

He nods. “We’re designing a new fighter jet. Army commissioned it.”

Jesus. He doesn’t just build planes. He builds military-grade planes. That’s big money. Then again, considering their house, I shouldn’t be surprised.

“And my fath—Steve. He designed planes, too?”

“He was more involved in the testing sector. I am, too, to some extent, but your father had a real passion for flying.”

My dad liked to fly planes. I file away that information.

As I fall silent, Callum’s voice softens. “You can ask me whatever you want about him, Ella. I knew Steve better than anyone.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to know about him yet,” I answer vaguely.

“Understood. But whenever you are ready, I’m happy to tell you about him. He was a great man.”

I bite back the retort that he couldn’t have been that great if he abandoned me, but I don’t want to get into it with Callum.

All thoughts of Steve disappear when the car reaches a set of gates that must be twenty feet high, at least. Is this how the Royals live? Driving from one gate to another? We pass through them and follow a paved road that ends in front of a massive Gothic-looking building covered in ivy. I look around when we step out of the car and note similar buildings dotting the pristine campus of Astor Park Prep Academy, along with acres of grass. I guess that’s why park is in the name of the school.

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