Paper Princess Page 14

I stifle a sigh, not exactly looking forward to making small talk with Callum’s girlfriend. Then I chastise myself for it, because Brooke hasn’t done anything but be nice to me. I’m not usually so judgy, and I force myself to lower my guard a little. If anything, it sounds like Brooke is more my type than the Royals, if random classmates of the boys call her an extra.

She looks young, though. Really young. As in Callum could be her father young.

“There’s not much to tell,” I reply with a shrug. “I’m Ella Harper. Callum says that Steve O’Halloran is my father.”

Brooke nods. “Yes, he told me this morning. Isn’t that amazing? He told me how he found you just a few hours away and he was so upset to discover your mom had passed away.” She reaches for my hand, her bright smile dimming at the corners slightly. “My mother died when I was thirteen. A brain aneurysm. I was heartbroken, so I know just how you feel.”

When she squeezes my hand, I feel a lump develop in my throat. I have to swallow twice before I can answer. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Her eyelids flutter closed for a moment, as if she’s also struggling for control over her emotions. “Well, we’re both in a better place now, aren’t we? Callum saved me as well, you know.”

“You were stripping, too?” I blurt out.

Brooke’s eyes widen and a little laugh trips out before she can cover her mouth. “Is that what you were doing?”

“It wasn’t full nudity.” I cringe in the face of her giggles, wishing I never brought it up in the first place.

She composes herself and reaches out to pat my hand again. “I’m sorry I’m laughing. It’s not at you, but at Callum. He was probably mortified. He’s trying so hard to be a good father for his boys right now and I’m sure finding his young charge in a strip club had to be shocking.”

Flushed and embarrassed, I look out the window. This day couldn’t have gone worse. From the weird feelings Reed’s aggressive hate brought out, to the condescending tour guided by Savannah, to my embarrassing confession to Callum’s girlfriend. I hate feeling like I don’t belong. The first day at a new school. The first ride on a bus. The first—

A tap on my forehead interrupts my thoughts. “Hey, don’t get lost in there, sweetie.”

I glance over my shoulder at Brooke. “I’m not,” I tell her.

“Bullshit.” She speaks the curse word softly and tenderly. Her hand rises to cup my cheek. “I didn’t strip, but that’s because I chose to do worse things to get by. You get no judgment from me. None. The important thing is that you’re not there anymore and you won’t ever have to be again. If you play your cards right, you’ll be set for life.” Then she pulls her hand back and smacks me lightly. “Now, put on a smile because we’re going shopping.”

Not gonna lie, that sounds good to me. “How much will it cost?” I’ve been to the mall before. Things can add up fast, even if they’re on sale, but if I have a school uniform then I only need one or two items. Another pair of pants. Maybe a shirt or two. The beach is nearby so a swimsuit makes sense. I could part with a few hundred dollars.

Brooke’s face lights up. She pulls out a card and waves it in front of my face. “You’re asking the wrong question. This is all on Callum and trust me, no matter what he says about his business being in the toilet a few years ago, that man could buy and sell the entire shopping complex and still have enough left over to make even the most expensive hooker orgasm.”

I don’t even know how to respond to that.

* * *

We end up at an outdoor mall that features tiny shops with tiny clothes and enormous price tags. When I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on any purchase—$1500 for a pair of shoes? Are they made out of actual gold?—Brooke takes over and shoves item after item at the sales clerk.

There are so many bags and boxes, I’m scared Durand is going to have to trade in the Town Car for a U-Haul. After the tenth store, I’m exhausted, and from the sigh she heaves out, I’m guessing Brooke isn’t far behind.

“I’m going to sit here and enjoy some refreshments while you finish up.” She sinks down in a velvet chair and gestures for a salesgirl, who comes over immediately.

“What can I get for you, Ms. Davidson?”

“A mimosa.” She waves a hand at me, clutching the black credit card she’s been using so hard I’m surprised it hasn’t melted between her fingers. “Go forth and buy. Callum will be disappointed if you come home with less than a trunk full of bags. He specifically told me that you needed everything.”

“But…I…” I’m completely out of my element. Drop me in a Walmart or heck, even a Gap, and I think I could do just fine. But here? None of these clothes look like they should even be worn, but Brooke’s done talking to me. She and the sales clerk are having an intense conversation about whether gray flannel or gray tweed is a better fall trend.

I reluctantly take the credit card, which is heavier than any card I’ve ever felt. I wonder if there’s another card sandwiched between this one and that’s how Brooke manages to charge half the store and not be turned away. I leave and buy a few more things, trembling at the cost of them, and am frankly relieved when Durand shows up to take us back to the Royal Castle.

On the drive home, Brooke chatters my ear off and offers tips about how to pair up some of my purchases to create the perfect designer “ensemble.” Some of her suggestions make me giggle, and I’m startled to realize I didn’t have such a bad time with Brooke today. Her enthusiasm is a bit much, sure, and she’s kind of over the top, but maybe I was being unfair when I questioned Callum’s taste in women. If anything, Brooke is at least entertaining.

“Thanks for the ride, Durand,” I say when we pull up to the front door of the mansion. He stops the car here instead of driving around to the side like he did yesterday when we arrived from Kirkwood.

Durand helps Brooke out of the car and up the stairs. I trail behind like the extra that Savannah referred to Brooke as.

“I’ll bring in the bags,” he tells me over his shoulder.

All of it makes me feel awkward and useless. I really should get a job. Maybe if I had my own money and some real friends, I could start feeling normal again.

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