Paper Princess Page 17

“It’s still early,” a female voice says, and I jump back in surprise. “But even if it was later, this part of the house is always empty.”

“Oh God, I didn’t see you there.” I clasp a hand over my racing heart.

“I get that a lot.”

As my eyes adjust to the dark, I see that there’s an armchair situated in the corner. The girl on the chair pushes to her feet. She’s really short, with chin-length black hair and a tiny mole over her top lip. And she’s got curves I’d kill for.

“I’m Valerie Carrington.”

Jordan’s sister?

“I’m—”

“Ella Royal,” she interrupts.

“Harper actually.” I peer around her. Was she reading with a flashlight? I spot a phone lying on the small table next to the chair. Texting with her boyfriend? “You hiding?”

“Yup. I’d offer you a chair, but there’s only one here.”

“I know why I’m hiding,” I say with sheepish honesty, “but what’s your excuse? If you’re a Carrington, don’t you live here?”

She snickers. “I’m Jordan’s poor cousin twice removed. A complete charity case.”

And I bet Jordan doesn’t let her forget it. “Hiding’s not a bad thing. If you run away, you live to fight another day. That’s my theory at least.” I shrug.

“Why are you hiding? You’re a Royal now.” There’s a slight sneer in her voice that makes me strike back.

“Like you’re a Carrington?”

She frowns. “Gotcha.”

I run a hand over my forehead, feeling like a complete jerk. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. It’s been a long couple of days and I’m dead tired and completely out of my element.”

Valerie’s head tilts and she contemplates me for a few seconds. “Okay then, Ella Harper”—she emphasizes that as if it’s an olive branch—“let’s find something to wake you up. You know how to dance?”

“Yeah, sort of, I guess. I took lessons when I was younger.”

“This will be fun then. Come on.”

She leads me down the hall, past the nook, toward a set of stairs.

“Please don’t tell me you have to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs.”

“Ha! No. I have a proper bedroom upstairs. This is the staff quarters, and the housekeeper’s son is a friend of mine. He went to college and left his old gaming equipment here. We played all the time, including DDR.”

“I have no idea what that is,” I confess. Mom and I didn’t even own a TV when we were living in that last place in Seattle.

“Dance Dance Revolution. You copy the movements on the screen and get scored for how well you can dance. I’m pretty good at it, but if you have some past dance experience, then it shouldn’t be a total annihilation.”

When she grins at me, I nearly hug her, because it’s been so long since I’ve had a friend. I didn’t even realize I needed one until this minute.

“Tam was terrible,” she confesses.

The wistful note in her voice tells me she misses him. A lot.

“Does he come home often?” I think of Gideon, who’s home after only two weeks of college.

“No. He doesn’t have a car so we won’t see each other until Thanksgiving. That’s when his mom will drive up. I’m going with her.” She nearly skips with excitement at the mention of the trip. “But someday he’ll have one.”

“Is he your boyfriend?”

“Yeah.” She looks at me in accusation. “Why? You got a problem with that?”

I hold up my hands in surrender. “Of course not. I was just curious.”

She nods and opens the door to a small room with a neatly made bed and a normal sized television.

“So how are the Royals at home?” she asks as she sets up the game.

“Nice,” I lie.

“Really?” She looks skeptical. “Because they haven’t been nice to you. Or about you.”

Some misplaced sense of loyalty to those jerks makes me shut her down. “Naah, they’re coming around.” I echo Callum’s earlier words, but they don’t sound any more believable from my mouth. Trying to change the subject, I tap the television. “Ready to dance?”

“Yep.” Valerie accepts my topic switch with ease. She grabs two wine coolers from a mini fridge and hands me one. “Here’s to hiding and still having fun.”

The game is a breeze. It’s way too easy for both of us. Valerie is a great dancer, but I grew up in this environment and there’s no shift of the hips or flip of the arm that I can’t make. Valerie decides we need handicaps and so she pauses the game and we start chugging our wine coolers. As we drink, her moves become increasingly terrible, but the alcohol is like magic for me and the music just takes over.

“Damn, girl, you’ve got moves,” she teases. “You should try out for one of those TV dance shows.”

“Nope.” I take another swig of my drink. “I’ve got no interest in being on television.”

“Well, you should. I mean, look at you. You’re hot even in that rich bi-otch getup you’re rocking, and with those moves? You’d be a star.”

“Not interested,” I say again.

She laughs. “Fine, be that way. Gotta pee!”

I laugh, too, as she bounds away from the screen mid-song to use the bathroom. She’s got a crazy amount of energy, and I like her. I make a mental note to ask her if she goes to Astor Park Prep too. It’d be nice to have a friend there when I start on Monday. But then the song on the screen changes, and the music pulls me in again.

While Valerie is in the bathroom, the Divinyls’ “Touch Myself” starts playing and I start dancing—not to the game, but my own moves. A slick sultry dance. One that makes my blood pound and my hands grow sweaty.

The unwelcome image of Reed’s hot body and blue eyes appears in front of me. Dammit, the asshole Royal has invaded my thoughts and I’m helpless to shut him out. I close my eyes and imagine his hands running along my hips and wrenching me close. It’s his leg thrust between mine—

The lights turn on and I stop abruptly.

“Where is he?” the devil himself demands.

“Who?” I ask dumbly. I can’t believe I was fantasizing about Reed Royal, the guy who thinks I’m screwing his father.

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