Paper Princess Page 18

“The meathead you’re dancing for.” Reed crosses the room and grabs my upper arms. “I told you that you can’t turn tricks with my friends.”

“There’s no one here.” My drunk mind is too slow to catch on to what he’s saying. The toilet flushes.

“Oh yeah?” He flings me away and yanks open the bathroom door. A squeal of dismay rings out and he bites out an apology as he slams the door shut.

I can’t help the smug smile from forming.

“Did I mention I was a lesbian?”

He doesn’t think I’m funny. “Why didn’t you tell me you were with Valerie?”

“Because it’s funnier watching you to jump to conclusions. And even if I told you who I was with, you wouldn’t have believed me. You’ve already decided who and what I am and nothing is going to change that.”

He scowls but doesn’t contradict me. “Come with me.”

“Let me think on that.” I tap a finger against my bottom lip as if I’m really contemplating his crappily delivered invitation. His eyes drop to watch the movement. “Okay. I’ve decided. No.”

“You don’t like it here,” he says flatly.

“Thank you, Mr. Perceptive.”

He ignores the sarcasm. “Yeah, well I don’t like it either. But here’s the deal. If you don’t come with me and make a fucking effort, then my father will keep forcing you to go to these parties. But if you get your ass out there and everyone reports back to their parents that they saw you, then Dad will lay off. Got it?”

“Not really.”

Reed moves closer again, and I’m once again floored by the size of him. He’s so tall. Tall enough that if he were skinny, his nickname would be “beanpole” or something. But he’s not skinny. He’s built. He’s big and muscular and the alcohol is making me feel all hot and achy around him.

He’s still talking, oblivious to my inappropriate train of thought. “If my dad thinks you’re a lost, lonely lamb, he’ll keep pushing us all together. Or maybe that’s what you want. Is that it? You want to be seen with us. You want to be at these parties.”

The accusations snap me out of my haze. “Because I’ve spent so much time around you tonight.”

His expression doesn’t change, not even to acknowledge that I’m right. Whatever. Fine.

“Come on, Valerie, let’s go party,” I call out.

“I can’t. I’m mortified. Reed Royal saw me in the bathroom,” she moans through the door.

“The asshole is gone. Besides, you’re probably the most attractive and decent thing he’s seen tonight.”

Reed rolls his eyes but leaves as I motion him out the door.

Valerie finally comes out. “Why are we leaving our little haven?”

“To see and be seen,” I answer honestly.

“Ugh. Sounds terrible.”

“I never said it wasn’t.”

9

The first person I see when Valerie and I enter the living room is Savannah Montgomery. She’s wearing tight jeans that are ripped at the knees and a halter top that bares her midriff. Her eyes are glued to Gideon, whose back is turned as he leans against the wall chatting with another guy.

As if she can see me making a mental connection between her and Gideon, Savannah swivels her head toward me. She doesn’t wave or say hello, but her eyes meet mine briefly before she turns to talk to her friend.

The music is blaring, and everyone is drinking or dancing or making out in various corners of the room. Beyond the French doors I glimpse a large kidney-shaped pool, its bluish light casting shadows on the faces of the teenagers standing around it. There are people everywhere. It’s loud and hot and I already miss the quiet safety of the staff quarters.

“Do we really have to be here?” Valerie murmurs.

I catch Reed watching us from the oak bar across the room. He’s with Easton, and they both nod in warning when I meet their gaze.

“Yeah, we do.”

She looks resigned. “Fine. Then we might as well get the bullshit out of the way.”

Valerie is a godsend. She links her arm through mine and takes me around the party, introducing me to random people, then whispering details in my ear.

“That chick Claire? She’s screwing Easton Royal. She likes telling people she’s his girlfriend, but everyone knows Easton doesn’t do girlfriends.”

“Thomas? Raging cokehead, but Daddy’s a senator so Thomas’s messes are always cleaned up.”

“Definitely stay away from Derek. Chlamydia central over there.”

I swallow a choked laugh as she guides me toward another group, a trio of girls in assorted pastel minidresses.

“Lydia, Ginnie, Francine, this is Ella.” Valerie waves a hand between us, then leads me away from the Pastels before they can even open their mouths. “You ever wonder if some people are born without brains?” she asks me. “Proof of it right there. Girls give new meaning to the word airhead.”

I’m not going to lie—I’m enjoying the introductions, or rather, the gossip that comes with them. I do notice that nobody says much more than a muttered “hello” to me, before shifting their gazes to the Royal brothers to check their reactions.

“All right, easy part is over,” Valerie says with a sigh. “It’s time to slay the dragon.”

“The dragon?”

“My cousin. AKA the Queen Bee of Astor Park Prep. Be warned—she’s crazy possessive about the Royals. I’m pretty sure she’s hooked up with all of them, even the twins.”

Speaking of the twins, we pass Sawyer on our way to the pool area. I know it’s Sawyer because he’s wearing a black T-shirt, and earlier I heard Gideon call the white T-shirt-wearing twin Sebastian. A petite redhead is draped around Sawyer, trailing kisses along his neck, but his gaze stays fixed on me as we walk past.

“Little Royal’s girlfriend,” Valerie tells me. “Lauren or Laura, something like that. Sorry, I’m not knowledgeable about the sophomore circles.”

But she’s knowledgeable about almost everyone else, it seems. For a girl who likes to hide in the corner, Valerie is a bottomless well of gossip, but I guess that’s the best way to gather information, watching from the shadows.

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