Paper Princess Page 23

On my way home, Gideon drives by in a shiny SUV. His hair is sticking up and he’s got red marks on his neck. If it were anyone else, I’d say he just had sex, but he looks too angry for that. Maybe he fought with a raccoon.

“What are you doing?” he barks.

“Walking.”

“Get in.” He stops and shoves open the door. “You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“Seems like a nice place.” The houses are big. The lawns are bigger. Besides, his brothers had no problem ditching me on this road the other night. “The most danger I’ve encountered this morning is a big bad man trying to lure me into his truck. Good thing I know better.”

A reluctant smile lurks on the corner of his mouth. “I don’t have any candy or ice cream, so by default I should be considered safe.”

“Nah, just a shitty kidnapper.”

“You coming or are we going to block the Sunday traffic all day?”

I glance behind him and see another car coming. Why the hell not? It’s a short trip to the house.

Gideon doesn’t say anything during the drive, only rubs his arm a couple of times. A few minutes later, he stops in front of the entrance and puts the car in park.

“Thanks for the ride, Gideon.” When he doesn’t follow me inside, I glance over and call out to the SUV. “Not coming?”

He looks up at the house. “No. I need a swim. A long one.”

Then he rubs his arm again like there’s dirt on it that he simply can’t get off. He catches me watching him and frowns.

I want to ask if there’s anything wrong but the no trespassing look that shutters over his face makes me swallow back the words. I give him a worried look instead, an invitation. I’ve seen shit, I try to telegraph. I only get a clenched jaw in return.

* * *

On my bed is another note from Callum. I climb onto the cloud of pink and white and curl up next to the headboard to read.

Sorry about last night’s dinner. Won’t happen again. Durand will drive you to school in the morning. Let him know the time.

P.S. Your car is coming. Wanted to get exactly the right one and the only one with the correct color was in California.

Oh God, please don’t let it be pink. I think I’ll die if I’m supposed to drive Malibu Barbie’s dream car.

I bolt upright from the bed. I can’t believe those words even passed through my head. A car is a car. I should be grateful just to be driving one. Who cares what color it is? If it’s pink, I’ll get down and kiss the bubble-gum-colored fender.

Jeez. One weekend and I’m already turning into a spoiled brat.

11

The next morning, I’m up at dawn. I’m not going to repeat my mistakes from the party. I push aside all the pretty shoes that Brooke bought and find some white canvas sneakers. I pair them with skinny jeans and a T-shirt.

I nibble on my lip. Do I leave the backpack here or take it with me? If I take it with me, some punk ass kid might steal it. If I leave it, one of the Royals might go through it. I decide to take it with me, although carrying around ten large makes me feel paranoid and jumpy.

I run into Callum in the kitchen—he’s leaving for work, and he’s surprised to find me up so early. I lie and tell him I’m meeting Valerie for breakfast, and he looks so excited I made a friend that I think he’s going to pee his pants.

After chugging down a cup of coffee, I meet Durand outside the house two hours before school starts. “Thanks for agreeing to drive me.”

He merely gives a dip of his head.

I have him drop me off at a bakery that’s just minutes away from the prep school, and the moment I step inside, I’m greeted by the most heavenly smell. Behind the counter is a woman about my mom’s age, with wheat-blond hair swept up in a tight, ballet-style bun.

“Hi there, sweetie, what can I get for you?” she asks with her hands poised over the register.

“I’m Ella Harper and I’d like to apply for the assistant job. The ad said there were school friendly hours? I go to Astor Park.”

“Hmm, a scholarship student?” I don’t correct her because it’s mostly true. I’m a Callum Royal scholarship beneficiary. I hold my breath as she inspects me. “Do you have any experience baking?”

“None,” I admit, “But I’m a quick learner and I’ll work harder than anyone else you’ve ever hired. I don’t mind long days or early mornings or late nights.”

She purses her lips. “I’m not a fan of hiring high school students. But…we could give it a try. Say a week. You’ll have to serve your peers. Will that be a problem?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Some of those Astor Park kids can be a real handful.”

Translation: the school is full of assholes.

“Again, the clientele is not a problem for me.”

She sighs. “All right. I really do need another hand. If you show up for the next six days on time and work all your scheduled hours, the job is yours.” I flash her a smile, and she slaps a hand to her heart. “Honey, you should have smiled before. It completely transforms your face. In fact, the more you smile, the more tips you’ll get. Remember that.”

Smiling is not my natural state. In fact, it kind of hurts. My face is so unused to it but I keep smiling because I want this nice lady to like me.

“I start baking at four but I won’t expect you until five-thirty. I’ll need you every morning during the week—you’ll work until classes start. And on Thursdays and Fridays you’ll need to come back after school and work until close, which is eight p.m. Will that interfere with any after-school activities?”

“Nope.”

“Not even Friday?”

“I’m more interested in this job than anything the school has going on Friday nights.”

She gives me another smile. “All right. Pick out a scone then and I’ll make you up a coffee. My name’s Lucy, by the way. And the rush starts in about an hour. You might change your mind after you see what a madhouse this can be.”

* * *

Lucy is right—the bakery is jam-packed, but I don’t mind the rush. Bustling behind the counter and serving baked goods for two hours distracts me from worrying about what will happen when I get to school.

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