Paper Princess Page 27

“Do you think I threw garbage in my own locker?” I ask incredulously.

“I’m not talking about that juvenile bullshit Jordan is pulling. I mean your job at the bakery.”

“First, how do you know about that, Mr. Stalker? And second, how is that even remotely embarrassing?”

“First, I have football practice in the mornings. I saw Durand drop you off there,” he bites out. “And second, it implies that we aren’t taking care of you. At lunch someone asked if Callum bought the bakery and that’s why the new Royal is working there.”

I fall back against the seat and cross my arms. “Well, golly gee, I’m so sorry that you had to answer an awkward question at lunch. That must have been so inconvenient. Much more inconvenient than getting hit in the face with a tampon flying out of your locker.”

When he grins, I totally lose it. All the frustration and hurt comes rolling out of me. I’m tired of playing the good, calm girl. I rise up on my knees, reach over and hit him across the top of his head.

“Fuck,” he curses. “What the hell was that for?”

“That’s for being an asshole!” I hit him again, thumb tucked away and knuckles out, just like my mom’s old boyfriend taught me.

Reed pushes me back, hard, against the passenger door. “Sit the fuck down! You’re gonna make us crash.”

“I’m not going to sit down!” I swing at him again. “I’m tired of you and your insults and your awful friends!”

“Maybe if you’re straight with me, then I’ll call off the dogs. What’s your game?” He glowers at me, one long arm still pushing me away from him.

I try to fight my way to him, flinging my arms but catching nothing but air. “You want to know what my game is? My game is to get a diploma and go to college! That’s my game!”

“Why’d you come here? I know you took money from my dad.”

“I never asked for your father to bring me here!”

“You didn’t fight it very hard,” he snaps. “If you even fought at all.”

The accusation stings, partly because it’s true but also because it’s unfair.

“Yeah, I didn’t fight it—because I’m not an idiot. Your father offered me a future, and I’d be the stupidest person on the planet not to take him up on that. If that makes me a money grubber or a gold digger, then fine, I guess I am. But at least I’m not the type of person who makes someone walk two miles in the dark, in a strange place.”

I watch with satisfaction as a flicker of remorse flashes through his eyes.

“So you admit you have no shame,” he spits out.

“Yes, I don’t have any problem admitting I have no shame,” I shoot back. “Shame and principles are for people who don’t have to worry about the little things, like how much can I buy for a dollar to feed myself all day or do I pay my mom’s medical bills or buy some weed so she can go for an hour without pain. Shame is a luxury.”

I fall back, exhausted. I stop trying to fight him. It’s impossible anyway. He’s too strong. Dammit.

“You haven’t cornered the market on grief. You’re not the only one who lost his mother. Oh poor Reed Royal,” I mock, “he’s turned into an asshole because he lost his mommy.”

“Shut up.”

“No, you shut up.”

Before the words even come out of my mouth, I realize how ridiculous we’re being and start laughing. A minute ago, we were yelling at each other like five-year-olds. I laugh so hard I start crying. Or maybe I was crying all along and it just sounded like laughter. I bend over and put my head between my legs because I don’t want Reed to see he’s broken me.

“Stop crying,” he mutters.

“Stop telling me what to do,” I sob.

He finally shuts up and I manage to get myself back in control by the time we drive past the gate and into the side driveway. Did I really say I had no shame? That’s not at all true. And I’m mortified that I cried for five minutes in front of Reed Royal.

“You done?” he asks after he brakes and cuts the engine.

“Screw you,” I say tiredly.

“I want you to stop working at the bakery.”

“I want Jordan to grow a heart overnight. But we don’t always get what we want, do we?”

He makes a frustrated noise. “Callum won’t like it.”

“Oh my God! You’re constantly changing the rules. Stay away from me, Ella. Get in the car, Ella. Don’t bleed my father dry, Ella. Don’t get a job, Ella. I don’t know what you want from me.”

“That makes two of us,” he says darkly.

I don’t even want to touch that. So I open the truck door and stumble out.

The devil inside of me stirs, I guess so I can save a little face, and I turn abruptly. “Oh, and Reed? Don’t use me as a cover because you don’t want to face up to an ex.”

“She’s not an ex,” he roars after me.

I shouldn’t find those words so satisfying, but I do.

13

The second I get inside, I hurry upstairs and lock myself in my bedroom. I dump my schoolbooks on the bed and grab the first assignment I see, but it’s hard to concentrate on my homework when I’m still so angry and embarrassed about what just happened between Reed and me.

The rational part of my brain understands where my outburst came from. Less than a week ago my entire life was uprooted. Callum wrenched me out of Kirkwood and brought me to this strange town and his fancy house to face off with his asshole sons. The Royal brothers have done nothing but antagonize me since I got here. Their friends shamed me at that stupid party and humiliated me at school today. And through it all, Reed Royal is spouting his golden rules and then changing them every other second.

What normal seventeen-year-old girl wouldn’t lose her shit?

But that other part of me, the one that tries to protect me at all costs by shielding my emotions…that part yells at me for allowing myself to cry in front of Reed. For letting him see just how uncertain and vulnerable I feel in this new world I’ve been thrust into.

I hate myself for being weak.

Somehow I manage to finish my assignments, but now it’s six o’clock and my stomach is grumbling.

God, I don’t want to go downstairs. I wish I could just order room service. Why doesn’t this place have room service? It’s pretty much a hotel already.

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