Paper Princess Page 31

“That’s a fair assessment.”

Mind made up, I turn back to Callum. “Then what are we waiting for?”

* * *

Durand takes us into the city and stops in front of a high-rise. Callum tells me he’s going to wait for me in the car, which only makes me more nervous.

“This sucks,” I say flatly.

He reaches out to touch my arm. “You don’t have to go.”

“What other choice do I have? I can either go up and keep living with the Royals, or stay in the car and get taken away? That’s messed up.”

“Ella,” he calls as I step onto the curb.

“What?”

“Steve wanted you. When he found out he had a daughter, it tore him up. I swear to you, he would have loved you. Remember that. No matter what Dinah says.”

With those not-so-encouraging words in my ear, I let Durand escort me inside. The lobby of Dinah’s building is gorgeous, but the effect of the pretty stone walls, crystal lights, and deep wood trim doesn’t stun me like it would have pre-Royals.

“She’s here to see Dinah O’Halloran,” Durand tells the desk clerk.

“You can go right up.”

Durand gives me a little push. “Last elevator. Press “P” for penthouse.”

The carpeted, wood-paneled elevator is almost completely silent. There’s no music, only a slight mechanical whir to accompany its movement upward. It stops way too soon.

The elevator doors slide open and I step into a wide, short hallway. At the end is one set of double doors. Holy shit. Does she live on the entire floor?

A woman dressed in a maid’s outfit opens one of the doors as I get close. “Mrs. O’Halloran is waiting for you in the sitting room. May I get you a beverage?”

“Water,” I croak. “I’d like a water, please.”

My sneakers sink into the heavy carpet as I follow the maid down the hall and into the sitting room. I feel like a little lamb walking to her slaughter.

Dinah O’Halloran is seated beneath a large painting of a nude woman. The model’s golden hair is down and she’s looking over her shoulder, green eyes narrowed seductively at the viewer. It…oh my God. The woman’s face is Dinah’s.

“Do you like it?” Dinah asks with raised eyebrows. “I have others in the house but this is the most conservative.”

Conservative? Lady, I can see your ass crack in the picture. “It’s nice,” I lie. Who has a bunch of nude paintings of themselves hanging around their house?

I start to lower myself into the other chair in the room, but Dinah’s sharp voice stops me.

“Did I tell you to sit down?”

Cheeks flaming, I stiffen. “No. I’m sorry.” I remain standing.

Her eyes rake over me. “So you’re the girl who Callum says is Steve’s daughter. Have you taken a paternity test yet?”

A paternity test? “Um. No.”

She laughs, a hollow, awful sound. “Then how do we know you’re not Callum’s bastard that he’s trying to pass off as Steve’s? That would be convenient for him. He always claimed he was faithful to his little wife, but you would be direct evidence that he wasn’t.”

Callum’s daughter? Brooke had implied the same thing, but Callum looked offended when she’d said it. And my mother said that my dad was a man named Steve. I have his watch.

Still, I feel sick to my stomach, even as I straighten my shoulders with false confidence. “I’m not Callum’s daughter.”

“Oh, and you know that how?”

“Because Callum’s not the type of man to ignore that he has a kid.”

“You’ve been with the Royals for all of a week and you think you know them?” She sneers, then leans forward, hands pressed into the arms of her chair. “Steve and Callum were old SEAL buddies. They shared more women than a kindergarten class shares toys.”

I stare in open-mouthed shock.

“I have no doubt that your whore mother screwed them both,” she adds.

The slur against Mom wrenches me out of a stunned stupor. “Don’t talk about my mother. You know nothing about her.”

“I know enough.” Dinah leans back. “She was dirt poor and tried to shake Steve down for money by attempting to blackmail him. When that didn’t work, she pretended she had his kid. Only what she didn’t know is that Steve was sterile.”

Dinah’s accusations are starting to sound like she’s flinging a bunch of wet spaghetti at the wall and hoping something sticks, kind of like Jordan and her tampons. I’m getting kind of sick of this crap. “Then let’s order up the paternity test. I don’t have anything to lose. If I’m a Royal, then I’ll be able to claim a sixth of the Royal fortune. Seems like a better deal than just being the ward of Callum Royal.”

My bravado doesn’t go over well with Dinah, because she redoubles her attack. “You think Callum Royal cares about you? That man couldn’t keep his wife alive. She killed herself, rather than be with him. That’s the kind of person you’re cozying up to. And his boys? They’re drunk with money and privilege and he lets them run wild. I hope you lock your door at night.”

Unwittingly, my mind jumps to that first morning when Easton stuck his hand down his pants and casually threatened me. I grit my teeth. “Why did you ask me to come here?” I’m still not seeing the point of this visit. It seems like she’s only interested in taunting me and making me uncomfortable.

Dinah offers a cool smile. “I just wanted to see what I’m dealing with.” One eyebrow flicks up. “And I must say, I’m not too impressed.”

That makes two of us.

“Here’s my advice,” she continues. “Take whatever Callum has given you and leave. That house is cancer for women, and someday soon it’ll be nothing but dust. I suggest you get out while you still can.”

She reaches over and grabs a bell. After one brisk ring, the maid appears like an obedient dog. She holds a tray with a single glass of water on it.

“Ms. Harper is ready to leave,” Dinah announces. “She doesn’t need the water.”

I can’t get out of there fast enough.

Callum is waiting in the lobby when I stumble out of the elevator. “Are you okay?” he asks immediately.

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