Paper Princess Page 32

I rub my hands over my arms. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this cold.

“Is Steve really my dad?” I blurt out. “Tell me.”

He doesn’t look at all shocked by the question. “Yes, of course,” he says quietly.

Callum leans in, arms open as if he wants to embrace me, but I rock backward, still completely shaken by Dinah’s revelations. I don’t need his comfort right now. I need the truth.

“Why should I believe you?” I think of Dinah’s cynical words. “You never gave me proof of paternity.”

“You want proof? Fine, I’ll give you proof.” He looks tired. “The DNA results are locked in my safe at home. And Dinah, by the way, has already seen them. Her lawyers have a copy.”

I’m shocked. Did she lie to me? Or is he the liar in the bunch? “You did a DNA test?”

“I wouldn’t have brought you here unless I knew for sure. I took a piece of hair from Steve’s bathroom at the office, and my PI got a sample of yours to compare it to.”

How did… forget it, I don’t even want to know how he got his hands on my DNA. “I want to see the test results,” I demand.

“Suit yourself, but believe me when I say that you’re Steve’s daughter. I knew you were his the moment I saw you. You have his stubborn jaw. His eyes. I could have picked you out of any lineup as Steve O’Halloran’s child. Dinah’s angry and scared. Don’t let her get to you.”

Don’t let her get to me? The woman just dropped enough bombshells and made enough insinuations to make my head spin.

I can’t deal with this right now. Any of it. I just…

“I’m ready to go,” I say numbly.

In the car, I can’t bring myself to meet Callum’s concerned eyes. Dinah’s words play themselves over and over in my mind.

“Ella, when I lost my wife I went through a dark time.” It’s a bare acknowledgment of what he thinks Dinah told me.

I answer without looking at him. “That dark time? I think you’re still there.”

He pours himself another glass. “Maybe I am.”

The rest of the ride is full of silence.

15

My meeting with Dinah stays with me for three days, running through my mind like it’s on some sick loop. Lucy probably thinks she hired a robot for all the emotion that I display. I’m afraid if I move my face, though, I’ll start crying. But she keeps me on because I show up every morning and the assigned evenings on time and work without complaint.

It’s a relief to work. When it’s busy, I manage to forget how screwed up my life has become. And that’s saying something, considering I fled Seattle to avoid Social Services trying to push me into foster care and then spent a week on the road before settling in Kirkwood. I thought forging my dead mother’s signature on school forms was nuts, but that was nothing compared to the Royals and their entourages.

It’s harder to avoid the topic at school because Val keeps asking me what’s wrong. As much as I adore Val, I don’t think she’s ready to hear all this crap, and even if she is…I’m not ready to share it.

It doesn’t matter that Callum showed me the DNA results when we got home that night—the doubt kept eating at me for three whole days, until this morning, when I dragged myself out of bed after another sleepless night, and forced myself to remember one undeniable fact: My mother was not a liar.

I can count everything Mom told me about my father on one hand. His name was Steve. He was blond. He was a sailor. He gave her his watch.

All of that lines up with everything Callum told me, and when you add in the very obvious resemblance I have to the man in the picture in the library, I have to believe that Dinah O’Halloran, simply put, is full of shit.

“You banging someone?”

Reed’s gruff demand jolts me from my thoughts. I’m in the passenger seat of his Range Rover, trying to stop yawning. “What? Why would you ask me that?”

“You’ve got dark circles under your eyes. You’ve been walking around the house like a zombie since Tuesday, and it looks like you haven’t slept in days. So. Are you banging someone? Sneaking out to see him?” His jaw is tight.

“No.”

“No,” he echoes.

“Yes, Reed. No. I’m not dating anyone, okay? And even if I was, it’s none of your business.”

“Everything you do is my business. Every move you make affects me and my family.”

“Wow. It must be nice to live in a world where everything revolves around you.”

“What’s going on with you then?” he demands. “You haven’t been yourself.”

“I haven’t been myself? Like you know me well enough to make that kind of statement.” I scowl at him. “Tell you what, I’ll fill you in on all my secrets—after you tell me where you sneak off to every night and why you come home with cuts and bruises.”

His eyes flash.

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” I cross my arms and try not to yawn again.

Reed fixes his irritated gaze on the windshield, his big hands gripping the wheel tight. He’s been driving me to work every morning at five-thirty, then continuing on to school for his six a.m. football practice. Easton is on the team, too, but he drives to practice on his own. I think it’s because Reed wants alone time with me. So he can cross-examine me, the way he’s done every morning since this annoying carpool began.

“You’re not going away, are you?” There’s a note of defeat in his voice, along with the usual dose of anger.

“Nope. I’m not going away.”

He stops in front of the bakery and shoves the gearshift to park.

“What?” I mutter when those piercing blue eyes turn to me.

His lips tighten for a moment. “The game tonight.”

“What about it?” The clock on the dash says it’s five twenty-eight. The sun isn’t even up yet, but the French Twist’s front window is lit up. Lucy’s already inside, waiting for me.

“My dad wants you to go.”

The Royal Pain forms between my shoulder blades. “Goodie for him.”

Reed looks like he’s trying not to strangle me. “You’re coming to the game.”

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