Paper Princess Page 4

“Ella,” he says in a low voice.

“Let me go.” My tone is as indifferent as I can make it, but my hand shakes as I try to pry his off me.

He doesn’t let go, not until another figure steps out of the shadows, a man in a dark suit and with the shoulders of a linebacker. “No touching,” the bouncer says ominously.

Royal releases my arm as if it’s made of lava. He spares a grim look at Bruno the bouncer, then turns back to me. His eyes stay locked on my face, like he’s making a pointed effort not to look at my skimpy outfit. “We need to talk.”

The whiskey on his breath nearly knocks me over.

“I have nothing to say to you,” I answer coolly. “I don’t know you.”

“I’m your guardian.”

“You’re a stranger.” Now I’m haughty. “And you’re interfering with my work.”

His mouth opens. Then closes. Then he says, “All right. Get to work then.”

What?

There’s a mocking gleam in his eyes as he drifts backward toward the plush couches. He sits, spreading his legs slightly, still mocking me. “Give me what I paid for.”

My heart speeds up. No way. I’m not dancing for this man.

From the corner of my eye I see George approaching the steps of the lounge. My new boss stares at me expectantly.

I gulp. I want to cry, but I don’t. Instead, I sashay over to Royal with confidence I don’t feel.

“Fine. You want me to dance for you, Daddy? I’ll dance for you.”

Tears prick the insides of my eyelids, but I know they won’t spill over. I’ve trained myself never to cry in public. The last time I cried, it was by my mother’s deathbed, and that was after all the nurses and doctors left the room.

Callum Royal has a pained look on his face as I move in front of him. My hips roll to the music, as if on instinct. Actually, it is instinct. Dancing is in my blood. It’s part of me. When I was younger, Mom was able to scrape money together to send me to ballet and jazz classes for three years. After the funds ran out, she took up the teaching part herself. She would watch videos, or crash classes at the community center before they kicked her out, and then she’d come home and teach me.

I love to dance, and I’m good at it, but I’m not stupid enough to think it’ll ever be a career, not unless I want to strip for a living. Nope, my career will be practical. Business or law, something that will earn me a good living. Dancing is a little girl’s foolish dream.

As I run my hands seductively down the front of my corset, Royal lets out a groan. It’s not the groan I’m used to hearing, though. He doesn’t look turned on. He looks…sad.

“He’s rolling over in his grave right now,” Royal says hoarsely.

I ignore him. He doesn’t exist to me.

“This isn’t right.” He sounds choked up.

I toss my hair back and jut my boobs out. I can feel Bruno’s eyes on me from the shadows.

A hundred bucks for a ten-minute dance, and I’ve already gyrated away two minutes. Eight more to go. I can do this.

But evidently, Royal can’t. One more sway and both his hands clamp down on my hips. “No,” he growls. “Steve wouldn’t want this for you.”

I don’t have time to blink, to register his words. He’s on his feet and I’m flying through the air, my torso slamming into his broad shoulder.

“Let me go!” I scream.

He’s not listening. He carries me over his shoulder like I’m a rag doll, and not even Bruno’s sudden appearance can stop him.

“Get the hell out of my way!” When Bruno takes another step, Royal booms at him. “This girl is seventeen years old! She’s a minor, and I’m her guardian, and so help me God, if you take one more step, I will have every cop in Kirkwood swarming this place and you and all these other perverts will be thrown in jail for endangering a minor.”

Bruno might be beefy, but he’s not dumb. With a stricken look, he moves out of the way.

Me, I’m not so cooperative. My fists pound against Royal’s back, my nails clawing at his expensive suit jacket. “Put me down!” I shriek.

He doesn’t. And nobody stops him as he marches toward the exit. The men in the club are too busy leering and hooting at the stage. I see a flash of movement—George coming up beside Bruno, who furiously whispers in his ear—but then they’re gone and I’m hit by a gust of cool air.

We’re outside, but Callum Royal still doesn’t put me down. I see his fancy shoes slapping the cracked pavement of the parking lot. There’s a jingle of keys, a loud beep, and then I’m propelled through the air again before landing on a leather seat. I’m in the back of a car. A door slams. An engine roars to life.

Oh my God. This man is kidnapping me.

3

My backpack!

It has my money and my watch in it! The backseat of the behemoth Callum Royal calls a car is more luxurious than anything my butt has ever touched in my entire life. Too bad I won’t have time to appreciate it. I dive for the door handle and pull on it but the stupid thing won’t open.

My eyes shift to the driver. It’s reckless as hell but I don’t have any choice—I lunge forward and grab the shoulder of the driver whose neck is as big as my thigh. “Turn around! I have to go back!”

He doesn’t even flinch. It’s like he’s made out of brick. I tug a few more times, but I’m pretty sure that short of stabbing this guy in the neck—and maybe not even then—he’s not doing anything unless Royal tells him to.

Callum hasn’t moved an inch from his side of the rear passenger seat, and I resign myself to the fact that I won’t be exiting the car until he okays it. I test the window just to be sure. It remains stubbornly closed.

“Child safety locks?” I mutter, even though I’m sure of the answer.

He nods slightly. “Among other things, but suffice it to say that you’re in the car for the duration of our trip. Are you looking for this?”

My backpack lands in my lap. I resist the urge to rip it open and check if he’s taken my cash and identification. Without either, I’m completely at his mercy, but I don’t want to reveal a thing until I figure out his angle.

“Look, mister, I don’t know what you want but it’s obvious you have money. There are plenty of hookers out there who will do whatever you want and won’t cause you the legal trouble that I could. Just drop me off at the next intersection and I promise you’ll never hear from me again. I won’t go to the cops. I’ll tell George that you were an old client but that we hammered out our issues.”

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