Paper Princess Page 47

I resist the urge to hide behind Easton’s big frame. “Just here to cheer on the family. Go—” Royals, I start to say but then wonder if these guys are using aliases or something. I lift my fist, “Go, family!”

“East, if you put her up to this, I swear I’m going to beat your ass into next Sunday.”

Easton holds up his hands. “Dude, I told you someone was following us but you couldn’t hear anything over all your bitching about how you were going to teach someone,” he tilts his head in my direction, “a lesson.”

Reed scowls. He clearly wants to pick me up and throw me out into the dark. Before he can do anything, the other shirtless guy with thighs like tree trunks claps him on the shoulder.

“You done having your family reunion? I want to get this fight over with before the sun rises.”

The anger in Reed’s blue eyes dissolves into amusement. “Cunningham, you won’t last five seconds. Where’s your bro?”

Cunningham shrugs his massive shoulders. “He’s getting his dick sucked by some casual. Now don’t be scared, Royal. I won’t hurt you too bad. I know you have to show your pretty face at Astor Park tomorrow.”

“You stay here.” Reed points at me and then at the ground. “Move and it’ll be way worse for you.”

“Because it’s been so good up until now,” I crack.

“Quit talking and start fighting,” someone from the crowd yells. “If I wanted to watch a soap opera, I would’ve stayed home.”

Easton punches Reed hard in the shoulder and Reed punches him right back. Both blows would have felled me but the two laugh like maniacs.

Cunningham backs up to the center and gestures for Reed to come after him. Reed doesn’t hesitate. There’s no dancing around, taking each other’s measure. Reed launches himself at Cunningham and for a good five minutes, the two exchange blows. I flinch at every contact Cunningham makes, but Easton just laughs and cheers Reed on.

“Easiest money I ever make, betting on Reed,” he crows.

I fold my arms around my waist. Callum said he was in a dark place, but does he realize his sons are there, too? That they come out here and take blow after blow to rid themselves of whatever emotions that haunt them?

And what does it say about me that my palms are dampening and so are other parts of my body? That my breath is quickening and my heart is starting to race?

I can’t take my eyes off Reed. His muscles are gleaming in the moonlight, and he’s so incredibly beautiful in this animalistic form that something primal inside me responds in a way I don’t know how to deal with.

“Getting you hot, isn’t it?” Easton whispers knowingly in my ear.

I shake my head no, but my entire body screams yes, and as Reed strikes his final blow, one that swings Cunningham all the way around and drops him face-first to the concrete, I know that if he crooks his little finger at me, I won’t be able to turn him away. Not this time.

20

I drive back to the mansion with Easton in the passenger side because Reed mutters that he doesn’t trust me to get back on my own. I want to point out that I got to the shipyard fine all by my lonesome, but my mouth is cemented shut. Obviously Reed isn’t to be messed with tonight.

He fought two more guys after Cunningham, and he kicked both their asses, too. Easton counted his winnings on the ride back and they totaled up to eight grand. It seems like a drop in the bucket compared to how loaded they already are, but Easton informs me that money is always sweeter when you’ve bled for it.

Reed didn’t bleed, though. I don’t think he’ll even be bruised or sore tomorrow. That’s how wild and powerful he’d been when he’d slammed his fists over and over again into those guys tonight.

In the driveway, I kill the engine, but I stay in the car because Reed hasn’t gotten out of his yet. Easton doesn’t stick around—he just tucks his cash in his pocket and ducks out of the SUV, heading for the side door without a backward glance.

It isn’t until I see Reed slide out of the driver’s seat that I do the same. We stand ten feet apart and our gazes lock. His hard eyes and tight jaw send a wave of exhaustion crashing over me. I’m so tired, and not because it’s nearly two a.m. and I’ve been up since seven.

I’m tired of the hatred that rolls off Reed’s body every time he sees me. I’m tired of fighting with him. I’m tired of the games and the tension and the unending hostility.

I take a step toward him.

He turns his back to me and disappears around the side of the house.

No. Not this time. He can’t run away from me. I won’t let him.

I hurry after him, grateful for the motion-activated lights that surround the house. They guide my way to the backyard and then beyond it, down the path leading to the shore.

Reed has a twenty-foot head start, and the advantage of having lived here all his life. With total ease, he navigates the rocks lining the beach until he reaches the water’s edge.

I’m still making my way through the boulder-strewn sand when I see him kick off his shoes and socks and wade into the water. He doesn’t seem to care that the bottoms of his jeans are getting soaked.

It’s late, but not pitch-black. The moon is out, illuminating his gorgeous face. His shoulders are down, and he rakes both hands through his hair when I finally come up beside him.

“Haven’t we tortured each other enough today?” His voice comes out weary.

I let out a heavy sigh. “It has been a pretty eventful day, huh?”

“You tied me to a chair,” he mutters.

“You deserved it.”

We go quiet for a moment. I slip out of my shoes and take a step forward, then squeal when the freezing-cold water soaks my feet. Reed grunts out a laugh.

“Is the Atlantic always this cold?” I blurt out.

“Yeah.”

I stare at the water and listen to the waves crash against the shore. Then I sigh again.

“We can’t keep doing this, Reed.”

He doesn’t answer.

“I mean it.” I latch my hand on his arm and twist him around to face me. His blue eyes are expressionless, which I guess is better than the usual dose of contempt. “I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m tired of fighting.”

“Then leave.”

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