Paper Princess Page 53

On Friday I bring Daniel an apple cruller, which he told me was his favorite pastry at the French Twist. And this time, the kiss he gives me is directly against my lips—soft and dry but surprisingly not unpleasant.

A loud bang at the end of the hall scares me and I jump back, nearly dropping his gift.

“Easy there.” Daniel plucks the pastry from my hand. “You can’t be damaging the food. That’s a serious violation of the Geneva Convention. I’ll have to haul you in for punishment.” His eyes are twinkling.

“Are you trying to go out with me for my access to baked goods?” I ask in mock suspicion.

“Oh man.” He slaps a hand to his heart. “You found me out. Am I in trouble?” His antics draw a smile from me. “Ohh, I got you to smile and that’s bad because, sweetheart, that smile is a killer. I think my heart stopped.” He taps his chest. “Have a listen.”

Daniel’s so obviously corny and lighthearted, I decide to play along. I lean my head against his chest and listen to the easy, even thumps of his heartbeat.

Beside me, I hear a gagging noise. When I straighten, I see Easton sticking his finger down his throat. He rolls his eyes at us and keeps walking. At his side, Reed doesn’t look up. He looks so hot in his untucked uniform shirt that I have to force myself to look away.

Daniel laughs. “So you coming to the game tonight?”

“I think so.” I lock my knees so I don’t turn around to see what Reed is doing. “But I probably won’t get there until the second half. I work until seven on Fridays.”

“How about the party after?”

“I’m going with Easton,” I admit. We agreed last night that he’d take me to the post football party. Val is staying home because she has a Skype date with Tam. Which sucks because I always have more fun when she’s around.

Throughout the entire discussion between me and Easton about the game and whose car we’ll take to the party, Reed stood there like a statue. He didn’t say a word, and I just wanted to smash his mute button to pieces and force him to talk to me. But that would probably destroy the truce.

I can’t decide what I like more. The calm Royal household with the voiceless Reed or the one where he’s yelling at me to stay away and threatening me with his penis.

“I gotcha. We can hang, right?” Daniel asks.

“Right.”

As he flashes one of his million-dollar smiles and saunters off, I wonder why I don’t just say yes to him.

* * *

The party is at one of the lacrosse players’ mansions. Farris somebody. I don’t know him. He’s a senior like Reed and supposedly a hardcore science geek. He and another science guy are mixing drinks that they’re serving in glass beakers. They fully committed to the act by putting on white lab coats that hang open to display washboard abs, demolishing any nerd stereotype.

I choose the strawberry daiquiri even though the bartender/chemist tries to foist a weird-looking green thing into my hand.

Easton turns it all down. “I drink beer,” he declares. “All the hops inside me will protest if I introduce something fruity into my system.”

After I take my beaker, Easton leads me away. “That stuff can be real strong so be careful tonight,” he warns.

I take a sip. “It tastes like a smoothie.”

“Exactly. These guys are masters at getting everyone hammered without anyone realizing it.”

“Okay. One drink is all I’ll have.” I’m touched that Easton is looking out for me. I’ve never had that before. I sweep the room looking for Reed, but I don’t see him anywhere. Pathetically, I check with Easton. “Is Reed coming?”

“I don’t know. Probably, but…I saw him with Abby again tonight after the game.”

I chug half the beaker in response.

Easton searches my face. “You gonna be okay?”

“Peachy,” I lie.

“If you need anything, I’m only a phone call away.” He holds up his cell. “But for now, I need to get laid, little sis.” He pops a kiss on my cheek and heads out toward the pool.

Daniel sidles up the moment Easton disappears. His eyes twinkle playfully. “Jeez, I thought the chaperone would never leave. Come on, I’ll introduce you around.”

He wraps an arm around my shoulder and takes me from group to group. Kids at school who haven’t given me the time of day are suddenly nodding, smiling, and making conversation as we talk about the game we won tonight. The opponent next week, who we’ll crush. The hobbit chem teacher no one likes and the art teacher everyone does.

The experience is almost dreamlike. I’m not sure if it’s because Daniel is by my side, or if news of the Royal truce has trickled down to the little people, but everyone is nice. Their smiles are bright, and the laughter—the shared giddiness—is infectious. My cheeks ache from smiling so much.

“You having a good time?” Daniel murmurs into my hair.

I lean against him. “I am. I really am,” I say in surprise. Reed is off somewhere and this time it’s probably him and Abby rocking his Range Rover and not Wade, who I saw inside with a girl perched on his knee. But so what? Nice Daniel is here with his solid arm across my shoulders and his warm body snugged up to mine. A strange sluggishness creeps over me. The alcohol is stripping down my defenses, just like Easton warned, and a prickle of alarm zips up the nape of my neck.

“Let me get you another drink,” Daniel offers.

“I think…” I stare up at him, unsure of what I’m thinking.

“She needs to use the bathroom.”

I frown at the intruder. Savannah Montgomery. What’s she doing here? Before I can protest, she drags me off to the closest bathroom and shuts the door.

I watch as she turns on the faucet and dips a hand towel under the stream of water.

“What the hell is going on right now?” I demand.

She turns with a cloudy expression. “Look,” she says bluntly, “I don’t like you much—”

“Gee, thanks.”

“—but I wouldn’t let even my worst enemy be sucked in by Daniel.”

My confusion triples. “What’s wrong with Daniel? Reed and Easton vouched for him. They said he’s a good—”

“You want some advice?” she cuts in. “Don’t take a Royal’s word for anything.”

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