Paper Princess Page 58

“Oh, Ella,” Callum says suddenly. “I forgot to tell you. Your car is arriving tomorrow, so you’ll be able to drive yourself to work on Monday morning.”

Although I’m relieved that Callum can finally say the word “work” without frowning at me, I’m also hit with a rush of disappointment. At the fridge, Reed’s back stiffens. He knows what this means, too. No more carpooling for us.

“That’s great,” I say meekly.

“Anyway.” Callum glances around the kitchen. “What’s everyone’s plans for today? Ella, I was thinking you and I could go to—”

“I’m going to the pier with Valerie,” I interrupt. “We’re having lunch at this seafood restaurant right on the water that she keeps raving about.”

He seems disappointed. “Oh, all right. That sounds like fun.” He turns to his sons. “Anyone want to hit the driving range with me? It’s been ages since we’ve all gone.”

Not a single Royal brother takes him up on his invitation, and when Callum trudges out of the kitchen looking like a lost puppy, I can’t help but frown.

“You guys can’t even try to make an effort?” I ask them.

“Trust me, we make an effort.” It’s Gideon who answers, and his ugly sneer catches me off-guard.

When he stalks off, I look at Easton. “What’s up his ass?”

“No clue.”

For once, Easton is as clueless as I am, but Reed must know something we both don’t, because he scowls and says, “Lay off Gid.”

Then he walks out, too. He hadn’t looked at me, not even once, and the pain that squeezes my heart is a thousand times worse than any hangover.

* * *

Lunch with Valerie is fun, but I beg off early because my head still feels like it’s being stabbed with rusty knives. She laughs and tells me that the bigger the hangover, the better the party must have been, and I let her believe the same thing Callum believes—that I drank a little too much and now I’m being punished for it.

I don’t know why I don’t tell her about Daniel. Val is my friend, and she’d be the first person in line to beat the bejeezus out of Daniel for what he did to me. But something holds me back from telling her. Maybe it’s shame.

I shouldn’t feel ashamed. I shouldn’t. I didn’t do anything wrong, and if I’d had even the slightest suspicion that Daniel was such a psycho, I never would have gone into the pool house with him. Ever.

But each time I think about last night, I picture myself ripping my clothes off and whispering Reed’s name while Daniel’s slimy hands ran all over my body. I picture that and I’m flooded with shame.

And I can’t even distract myself by thinking about what happened afterward—the good part, when I was whispering Reed’s name for other reasons. I can’t think about it because it makes me sad. Reed wanted me last night, and he gave me as much of himself as he’d been willing to give, but now he’s taken it away again.

Valerie drops me off at the mansion and speeds off in her housekeeper’s car. She told me at lunch that her boyfriend is coming home next weekend, and I’m looking forward to meeting the guy. The amount of time she spends talking about Tam, I feel like I already known him.

It’s another beautiful afternoon, so I decide to change into my bathing suit and lie by the pool for a while. Hopefully the sunshine will make me feel human again. I grab a book and get settled on a lounger, but I only have about twenty minutes of solitude before Gideon strides out in his Speedo.

Of all the Royal brothers, Gideon is probably the one with the least amount of body fat. He has a swimmer’s frame, and Easton told me he got a full ride to college on a swim scholarship. The twins insist that he’ll be winning gold at the next summer Olympics, but it’s a good thing there are no Olympic officials around today, because they’d reject him in a heartbeat. His strokes are uneven, and his pace is alarmingly slow.

But maybe I’m worried for nothing. I mean, I’ve only seen him swim one other time. Maybe he’s just taking it easy today.

“Ella,” he calls as he heaves himself out of the pool nearly an hour later.

“Yeah?”

He walks toward me, dripping water all over the deck. “There’s a party on the beach tonight. At the Worthington estate.” He rubs his towel over his chest. “I want you to stay home.”

I arch a brow. “You’re in charge of my social calendar now?”

“Tonight I am.” His tone brooks no argument. “I mean it. Stay away from the party.”

After last night, I have no interest in going to another party ever again, but I still don’t appreciate being told what to do. “Maybe.”

“No maybe about it. Stay home.”

He disappears into the house, and not even five minutes later, Easton walks out and looms over my chair. “Brent Worthington is having a—”

“A party,” I finish. “Yeah, I know all about it.”

He rubs a hand over the stubble on his jaw. “You’re not going.”

“You’ve been talking to Gideon, I see.”

His expression reveals that he has, but then he tries a different approach, flashing me that boyish grin of his. “Look, there’s no reason for you to go out, little sis. Take the night off, relax, watch some soap operas—”

“Soap operas? Who do you think I am, a fifty-year-old housewife?”

He snickers. “Fine, then watch some porn. But you’re not coming with us tonight.”

“Us?” I echo. “Is Reed going?”

Easton shrugs, and the way he avoids my gaze raises my hackles. What the hell do they have planned for tonight? Panic tugs at my belly. Is Daniel going to be there? Is that why they want to keep me away?

I don’t get a chance to ask the question, because Easton is already dashing off. Sighing, I pick up my book and try to concentrate on the chapter I’m reading, but it’s no use. I’m worried again.

“Hey.”

I look up and find Reed approaching. For the first time today, he actually meets my eyes.

He lowers his broad body into the chair next to mine. “How you feeling?”

I tuck my book at my side. “Better. My head isn’t pounding anymore, but my body still feels kinda weak.”

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