Paper Princess Page 6

“Is that yours?” I have a hard time not gaping.

“It is but we’re not stopping.”

I pull my hand away from the heavy silver door latch. “What do you mean?”

For the time being, I shelve the shock of being kidnapped, of the existence—and death—of the sperm donor who helped make me, of this mysterious letter, to watch in open-mouthed amazement when we drive past the gates, past the building, and onto what I presume to be the airfield. At the rear of the plane, a hatch lowers and once the ramp hits the ground, Goliath motors up the incline and right into the belly of the plane.

I twist around to look out the back windshield as the hatch closes loudly behind us. As soon as the door of the plane shuts, the locks to the car doors make a soft snick. And I’m free. Sort of.

“After you.” Callum gestures toward the door Goliath is holding open for me.

With the jacket clutched tightly around me, I try to gather my composure. Even the plane is in better condition than me with my borrowed stripper corset and uncomfortable heels.

“I need to change.” I’m grateful I manage to sound halfway normal. I’ve had a lot of experience being shamed, and over the years I’ve learned that the best defense is a good offense. But I’m at a low point right now. I don’t want anyone, not Goliath or the flight people, looking at me in this getup.

This is my first time on a plane. Before it was always buses and, in some really terrible spots, rides with truck drivers. But this is a giant thing, big enough to house a car. Surely there’s a closet somewhere for me to change.

Callum’s eyes soften and he gives a brisk nod to Goliath. “We’ll wait upstairs.” He points to the end of the garage-like room. “Through that door is a set of stairs. Come up when you’re ready.”

The minute I’m alone, I quickly exchange my stripper clothes for my most comfortable undies, a pair of baggy jeans, a tank top, and a flannel button-down top that I’d normally leave open but tonight fasten all the way up, leaving only the top button undone. I look like a hobo, but at least I’m covered.

I stuff the stripper gear in the bag and check to see if my money is there. It is, thankfully, along with Steve’s watch. My wrist feels naked without it, and since Callum already knows, I might as well wear it. The second the latch is affixed around my wrist, I feel instantly better, stronger. I can face whatever Callum Royal has in store for me.

Slinging the backpack over my shoulder, I start plotting as I walk toward the door. I need money. Callum has that. I need a new place to live, and fast. If I get enough money from him, I’ll fly to my next destination and start over again. I know how to do that.

I’m going to be okay.

Everything is going to be okay. If I tell myself that lie long enough, I’ll believe it to be true…even if it isn’t.

When I reach the top of the stairs, Callum is there waiting for me. He introduces me to the driver. “Ella Harper, this is Durand Sahadi. Durand, Steven’s daughter, Ella.”

“Nice to meet you,” Durand says in a ridiculously deep voice. Jeez, he sounds like Batman. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

He bows his head slightly and he’s just so fricking nice that it’d be rude to ignore him. I push my backpack out of the way and shake his outstretched hand. “Thank you.”

“Thank you as well, Durand.” Callum dismisses his driver and turns to me. “Let’s take our seats. I want to get home. It’s an hour plane ride to Bayview.”

“An hour? You brought a plane to go an hour?” I exclaim.

“It would have taken me six hours to drive and that was far too long. It’s already taken me nine weeks and an army of detectives to find you.”

Since I don’t have any other options right now, I follow Callum toward a set of plush cream leather seats facing each other, with a fancy black wooden table inlaid with silver situated between them. He settles into one, then gestures for me to take my place opposite him. A glass and a bottle are already set out, as if his staff knows he can’t function without a drink.

Across the aisle from Callum is another set of cushy chairs, and a sofa lies beyond that. I wonder if I could get a job as a flight attendant for him. This place is even nicer than his car. I could live here, no question.

I sit down and set my backpack between my feet.

“Nice watch,” he comments dryly.

“Thanks. My mom gave it to me. Said it was the only thing my dad left her besides his name and me.” There’s no point in lying anymore. If his army of private detectives led him to me in Kirkwood, he probably knows more about me and Mom than I do. He certainly seems to know a lot about my dad, and I find, against my better judgment, I’m starving for that information. “Where’s the letter?”

“At home. I’ll give it to you when we arrive.” He reaches for a leather portfolio and pulls out a stack of cash—the kind you see in movies with a white wrapper around it. “I want to make a deal with you, Ella.”

I know my eyes are as huge as saucers but I can’t help it. I’ve never seen so many hundred-dollar bills in my entire life.

He pushes the stack across the dark surface until the pile of bills sits in front of me. Maybe this is a game show or some kind of reality television competition? I snap my mouth shut and try to stiffen up. No one plays me for a fool.

“Let’s hear it,” I say, crossing my arms and looking at Callum with narrowed eyes.

“From what I can tell, you’re stripping to support yourself and get a high school diploma. From there, I presume you’d like to go to college and give up stripping and perhaps do something else. Maybe you’d like to be an accountant or doctor or lawyer. This money is a good faith gesture.” He taps the bills. “This stack contains ten thousand dollars. For every month you stay with me, I’ll give you a new stack—in cash—for the same amount. If you stay with me until you graduate from high school, you’ll receive a bonus of two hundred thousand. That will pay for your college education, housing, clothing, and food. If you graduate with a degree, you’ll receive another substantial bonus.”

“What’s the catch?” My hands itch to grab the money, find a parachute and escape from Callum Royal’s clutches before he can even say stock market.

Instead, I stay seated, waiting to hear what kind of sick deed I’ll have to do to get this money—and debating internally what my limits are.

Prev Next