Paper Princess Page 65

Daniel stops at the edge of lawn and scans the shoreline. When he sees us, he roars, points, and then leaps down onto the sand in one jump. It’s an impressive athletic move.

“Look at him go,” I marvel.

“He is on the lacrosse team,” Sawyer reminds me.

“I’m going to kill you. All of you! Starting with you, you gutter trash.”

Reed’s face breaks out in a grin as he turns to the rest of us. Figures that this would be the moment he unleashes one of his rare smiles. “That sounded like a threat, right?”

Easton nods. “I think Ella’s in imminent danger. You know Dad wouldn’t like that.”

Happy as I’ve ever seen him, Reed pushes me behind him as Daniel runs down the sand, clad in only his khaki shorts. Small pinpoints of light pop up as a number of the partygoers decide that this scene should be immortalized. The Royals shuffle me backward and I have to force my way between the twins to see what’s going on.

And I’m just in time, too, because as soon as I stick my head out between the mountain of Royal muscle, Daniel launches himself at Reed with a growl. Reed takes one step forward and smashes his fist into Daniel’s jaw.

Daniel drops like a stone.

29

We’re all in high spirits as we head back to the mansion. I shoot Valerie a quick text to make sure she’s cool driving home with Savannah, and she assures me it’s fine. It turns out the Carringtons live around the corner from the Montgomerys.

Easton walks beside me. The twins are up ahead, still laughing about the scene we’d left back at the Worthington house. Their voices float toward us.

“He knocked him out cold in one second flat.” Sawyer is chuckling.

“New record for Reed,” Sebastian agrees.

Reed and Gideon trail behind us. Every time I turn around, their heads are bent close in conversation. It’s obvious those two have secrets that Easton and the twins don’t know about, and that bothers me, because I was really starting to buy into the motto about Royals sticking together.

We reach the house but I halt at the steps leading up to it. “I’m going to walk along the water for a bit,” I tell Easton.

“I’ll walk with you.”

I shake my head. “I kinda want to be alone. No offense.”

“None taken.” He leans in and smacks a kiss on my cheek. “That was some first-class vengeance tonight, little sis. You’re my new hero.”

After he’s gone, I leave my shoes on a rock and walk barefoot along the soft sand. The moon lights my way, and I haven’t taken twenty steps when I hear footsteps behind me. I don’t need to turn around to know it’s Reed.

“You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“What, you think Daniel is going to jump out from behind a boulder and attack me?”

Reed reaches me. I stop walking and turn toward him. As usual, his gorgeous face makes my breath hitch.

“He might. You humiliated him pretty good tonight.”

I have to laugh. “And you knocked him out. He’s probably at home right now icing his face.”

Reed shrugs. “He had it coming.”

I stare at the water. He stares at me. I can feel his gaze burning into my face, and I shift my head again, smiling wryly.

“Let’s hear it.”

“Hear what?”

“Some more lies. You know, how last night was just you doing me a favor, you don’t really want me, yada, yada.” I wave my hand.

To my surprise, he laughs.

“Oh my God. Was that a laugh? Reed Royal laughs, folks. Someone call the Vatican because an honest-to-God miracle has occurred.”

That gets me another chuckle. “You’re so annoying,” he grumbles.

“Yeah, but you still like me.”

He goes quiet. I think he’s going to stay that way, but then he curses under his breath and says, “Yeah, maybe I do.”

I feign amazement. “Two miracles in one night? Is the world ending?”

Reed grabs a chunk of my hair and gives it a tug. “That’s enough outta you.”

I step closer to the water, but it’s even more freezing than usual. I squeal when it touches my toes, then dart back.

“I hate the Atlantic,” I declare. “The Pacific is way better.”

“You lived on the west coast?” He sounds grudgingly curious.

“West, east, north, south. We lived everywhere. Never stayed in one place for long. I think the longest was a year, and that was in Chicago. Or I guess Seattle was the longest—two years—but I don’t count that because my mom was sick and we didn’t have a choice but to stay put.”

“Why did you move around so much?”

“Money, mostly. If Mom lost her job, we had to pack up and go where the money was. Or she’d fall in love and we’d move in with her latest boyfriend.”

“She had a lot of boyfriends?” His voice is harsh.

I’m honest with him. “Yeah. She fell in love a lot.”

“Then she wasn’t really in love.”

I look over quizzically.

“That’s lust,” Reed says with a shrug. “Not love.”

“Maybe. But to her, it was love.” I hesitate. “Did your parents love each other?”

I shouldn’t have asked because he goes stiffer than a board. “My dad claims they did. But he sure as shit never acted like a man in love.”

I think Reed is wrong. Just hearing Callum talk about Maria, you can tell that he loved her deeply. I don’t know why his sons refuse to see that.

“You guys all miss her, huh?” I move the subject somewhere safer, but it doesn’t erase the tension in his face.

Reed doesn’t answer.

“It’s okay to say it. I miss my mom every day. She was the most important person in my life.”

“She was a stripper.”

His mocking reply makes my shoulders tighten. “So?” I come to Mom’s defense instantly. “Her stripping paid our bills. It kept a roof over our heads. It paid for my dance classes.”

Sharp blue eyes focus on me. “Did she force you to strip when she got sick?”

“No. She never knew about it. I told her I was waiting tables, which was true. I did do that, and I also worked at a truck stop, but it wasn’t enough to pay all her medical bills, so I stole her ID and got a job at one of the clubs.” I sigh. “I don’t expect you to understand. You’ve never had to worry about money a day in your life.”

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