Paper Princess Page 66

“No, I haven’t,” he agrees.

I’m not sure if I move first, or if he does, but we’re walking again. A few feet of distance stretch between us at first, but as we walk, we get closer and closer until our bare arms are brushing with every step. His skin is warm, and my arm prickles each time we make contact.

“My mother was kind,” he finally reveals.

That’s what Callum said, too. I think of the woman that Steve married—Dinah, the awful shrew who has naked pictures of herself all over her home—and I wonder how two friends could have married such dramatically different women.

“She cared about people. Too much, maybe. She was a sucker for a sob story. She always went out of her way to help people.”

“Was she good to you? And your brothers?”

Reed nods. “She loved us. She was always there for us, giving advice, helping with our homework. And every day she’d spend alone time with each of us. I guess she didn’t want any of us to feel neglected or like she had a favorite. And on the weekends we’d all do stuff together.”

“Like what?” I ask curiously.

He shrugs. “Museums, the zoo, kiting.”

“Kiting?”

He rolls his eyes at me. “Flying a kite, Ella. Don’t tell me you’ve never done that.”

“Nope.” I purse my lips. “I did go to a zoo once, though. One of my mom’s boyfriends took us to this shitty petting zoo in the middle of nowhere. They had a goat and a llama and this little monkey that threw poop at me when I walked by.”

Reed throws his head back and laughs. It’s the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard.

“And then it turned out the zoo was a front for a drug dealing operation. The boyfriend was just there to buy weed.”

Neither of us comment on the drastic differences in our childhoods, but I know we’re both thinking about it.

We keep walking. His fingers graze mine. I hold my breath, wondering if he’s going to take my hand, but he doesn’t, and the disappointment is too much to bear.

I stop in my tracks and meet his eyes. Not a good idea, because I know he can see the longing on my face. It causes his gaze to grow shuttered, and I bite back my frustration.

“You like me,” I announce.

His jaw tics.

“You want me.”

Another tic.

“Dammit, Reed, why can’t you just admit it? What’s the point in lying?”

When he doesn’t answer, I whirl around and march off, my bare feet kicking up sand. Suddenly I’m yanked backward, and my shoulders collide with a solid male chest, stealing the breath from my lungs.

Reed’s chin comes down to rest on my shoulder, his lips millimeters from my ear. “You want me to say it?” he whispers. “Fine, I’ll say it. I want you. I fucking want you.”

I feel the hard length of him pressing against my butt and I know he’s not lying. As a thrill shoots up my spine, Reed twists me around and his mouth crashes down on mine.

The kiss is hot enough to turn the Atlantic into lava. My lips part and he slides his tongue past them, devouring my mouth in greedy strokes that leave me breathless. I cling to his broad shoulders, then slide my hands down to his trim waist.

He groans and cups my bottom, rotating his hips so I can feel every inch of him. Then, after one more drugging kiss, he releases me and staggers backward.

“I’m leaving for college next year,” he says hoarsely. “I’m leaving, and chances are I’m never coming back. I’m not selfish enough to start something I can’t finish. I’m not gonna do that to you.”

I don’t care, I want to say. I’ll take him any way I can, even if it’s for a short time, but I don’t voice the words, because I know they won’t sway him.

“Let’s go back to the house,” he mumbles when my silence drags on.

I follow him without a word, my lips still tingling from his kiss, my heart still aching from his rejection.

* * *

I’m just drifting off to sleep when my bedroom door creaks open. I groggily lift my head. Within seconds I’m wide awake.

Reed climbs into bed beside me. He doesn’t say a word. The room is too dark, so I can’t see his expression, but I can feel the warmth of his body as he slides closer. The heat of his palm as he strokes my cheek before grasping my chin and tilting my head toward his.

“What are you doing?” I whisper.

His voice is pained. “I decided to be selfish.”

Happiness explodes in my chest. I wrap my arms around his neck and pull him closer. His lips hover over mine, but he doesn’t kiss me.

“Just for tonight,” he tells me.

“That’s what you said last night, too.”

“This time I mean it.” And then he kisses me, and any protest I might have expressed gets lost in the hurried joining of our mouths.

He groans when my tongue touches his. Strong hips rock against me, his hard-on rubbing my thigh. I move so that we’re on both on our sides, face-to-face, mouths fused together.

“Fuck,” he chokes out, and then his hand slips under my shirt. Into my panties.

His fingers tease me, pressing against sensitive spots that make me moan against his lips. We touch each other, running our hands over all the bare skin we can find, neither one of us coming up for air as we practically eat each other’s faces off.

It isn’t long before the knot of tension inside me breaks apart in a million little pieces. Pleasure soars through my body as I gasp into his mouth. Reed trembles against me, and this time I’m the one swallowing his groan of pleasure.

Afterward, we lie tangled up together, kissing for what feels like hours. I never want him to go. I want him to stay in this bed forever.

But just like last night, he’s gone when I open my eyes the next morning.

I wonder if I dreamed it, but when I roll over, I smell him on my pillows. His shampoo, his soap, the spicy aftershave he wears. He was here. It was real. The loss hits me hard, and not even the sunshine streaming in from the curtains can ease the disappointment I wake up with.

But then the disappointment is replaced with a jolt of panic, because a high-pitched shriek suddenly rings out through the mansion. I think it came from the front parlor, and I jump out of bed, throwing open my door just as another shriek assaults my eardrums.

“You are not getting away with this!” Brooke is screaming. “Not this time, Callum Royal!”

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