Paper Princess Page 73

“We’re okay.” I rise on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek but Reed turns his face so our lips meet.

The long, tender kiss he gives me goes a long way toward easing any hurt feelings. The feel of his hard frame against my body doesn’t hurt either.

And the last hints of rejection are brushed away when Reed slips into my bed later that night. Silently, I pull his arm around me and fall into a deep and welcome sleep.

32

On Thursday, Valerie accosts me at lunch. “What is going on with you and Reed?”

I try to look as innocent as possible when I answer, “What do you mean?”

“Apparently yesterday he walked by you on the way to Bio and flicked your hair,” she announces.

I stare at her and then burst out laughing. “And that’s some sort of big declaration by Reed Royal?” I ask incredulously.

She nods. “Reed does not do PDA. Even when he was supposedly dating Abby—”

I crinkle my nose at this. I don’t like hearing those two names in the same sentence.

Valerie ignores me and continues, “—he avoided her. There was no kissing her up against the locker. No holding her hand. Sure, she went to his football games, but he’s on the field so it’s not like they were making out during the games or anything.” She looks thoughtfully into the distance as if envisioning them. I hold back a gag. “I think the only time people ever saw them together was at a party. So yeah, the fact that he intentionally reached out to touch you is huge.”

I stare at my tray of locally-sourced organic chicken breast and farm-fresh vegetables so that Valerie doesn’t see that it’s huge to me, too. The graze of his fingers against the base of my neck on Tuesday morning stayed with me for hours.

When I get myself under control, I glance back at Valerie. “We’re enjoying a truce,” is all I admit to.

She shoots me a worried look but doesn’t press because she’s a friend.

Impishly, I reach across the table and grab her hand, pressing it to my chest. “You’re first in my heart, Val.”

“I better be, bitch.” She honks my boob and I slap her hand away.

Giggling, she sticks a carrot in her mouth. After we’re done with lunch, she tells me that the Moonglow club is having another eighteen-and-over night. “You in?”

I hesitate, because my first instinct is to text Reed and find out what he’s doing, but then I realize that not only would I give myself away to Valerie but that no matter what is going on between Reed and me, I need a life separate from his. So I nod firmly. “I’m in.”

She bumps my shoulder companionably as we walk back toward our lockers.

“Are we dancing in the cage?” I ask with a grin.

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

“Am I going to need another outfit?”

She shakes her head in mock dismay. “It’s like it’s your first day of school all over again. Have you learned nothing since you’ve been here? Of course you need a new outfit.”

Valerie and I make plans to go shopping later.

“I’ll pick you up after work,” I tell her, remembering my brand new set of wheels cooling at home.

She stops abruptly and grabs my arm. “What do you mean you’ll pick me up? Did you get a car?”

I nod. “A convertible. Callum gave it to me.”

She whistles long and low but loud enough that it turns the heads of everyone within about ten feet from us.

“Did you bring it to school?” She claps her hands together. “I want to see it!”

“Ah, no.” I stall, trying to think of a plausible excuse for why I rode with Reed this morning. “I caught a ride with Reed. He’s got football practice in the mornings so it makes more sense for us to carpool.”

Valerie rolls her eyes. “How long are you two going to pretend that you’re not going out?”

I suppress a smile. “For as long as anyone will buy it.” And that is as close as I’ll come to admitting she’s right.

* * *

Valerie predictably loves the little car. And I use some of my stash to buy an outfit for tonight. She takes me to an ordinary mall where the prices are high but not so high that I feel like I’m wearing an entire paycheck to the club. At the Royal mansion, I do her hair and makeup and my own, creating dramatic nightclub looks.

“I look hot,” Valerie declares as she examines herself in the mirror. “Let me take a selfie for Tam.”

“I can take it for you.”

She hands me the phone and I snap a couple of photos, which she sends off immediately to her boyfriend. Those two seem to have such a great relationship, even though he didn’t show up a week ago like he’d promised. Val didn’t seem too upset about it.

“How do you do it?” I think of Reed in college and wonder if I’d be able to handle him being around so many pretty older girls.

Valerie takes a shot of me before answering. “I have to trust him. I send him lots of pictures.”

“Nudes?”

“Yep. Naughty photos, too, mostly of my chin down…just in case.” She makes a face. “Not that I don’t trust him, but if someone steals his phone or something.”

“Right.” I hesitate. “Was Tam your first?”

“Are you judging me?” she asks curiously.

“No, absolutely not!” I wave my hands in the air. “No judgment.”

She peers at me in disbelief. “Wait. Have you never had sex before?”

I lower my head and admit, “No, never.”

“Never?” She draws back. “Wow. Now I’m rethinking your relationship with Reed because there’s no way that dude is going without.”

“I-I-I—” I stutter, at a loss for words.

She slaps a hand across her mouth. “I did not mean that. If he’s with you, then I guarantee he’s not sleeping around. When he dated Abby, I never saw him hook up with another girl.”

“Yeah, okay.” I feel a little numb. It never even occurred to me that he might be sleeping with someone else. Is that why he’s not pressuring me?

Valerie squeezes my shoulder. “It was a stupid comment. I didn’t mean anything by it. Honest. I tried to be funny and it came off wrong. Forgive me?”

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