Paper Princess Page 79

“Um. I…No,” I stammer. It’s the truth.

“But you’re together,” Gideon presses. “You’re hooking up?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“I’m trying to figure out how much damage control I’m gonna have to do.”

Damage control? What the hell is he talking about?

“Shouldn’t we be talking about Savannah?” I ask uneasily.

“This is about Savannah. And you. And Reed.” His breathing sounds labored. “Whatever you’re doing, you need to stop. Right now, Ella. You need to end it.”

My pulse is even more off-kilter. “Why?”

“Because no good will come of it.”

He drags a hand through his hair, which causes his head to tilt back a bit, drawing my attention to the red mark on his neck. It looks like a hickey.

“Reed is screwed up,” Gideon says hoarsely. “He’s as screwed up as I am, and, look, you’re a nice girl. There are other guys at Astor. Reed’ll be off to college soon.”

Gideon’s words tumble out, a bunch of disjointed sentences that I can’t make sense out of. “I know Reed’s screwed up,” I start to say.

“You have no clue. No clue at all,” he interrupts. “Reed and I and my dad, we have one thing in common. We ruin women’s lives. We drive women to the cliff and then push them over. You’re a decent person, Ella. But if you stay here and continue with Reed, I…” He breaks off, his breathing heavy.

“You what?”

His knuckles whiten as he grips the steering wheel tighter but offers no other explanation.

“You what, Gideon?”

“You need to stop asking questions and start listening,” Gideon snaps. “End it with my brother. You can be his friend, like you are with Easton and the twins. Don’t start up a relationship with him.”

“Why not?”

“Goddammit, are you always this fucking difficult? I’m trying to save you from getting your heart broken and offing yourself with a bottle of pills,” he finally explodes.

Oh. His outburst makes sense now. His mother killed herself… Oh God, did Savannah try something, too?

Reed and I have things sorted out, but I don’t think Gideon is ready to hear that. And I suspect he isn’t going to let up until I agree to his crazy demands. Well, fine. I’ll agree then. Reed and I are already sneaking around behind Callum’s back. It’ll be easy enough to hide it from Gideon, too.

“Okay.” I reach out and rest a soothing hand on his. “I’ll end it with Reed. You’re right, we’re messing around, but it’s not serious or anything,” I lie.

He runs a hand through his hair again. “You sure about that?”

I nod. “Reed won’t care. And honestly, if it upsets you this much, I’m sure he’ll agree that it’s not worth it.” I squeeze Gideon’s hand. “Chill, okay? I don’t want to ruin the dynamic we have going on in the house. I’m cool about ending it.”

Gideon relaxes, his breath coming out in a long rush. “Okay. Good.”

I take my hand back. “Can we go home now? If someone drives by and sees us parked here, the rumor mill at school is going to explode tomorrow.”

He chuckles weakly. “Truth.”

I fix my gaze out the window as he starts the engine and pulls out of the parking lot. We don’t talk on the ride back, and he doesn’t get out of the car when he drops me off.

“You heading back to school now?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

He speeds off, and for some reason I don’t believe that he’s returning to college. At least, not tonight. I’m also more than a little freaked out by his outburst and his insane request for me to stay away from Reed. Speaking of Reed, his Rover is parked near the garage, and the sight fills me with relief. He’s back. And all the other vehicles are gone, even the Town Car, which means Reed and I will be alone.

I hurry inside and take the stairs two at a time. At the landing, I veer right, toward the east wing, where every door is open except for Reed’s. The twins and Easton are nowhere to be seen, and my bedroom is empty too when I peek in.

I haven’t been in Reed’s bedroom before—he always hangs out in mine—but tonight I’m not going to wait for him to come to me. Gideon really shook me up, and Reed is the only one who can help me make sense of his brother’s strange behavior.

I reach his door and lift my hand to knock, then smile ruefully because God knows no one in this house ever knocks on my door. They just waltz in like they belong in my room. So I decide to give Reed a taste of his own medicine. Childish as it is, I kinda hope he’s jerking off in there, just to teach him a lesson about the importance of knocking.

I throw open the door and say, “Reed, I—”

The words die in my throat. I stumble to a stop and gasp.

35

The clothes litter the floor like an obscene breadcrumb trail. I follow the path with my eyes. High-heeled shoes tipped over on their sides. Running shoes bracketing them. A shirt, a dress, under—I close my eyes as if I can erase the images but when I open them again, it’s unchanged. Lacy black things—things I would never wear—look as if they were dropped just before their owner climbed into bed.

My gaze flickers upward, past strong calves, over knees, beyond a pair of hands loosely clasped together. Up the ladder of his bare, ridged abdomen, pausing at a new scratch on his left pectoral, about where his heart is supposed to be, stopping to meet his gaze.

“Where’s Easton?” I blurt out. My mind rejects the scene. I superimpose a different story than the one laid out in front of me. A story where I’ve stumbled into Easton’s room, and Reed, in a booze-induced haze, stumbled into the wrong room, too.

But Reed just stares stonily back at me, daring me to question his actions.

There’s no way that Reed is going without, I hear Val whisper in my ear.

“The guys you were meeting for beers?” I toss out desperately. I give Reed every chance to spin an account different than the one I see before me. Lie to me, dammit! But he remains stubbornly silent.

Brooke rises like a ghostly specter from behind him, and the earth stops. Time stretches out as she slides her hand up Reed’s spine, over his shoulder and then brings her manicured fingers across his chest.

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