Paper Princess Page 35

The trainer’s jaw tightens, but he knows Reed is right, because he doesn’t argue. After a long beat, he spins around and blows his whistle, the piercing sound making all of us jump.

“I don’t see any lifting, ladies!” he booms.

The players who were egging on our catfight hurry back to their exercise stations like their asses are on fire.

Reed stays with me. “Go,” he orders. “We’ve got a game tonight, and now my guys are distracted because you’re dressed like a slut. Just get out of here.”

He stalks off, shirtless, his muscular back gleaming in the sun streaming in from the skylights. Someone tosses him another shirt and he slips into it on his way to his brother. Easton meets my eyes for a moment, his expression impossible to decipher, but then he turns to Reed, and the Royals talk in hushed tones to each other.

“Bitch,” a voice hisses.

I ignore Jordan and stalk away.


I don’t go to the football game. Wild horses couldn’t drag me to school tonight, not after everything that happened today. At least I was lively at the bakery. Still steaming from the fight, I tore around the little shop like a whirlwind. As Lucy was leaving, she made some comment about youth and energy and how she missed it.

I almost yelled after her that unless she liked assholes and bitches, she missed nothing, but I figured I shouldn’t be shouting at my boss.

I still can’t believe I physically assaulted Jordan Carrington.

I’d do it again, though. In a heartbeat. The bitch had it coming.

All I want to do tonight is hide in my room and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. That the Royals and their snobby friends don’t exist. But even in my self-imposed sentence of solitude, I can’t resist turning on the radio to the local station that’s covering the game.

Of course, the Royal brothers get plenty of coverage. Reed gets a sack against the opposing quarterback. Easton makes a play that causes the announcers to groan.

“Now that’s a hit.”

“Both of them are gonna be icing their ribs tonight,” the other announcer agrees.

Astor Park wins, and I sarcastically mutter, “Go team!” as I turn off the radio.

I do my homework as a distraction, but I’m interrupted by a text from Valerie. There’s a party tonight, she informs me, this time at someone named Wade’s house. She asks if I want to come over to her place instead and dance the night away. I decline. I’m not in the mood to pretend that everything is okay in my life.

I hate this school. I hate the people. Except Valerie, but I’m not sure even my quirky, energetic friend—my only friend—can make any of this torture worthwhile.

Eventually I wander downstairs to the kitchen, where I find Brooke sipping a glass of wine at the counter. She’s wearing a silky red dress, strappy heels, and an impatient expression.

“Hi,” I say tentatively.

She nods in greeting.

“Everything okay?” I grab a bag of corn chips from the pantry, then stand there awkwardly, wondering why I feel compelled to strike up a conversation with her.

“Callum’s late,” she answers, her voice tight. “We’re flying to Manhattan for dinner, but he’s not home yet.”

“Oh. Ah. I’m sorry.” They’re flying to Manhattan just to have dinner? Who does that? “I’m sure he’ll be back soon. He probably got held up at the office.”

She snorts. “Of course he got held up at the office. He fucking lives there, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Her harsh expletive makes me squirm.

Brooke’s expression softens when she notices my discomfort. “I’m sorry, sweetie. Ignore me. I’m a cranky bitch today.” She smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Why don’t you distract me while I wait? How was school?”

“Next question,” I say immediately.

That gets me a genuine-sounding laugh. Eyes twinkling, Brooke taps the empty stool beside her. “Sit,” she orders. “And tell Brooke all about it.”

I sit down, though I’m not entirely sure why.

“What happened at school, Ella?”

I gulp. “Nothing, really. I, ah, may have beat the crap out of someone.”

A shocked laugh flies out of her mouth. “Oh dear.”

For some inexplicable reason, I end up telling her the whole story. How Jordan was determined to humiliate and shame me. How I turned the prank around to my own advantage. How I slammed my fist into the bitch’s jaw. When I’m done, Brooke surprises me by patting my arm.

“You had every right to lose your temper,” she says firmly. “And good for you, putting that nasty girl in her place.”

I wonder if Callum would have the same oddly proud reaction if he knew what I did to Jordan, but somehow I doubt it. “I feel bad,” I admit. “I’m not usually a violent person.”

Brooke shrugs. “Sometimes a show of force is necessary, especially in this world. The Royal world. Do you think the Carrington girl is going to be the only person who gives you grief about where you come from? She won’t. Resign yourself to the fact that you now have enemies, Ella. A lot of them. The Royals are a powerful family, and you’re one of them now. That’s bound to inspire hate and jealousy in the people around you.”

I bite my lip. “I’m not a real Royal. Not by blood.”

“No, but you’re an O’Halloran by blood.” She smiles. “Trust me, that’s equally enticing. Your father was a very rich man. Callum is a very rich man. Ergo, you’re a very rich girl.” Brooke takes a delicate sip of her wine. “Get used to the gossip, darling. Get used to walking into a room and having everyone in it whisper that you don’t belong. Get used to it, but don’t let those whispers defeat you. Strike back when they strike you. Don’t be weak.”

She’s like a war chief delivering a speech before battle, and I’m not sure if I agree with her advice or not. But I can’t deny I feel a bit better about rearranging Jordan’s smug face today.

We hear the front doors open, and a moment later Callum strides into the kitchen. He’s wearing a tailored suit and looks frazzled.

“Don’t say it,” he orders before Brooke can even speak. Then his tone goes softer. “I’m sorry I’m late. The board decided to call a meeting just as I was on my way out the door. But let me just get dressed and then Durand will take us to the airfield. Hi, Ella. How was school?”

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