Paper Princess Page 76

He just shrugs.

Adrenaline surges through my blood as I stare at him in disbelief. We could have been hurt. Tony could have killed him. And he’s standing there like he doesn’t give a shit about any of it. The corner of his mouth is even quirked up as if he’s trying not to smile.

“This is fun for you?” I yell. “Almost getting killed gives you a boner, is that it?”

He finally speaks. “Ella—”

“No, just shut up. I don’t want to hear it right now.” I shove my hand in my purse and grab my phone, then text Reed to let him know Easton’s riding back with me and that he should meet us at home.

I’m still holding the plastic baggie in my other hand, so I toss it into the trunk, trying not to think about how empty it is. Eight grand gone, plus another three hundred from my shopping trip with Val today. Until Callum gives me next month’s ten-grand allowance, I only have seventeen hundred dollars in my escape fund.

I hadn’t planned on running, not after all the positive changes in my life, but right now, I’m tempted to take the money and go.

“Ella—” Easton starts.

I hold up my hand. “Not now. I have to find Val.” I dial her number, hoping she hears it inside the club.

Fortunately, she answers. “Hey, is everything okay?”

I glare at Easton. “It is now. Can you meet us outside at the car? The club isn’t going to let us back in.”

“On my way.”

“Ella,” Easton tries again.

“I’m not in the mood.”

He clamps his mouth shut and we wait in tense silence for Val to appear. When she does, I force Easton to sit in the cramped back. Val opens her mouth to object but decides, wisely, that it’s pointless.

The drive to her house is in complete silence.

“Call me tomorrow?” she says as she climbs out. Easton follows her out of the car.

“Yeah, and I’m sorry about tonight.”

She gives me a forgiving smile. “Shit happens, babe. No biggie.”

“Night, Val.”

She waves her fingers and disappears inside the Carrington mansion. Quietly, Easton slides into the passenger seat. I clutch the steering wheel in a death grip and force myself to focus on driving, but it’s hard to do when I’m seconds away from smacking the guy beside me.

About five minutes into the drive back home, my breathing finally steadies, and Easton’s voice drifts over to me.

“I’m sorry.”

There’s genuine regret there, and I turn to look at him. “You should be.”

He hesitates. “Why do you have money hidden in your car?”

“Because I do.” It’s a stupid answer, but that’s all he’s getting from me. I’m too pissed off to offer anything else.

But Easton proves that he knows me better than I think. “My dad gave it to you, didn’t he? That’s how he convinced you to come live with us, and now you’re keeping it hidden in case you need to skip town.”

I clench my teeth.


I jump when his warm hand covers mine, and then his head moves to rest on my shoulder. His soft hair tickles my bare skin, and I force myself not to run a comforting hand through it. He doesn’t deserve comfort right now.

“You can’t leave,” he whispers, his breath fanning over my neck. “I don’t want you to go.”

He kisses my shoulder, but there’s nothing sexual about it. Nothing romantic in the way his hand tightens over my knuckles.

“You belong with us. You’re the best thing that ever happened to this family.”

Surprise filters through me. Okay. Wow.

“You’re ours,” Easton mumbles. “I’m sorry about tonight. I really am, Ella. Please…don’t be mad at me.”

My anger melts away. He sounds like a lost little boy, and I can’t stop myself from stroking his hair now. “I’m not mad. But dammit, Easton, the gambling needs to stop. I might not be there to bail you out next time.”

“I know.” He groans. “You shouldn’t have had to bail me out tonight. I promise I’ll pay you back, every last cent. I…” He lifts his head and presses a kiss to my cheek. “Thank you for doing that. I mean it.”

Sighing, I turn my eyes back to the road. “You’re welcome.”

* * *

At the house, Reed is already waiting in the driveway. He glances from me to Easton in suspicion, but I head inside before he can question what went down tonight. Easton can fill him in. I’m too tired to rehash it.

I walk into my bedroom and strip off my dress, replacing it with the oversized T-shirt I sleep in. Then I duck into the bathroom to remove my makeup and brush my teeth. It’s only ten o’clock, but that scene with Tony left me drained, so I shut off the light and climb into bed.

It’s a long time before Reed comes to my room. An hour at least, which tells me that he and Easton must have had a really long talk.

“You had my brother’s back tonight.” His husky voice finds me in the darkness and the mattress shifts as he slides in next to me.

I don’t resist when he wraps his strong arms around me and rolls me over so that my head is resting on his bare chest.

“Thank you,” he says, and he sounds so touched that I shift in discomfort.

“I just paid off his debt. No big deal,” I answer, downplaying my role in tonight’s events.

“Fuck that. It is a big deal.” He strokes the small of my back. “Easton told me about the money in your car. You didn’t have to give it to that bookie, but I’m so grateful that you did. I tore Easton a new asshole tonight for getting involved with that guy. His other bookie is legit, but Loreno is bad news.”

“Hopefully he stops using bookies altogether after tonight.” I’m not convinced he will, though. Easton feeds off the thrill he gets from gambling or drinking or screwing everyone he can. That’s just who he is.

Reed tugs me on top of him and we both laugh when the sheets get tangled up in our legs. He kicks them away, then brings my head down and kisses me. He strokes me over my shirt as his tongue chases mine into my mouth, and then he says, “Are you pissed that I threw down with that creep tonight?”

I’m too distracted by his wandering hands to understand the question. “You beat up Tony?”

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