Paper Princess Page 9

So nice things doesn’t equal nice people.

I sit up and take in my surroundings. The whole room is designed for a princess—a really young one. There’s a gag worthy amount of pink and ruffles. It’s really only missing Disney posters, although I’m sure posters are too low-class for this place, just like my backpack sitting on the floor near the door is.

Yesterday’s events flick through my mind, halting at the stack of hundred dollar bills. I leap out of bed and grab the backpack. Ripping it open, I sigh with relief when I see the stack of Benjamins on the top. I thumb the bills and listen to the sweet sound of the paper shuffling, replacing the silence of the room. I could take this right now and leave. Ten grand would keep me afloat for a long time.

But…if I stay, Callum Royal has promised me so much more. The bed, the room, ten grand each month until I graduate…just for going to school? For living in this mansion? For driving my own car?

I tuck the money into the secret pocket at the bottom of the bag. I’ll give it a day. There’s nothing stopping me from leaving tomorrow or next month or the month after. The minute things go bad, I can jet.

With my money secured, I dump the rest of the bag’s contents out on the bed and take stock. For clothes, there are two pairs of skinny jeans, the baggy pair I wore home from the strip joint to avoid attention, five T-shirts, five pairs of undies, one bra, the corset I danced in last night, a G-string, a pair of stripper heels, and one nice dress that was my mother’s back in the day. It’s black, short, and makes me look like I have more upstairs than what God gave me. There’s a makeup case, again mostly things my mom used, but also castaways from various strippers we met along the way. The kit is probably worth at least a grand.

I’ve also got my book of Auden poetry, which I guess is the most romantic and unnecessary part of my belongings, but I found it lying on a coffee shop table and the inscription matched the one on my watch. I couldn’t leave it there. It was kismet, even though I generally don’t believe in that stuff. Fate is for the weak—those people who don’t have enough power or will to shape life into what they need it to be. I’m not there yet. I don’t have enough power, but I will some day.

I rub my hand over the cover of the book. Maybe I can get a part-time job somewhere waiting tables. A steakhouse would be good. That’d give me some spending money so I wouldn’t have to dip into the ten grand, which I’ve now deemed untouchable.

A knock at the door startles me.

“Callum?” I call.

“No, it’s Reed. Open up.”

I glance down at my oversized T-shirt. It belonged to one of my mom’s old boyfriends and mostly covers me, but I’m not facing the accusing and angry glare of one of the Royal boys unless I’m fully armed. Which means dressed up and with a complete layer of bad girl makeup on.

“I’m not decent.”

“Like I give a shit. You’ve got five seconds and then I’m coming in.” The words are flat and forceful.

Jerk. With the guns on that guy, I have no doubt he could break down the door if he wanted to.

I stomp over and fling it open. “What do you want?”

He gives me a rude onceover, and even though my shirt hangs down far enough to cover anything racy, he makes me feel like I’m completely naked. I hate that, and the distrust that planted itself last night grows into genuine dislike.

“I want to know what your game is.” He steps forward and I know it’s meant to intimidate me. This is a guy who uses his physicality as both a weapon and a lure.

“I think you should be talking to your father. He’s the one who kidnapped me and brought me here.”

Reed takes another step until we’re so close each breath we take makes our bodies rub against each other.

He’s hot enough that my mouth dries up and tingles start dancing in places I’d like to think an asshole like him would never awaken. But another lesson I learned from my mom is that your body can like things that your head hates. Your head just has to be the one in charge. That was one of her “do as I say, not as I do” admonishments.

He’s a jerk and he wants to hurt you, I scream at my body. My nipples pucker despite my warning.

“And you fought real hard, didn’t you?” He looks down with disdain at the peaks that have formed under my thin shirt.

There’s nothing for me to do but pretend my nips are always at attention.

“Again, you should be talking to your father.” I turn away and pretend Reed Royal isn’t firing every nerve ending in my body. I stroll to the bed and pick up a pair of plain bikini panties. As if I don’t have a care in the world, I step out of my old ones and leave them lying on the cream-colored carpet.

Behind me I hear a swift intake of breath. Score one for the away team.

As nonchalantly as possible I pull on the new pair, carefully working them up my legs and under the long hem of my nightshirt. I can feel his eyes run over my body like it’s a physical touch.

“You should know whatever game you’re playing, you can’t win. Not against all of us.” His voice has deepened and roughened. My show is affecting him. Score two. I’m so glad my back is to him so he doesn’t see that I’m affected, too, by just his voice and his gaze. “If you leave now, you won’t be hurt. We’ll let you keep whatever Dad’s given you and none of us will bother you. If you stay, we’ll break you so bad that you’ll be crawling away.”

I tug my jeans on, and then, with my back still turned, start to whip off my shirt.

A harsh chuckle follows and I hear swift footsteps. His hand clamps on my shoulder, keeping my shirt intact. He twists me to face him. Then he leans in close, his lips inches from my ear.

“Newsflash, baby—you can do a striptease in front of me every day and I still wouldn’t do you, got that? You may have my dad wrapped around your underage ass, but the rest of us have your number.”

Reed’s hot breath skates down my neck and it takes every ounce of willpower not to shiver. Am I scared? Turned on? Who the hell knows. My body is so confused right now. Crap. Am I ever my mother’s daughter or what? Because liking men who treat you badly is—was, dammit—Maggie Harper’s calling card.

“Let me go,” I say coldly.

His fingers tighten on my shoulder a moment before he pushes back from me. I stumble forward, catching myself on the edge of the bed.

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