his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental
Copyright © 2016 by Erin Watt
Cover Design by Meljean Brook
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
, Book 2
Twisted Palace, Book 3 (Link coming soon)
From strip clubs and truck stops to southern coast mansions and prep schools, one girl tries to stay true to herself.
These Royals will ruin you…
Ella Harper is a survivor—a pragmatic optimist. She’s spent her whole life moving from town to town with her flighty mother, struggling to make ends meet and believing that someday she’ll climb out of the gutter. After her mother’s death, Ella is truly alone.
Until Callum Royal appears, plucking Ella out of poverty and tossing her into his posh mansion among his five sons who all hate her. Each Royal boy is more magnetic than the last, but none as captivating as Reed Royal, the boy who is determined to send her back to the slums she came from.
Reed doesn’t want her. He says she doesn’t belong with the Royals.
He might be right.
Wealth. Excess. Deception. It’s like nothing Ella has ever experienced, and if she’s going to survive her time in the Royal palace, she’ll need to learn to issue her own Royal decrees.
, whose enthusiasm for this project matched our own.
, you’re wanted in the principal’s office,” Ms. Weir says before I can step inside her precalculus classroom.
I check my watch. “I’m not even late.”
It’s one minute before nine and this watch is never wrong. It’s probably the most expensive item I own. My mom said that it was my dad’s. Besides his sperm, it’s the only thing he left behind.
“No, it’s not about tardiness…this time.” Her normally flinty gaze is soft around the edges, and my gut relays a warning to my sluggish morning brain. Ms. Weir is a hard ass, which is why I like her. She treats her students like we’re here to learn actual math instead of some life lesson on loving your neighbor and crap like that. So for her to be giving me sympathetic looks means something bad is cooking down at the principal’s office.
“Fine.” It’s not like I can give any other response. I offer a nod and redirect myself to the school office.
“I’ll email you the course assignment,” Ms. Weir calls after me. I guess she thinks I won’t be returning to class, but there isn’t anything Principal Thompson could throw at me that’s worse than what I’ve faced before.
Before enrolling in George Washington High School for my junior year, I’d already lost everything of importance. Even if Mr. Thompson has somehow figured out I’m not technically living in the GW school district, I can lie to stall for time. And if I have to transfer, which is the worst thing that could happen to me today, then no big deal. I’ll do it.
“How’s it going, Darlene?”
The mom-haired school secretary barely looks up from her
magazine. “Take a seat, Ella. Mr. Thompson will be right with you.”
Yep, we’re on a first-name basis, me and Darlene. One month at GW High, and I’ve already spent way too much time in this office, thanks to my ever-growing stack of late slips. But that’s what happens when you work nights and don’t see the smooth side of the sheets until three a.m. every night.
I crane my neck around to peek through the open blinds of Mr. Thompson’s office. Someone’s sitting in the visitor’s chair, but all I can make out is a hard jaw and dark brown hair. Total opposite of me. I’m as blonde and blue-eyed as they come. Courtesy of my sperm donor, according to Mom.
Thompson’s visitor reminds me of the out-of-town businessmen who would tip my mom mega bucks for her to pretend to be their girlfriend for the night. Some guys got off on that even more than actual sex. This is per my mom, of course. I haven’t had to go down that path...yet. And I hope I never have to, which is why I need my high school diploma so I can go to college, get a degree, and be normal.
Some kids dream of traveling the world, owning fast cars, big houses. Me? I want my own apartment, a fridge full of food, and a steady paying job, preferably one that’s as exciting as paste drying.
The two men talk and talk and talk. Fifteen minutes pass and they’re still shooting the shit.
“Hey, Darlene? I’m missing precalc right now. Okay for me to come back when Mr. Thompson isn’t busy?”
I try to state it as nicely as possible, but years of having no real adult presence in my life—my flighty, lovely mom doesn’t count—makes it hard for me to summon up the necessary submissiveness adults prefer from anyone who isn’t allowed to legally drink.
“No, Ella. Mr. Thompson will be right out.”
This time she’s right, because the door opens and the principal steps out. Mr. Thompson is about five ten and looks like he graduated from high school last year. Somehow he manages a certain air of capable responsibility.
He gestures me forward. “Miss Harper, please come inside.”
Inside? While Don Juan is in there?
“You already have someone in your office.” I point out the obvious. This looks suspicious as hell and my gut is telling me to get out of here. But if I run, I’ll be giving up on this careful life I’ve spent months planning.
Thompson turns around and looks toward Don Juan, who rises from his chair and waves at me with his large hand. “Yes, well, he’s why you’re here. Please come in.”
Against my better judgment, I slip past Mr. Thompson and stand just inside the door. Thompson closes the door and flips the blinds to the office shut. Now I’m really nervous.
“Ms. Harper, if you’d sit down.” Thompson points at the chair Don Juan just vacated.
I cross my arms and look at both of them mutinously. The seas could flood the earth before I take a seat.
Thompson sighs and settles in his own chair, knowing a lost cause when he sees one. That makes me even more uneasy, because if he’s giving up this fight it means there’s a bigger one coming.
He picks up a set of papers on his desk. “Ella Harper, this is Callum Royal.” He pauses as if that means something to me.
Meanwhile, Royal is staring at me like he’s never seen a girl before. I realize that my crossed arms are pushing my boobs together and so I drop my hands to my sides where they dangle awkwardly.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Royal.” It’s apparent to everyone in the room that I’m thinking the exact opposite.
The sound of my voice jolts him out of his hypnosis. He strides forward and, before I can move, has my right hand clasped between two of his.
“My God, you look just like him.” The words are whispered so only he and I can hear them. Then, as if remembering where he is, he shakes my hand. “Please, call me Callum.”
There’s an odd tone to his words. Like they’re hard to get out. I tug my hand from his, which requires some effort because the creep does not want to let go. It takes Mr. Thompson clearing his throat to get Royal to drop my hand.
“What’s this all about?” I demand. As a seventeen-year-old in a room full of adults, my tone is out of place, but no one even bats an eyelash.
Mr. Thompson runs an agitated hand through his hair. “I don’t know how to say this so I’ll just be straightforward. Mr. Royal tells me that your parents are both deceased and that he’s now your guardian.”
I falter. Just for a beat. Just long enough to let the shock filter into indignation.
“Bullshit!” The curse word bursts out before I can stop it. “My mother signed me up for classes. You have her signature on the registration forms.”
My heart is beating a million miles a minute, because that signature is actually mine. I forged it to maintain control over my own life. Even though I’m a minor, I’ve had to be the adult in my family since the age of fifteen.
To Mr. Thompson’s credit, he doesn’t chastise me for the profanity. “The paperwork indicates that Mr. Royal’s claim is legitimate.” He rattles the papers in his hands.
“Yeah? Well, he’s lying. I’ve never seen this guy before, and if you let me go with him, the next report you’ll see is how some girl from GW disappeared into a sex trafficking scheme.”
“You’re right, we haven’t met before,” Royal interjects. “But that doesn’t change the reality here.”
“Let me see.” I jump to Thompson’s desk and pluck the papers out of his hands. My eyes run over the pages, not really reading what’s there. Words pop out at me—
—but they mean nothing. Callum Royal is still a stranger. Period.
“Perhaps if your mother could come in, we could clear everything up,” Mr. Thompson suggests.
“Yes, Ella, bring your mother and I’ll withdraw my claim.” Royal’s voice is soft, but I hear the steel. He knows something.
I turn back to my principal. He’s the weak link here. “I could create this in the school computer lab. I wouldn’t even need Photoshop.” I toss the sheaf of papers in front of him. Doubt is forming in his eyes, so I press my advantage. “I need to get back to class. The semester is just starting and I don’t want to fall behind.”
He licks his lips uncertainly and I stare him down with all the conviction in my heart. I don’t have a dad. I certainly don’t have a guardian. If I did, where was this jackass all my life while my mom was struggling to make ends meet, when she was in god-awful pain from her cancer, when she was weeping on her hospice bed about leaving me alone? Where was he
Thompson sighs. “All right, Ella, why don’t you go to class? Clearly Mr. Royal and I have more matters to discuss.”
Royal objects. “These papers are all in order. You know me and you know my family. I wouldn’t be here presenting this to you if it were not the truth. What would be the reason?”
“There are a lot of perverts in this world,” I say snidely. “They have lots of reasons to make up stories.”
Thompson waves his hand. “Ella, that’s enough. Mr. Royal, this is a surprise to all of us. Once we contact Ella’s mother, we can clear this all up.”
Royal doesn’t like the delay and renews his argument about how important he is and how a Royal wouldn’t tell a lie. I half expect him to invoke George Washington and the cherry tree. As the two bicker, I slip out of the room.
“I’m going to the bathroom, Darlene,” I lie. “I’ll head back to class right after.”
She buys it easily. “Take your time. I’ll let your teacher know.”
I don’t go to the bathroom. I don’t go back to class. Instead, I hustle to the bus stop and catch the G bus to the last stop.
From there it’s a thirty-minute walk to the apartment I lease for a measly five hundred a month. It has one bedroom, a dingy bathroom, and a living/kitchen area that smells like mold. But it’s cheap and the landlord is a woman who was willing to accept cash and not run a background check.
I don’t know who Callum Royal is, but I do know that his presence in Kirkwood is bad, bad news. Those legal papers hadn’t been Photoshopped. They were real. But there’s no way I’m placing my life in the hands of some stranger who appeared out of the blue.
My life is
. I live it. I control it.
I dump my hundred-dollar textbooks out of my backpack and fill the newly emptied bag with clothes, toiletries, and the last of my savings—one thousand dollars. Crap. I need some quick money to help me get out of town. I’m seriously depleted. It cost me over two grand to move here, what with bus tickets and then first and last month’s rent along with a rental deposit. It sucks that I’m going to be eating the unused rent money, but it’s clear I can’t stick around.
I’m running again. Story of my life. Mom and I were always running. From her boyfriends, her pervert bosses, social services, poverty. The hospice was the only place we stayed in for any substantial amount of time, and that’s because she was dying. Sometimes I think the universe has decided I’m not allowed to be happy.
I sit on the side of the bed and try not to cry out of frustration and anger and okay, yes, even fear. I allow myself five minutes of self-pity and then get on the phone. Screw the universe.
“Hey, George, I’ve been thinking about your offer to work at Daddy G’s,” I say when a male voice answers the call. “I’m ready to take you up on that.”
I’ve been working the pole at Miss Candy’s, a baby club where I strip down to a G-string and pasties. It’s good, but not great, money. George has been asking me to graduate to Daddy G’s, a full nudity place, for the last few weeks. I’ve resisted because I didn’t see the need. I do now.
I’m blessed with my mother’s body. Long legs. Nipped-in waist. My boobs aren’t double-D spectacular, but George said he liked my perky B-cup because it gives the illusion of youth. It’s not an illusion, but my identification says I’m thirty-four and that my name isn’t Ella Harper but Margaret Harper. My dead mom. Super creepy if you stop to think about it, which I try not to.
There aren’t many jobs a seventeen-year-old can actually do part time and still pay the bills. And none of them are legal. Run drugs. Turn tricks. Strip. I chose the last one.
“Damn, girl, that’s excellent news!” George crows. “I have an opening tonight. You can be the third dancer. Wear the Catholic schoolgirl uniform. The guys are gonna love that.”
“How much for tonight?”
“How much what?”
“Cash, George. How much cash?”
“Five hundred and any tips you can make. If you want to do some private lap dances, I’ll give you one hundred per dance.”
Shit. I could make a grand easy tonight. I shove all my anxiety and discomfort to the back of my mind. Now isn’t the time for an internal morality debate. I need money, and stripping is one of the safest ways for me to get it.
“I’ll be there. Book as many as you can for me.”