Authors: Erin Watt
aniel is waiting
at my locker the next morning. Even though Reed and Easton both gave me their approval, I’m still torn about Daniel. But I need to move on from Reed. That much is clear.
Daniel barely has a chance to say hello before I lay down the law. “I need to tell you up front that I’m the opposite of a sure thing,” I explain awkwardly. “Right now I’m dealing with big changes in my life and I can’t handle anything heavy.”
“I got you,” he promises. He leans down and plants a soft kiss on my cheek. “You’re sweet. I can wait.”
I’m sweet? Other than my mom, nobody has ever called me that. I think I kind of like it.
me at my locker every day after that, sharing something funny and then leaving me with a kiss on the cheek. Easton teases me about it at night, but every time I look at Reed for a response, his face is impenetrable. I have no idea how he feels about all the attention I’m getting from Daniel, but at least our truce is still intact. Even Callum has noticed the difference in the Royal mansion. When he walked past my bedroom the other night and saw me and Easton watching TV together, I swear his eyebrows almost jumped off his face.
On Friday I bring Daniel an apple cruller, which he told me was his favorite pastry at the French Twist. And this time, the kiss he gives me is directly against my lips—soft and dry but surprisingly not unpleasant.
A loud bang at the end of the hall scares me and I jump back, nearly dropping his gift.
“Easy there.” Daniel plucks the pastry from my hand. “You can’t be damaging the food. That’s a serious violation of the Geneva Convention. I’ll have to haul you in for punishment.” His eyes are twinkling.
“Are you trying to go out with me for my access to baked goods?” I ask in mock suspicion.
“Oh man.” He slaps a hand to his heart. “You found me out. Am I in trouble?” His antics draw a smile from me. “Ohh, I got you to smile and that’s bad because, sweetheart, that smile is a killer. I think my heart stopped.” He taps his chest. “Have a listen.”
Daniel’s so obviously corny and lighthearted, I decide to play along. I lean my head against his chest and listen to the easy, even thumps of his heartbeat.
Beside me, I hear a gagging noise. When I straighten, I see Easton sticking his finger down his throat. He rolls his eyes at us and keeps walking. At his side, Reed doesn’t look up. He looks so hot in his untucked uniform shirt that I have to force myself to look away.
Daniel laughs. “So you coming to the game tonight?”
“I think so.” I lock my knees so I don’t turn around to see what Reed is doing. “But I probably won’t get there until the second half. I work until seven on Fridays.”
“How about the party after?”
“I’m going with Easton,” I admit. We agreed last night that he’d take me to the post football party. Val is staying home because she has a Skype date with Tam. Which sucks because I always have more fun when she’s around.
Throughout the entire discussion between me and Easton about the game and whose car we’ll take to the party, Reed stood there like a statue. He didn’t say a word, and I just wanted to smash his mute button to pieces and force him to talk to me. But that would probably destroy the truce.
I can’t decide what I like more. The calm Royal household with the voiceless Reed or the one where he’s yelling at me to stay away and threatening me with his penis.
“I gotcha. We can hang, right?” Daniel asks.
As he flashes one of his million-dollar smiles and saunters off, I wonder why I don’t just say yes to him.
he party is
at one of the lacrosse players’ mansions. Farris somebody. I don’t know him. He’s a senior like Reed and supposedly a hardcore science geek. He and another science guy are mixing drinks that they’re serving in glass beakers. They fully committed to the act by putting on white lab coats that hang open to display washboard abs, demolishing any nerd stereotype.
I choose the strawberry daiquiri even though the bartender/chemist tries to foist a weird-looking green thing into my hand.
Easton turns it all down. “I drink beer,” he declares. “All the hops inside me will protest if I introduce something fruity into my system.”
After I take my beaker, Easton leads me away. “That stuff can be real strong so be careful tonight,” he warns.
I take a sip. “It tastes like a smoothie.”
“Exactly. These guys are masters at getting everyone hammered without anyone realizing it.”
“Okay. One drink is all I’ll have.” I’m touched that Easton is looking out for me. I’ve never had that before. I sweep the room looking for Reed, but I don’t see him anywhere. Pathetically, I check with Easton. “Is Reed coming?”
“I don’t know. Probably, but…I saw him with Abby again tonight after the game.”
I chug half the beaker in response.
Easton searches my face. “You gonna be okay?”
“Peachy,” I lie.
“If you need anything, I’m only a phone call away.” He holds up his cell. “But for now, I need to get laid, little sis.” He pops a kiss on my cheek and heads out toward the pool.
Daniel sidles up the moment Easton disappears. His eyes twinkle playfully. “Jeez, I thought the chaperone would never leave. Come on, I’ll introduce you around.”
He wraps an arm around my shoulder and takes me from group to group. Kids at school who haven’t given me the time of day are suddenly nodding, smiling, and making conversation as we talk about the game we won tonight. The opponent next week, who we’ll crush. The hobbit chem teacher no one likes and the art teacher everyone does.
The experience is almost dreamlike. I’m not sure if it’s because Daniel is by my side, or if news of the Royal truce has trickled down to the little people, but everyone is nice. Their smiles are bright, and the laughter—the shared giddiness—is infectious. My cheeks ache from smiling so much.
“You having a good time?” Daniel murmurs into my hair.
I lean against him. “I am. I really am,” I say in surprise. Reed is off somewhere and this time it’s probably him and Abby rocking his Range Rover and not Wade, who I saw inside with a girl perched on his knee. But so what? Nice Daniel is here with his solid arm across my shoulders and his warm body snugged up to mine. A strange sluggishness creeps over me. The alcohol is stripping down my defenses, just like Easton warned, and a prickle of alarm zips up the nape of my neck.
“Let me get you another drink,” Daniel offers.
“I think…” I stare up at him, unsure of what I’m thinking.
“She needs to use the bathroom.”
I frown at the intruder. Savannah Montgomery. What’s she doing here? Before I can protest, she drags me off to the closest bathroom and shuts the door.
I watch as she turns on the faucet and dips a hand towel under the stream of water.
“What the hell is going on right now?” I demand.
She turns with a cloudy expression. “Look,” she says bluntly, “I don’t like you much—”
“—but I wouldn’t let even my worst enemy be sucked in by Daniel.”
My confusion triples. “What’s wrong with Daniel? Reed and Easton vouched for him. They said he’s a good—”
“You want some advice?” she cuts in. “Don’t take a Royal’s word for anything.”
That bitterness Easton had mentioned is now painfully obvious. It’s in the tight set of her jaw, the harshness of her words.
“I get that you don’t like them,” I say softly. “I heard about you and Gideon—”
She interrupts again, her green eyes burning with disgust. “You know what? I changed my mind. You and Daniel are perfect for each other. Have a great night, Ella.”
With that, Savannah throws the wet towel at me and it strikes me across the face, soaking the front of my T-shirt. Bewildered, I hang the towel up and pluck the wet fabric away from my chest. What the hell just happened?
Daniel is waiting outside the bathroom, concern etched into his face. “What’s wrong? You and Savannah get into it?”
“Not exactly. I don’t know what happened back there other than she got mad and soaked my shirt.” I point to the wet Astor Park T-shirt I borrowed from one of the twins and tied in the back to make it fit.
“Do you need another shirt? I can grab one from Farris’ room.” He points upward.
“No, that’s okay. It’ll dry.” I flap the fabric. It’s thin enough that it should dry fairly quickly.
He nods. “Look, I don’t want to say anything bad about her, but Sav isn’t a real happy person these days. Don’t let it rub off on you.”
“Yeah, I get that.”
“They’re setting up a dart game in the other room. You interested?”
“Sure, why not.”
He hands me a water bottle. “Don’t know if you want this since you’re already soaked, but I thought you might like it. Those drinks Farris mixes are potent.”
“Thanks.” I twist the bottle open, noting that the seal hadn’t been broken. Daniel clearly falls in the good guy category, and I’d be really stupid not to at least give him a chance.
His arm bumps against my shoulder as we walk down the hall.
“You know, Daniel…” I take a breath. “I think we should go out.”
“Yeah?” He beams.
“All right then.” He pulls me to his side and kisses me on the temple in another nice, reassuring move. “But first, let’s go kick some ass in darts.”
The dartboard is a bar-sized thing in the pool house at the back of the Farris property. The sight of two other girls already lounging on a leather sectional eases my mind that Daniel hadn’t immediately assumed my agreement for one date meant I’m ready to get down.
“This is Zoe and Nadine. They’re from town.”
Zoe lifts a limp wrist. “We go to South East High.”
“Didn’t we just play your team tonight?”
“Yup,” she confirms. “And now we’re celebrating.”
I have to laugh. “But you lost.”
“Then I guess we’re getting consoled.” She and Nadine giggle again.
“Good thing we have Hugh here.”
Hugh is a wiry guy, a few inches taller than me, who takes a drag of whatever it is he’s smoking and merely nods.
Daniel winks at the girls. “Well, Ella and I have a date with the dartboard. You three want to join us?”
“Nope. We’ll just watch. Hugh likes watching, don’t you, Hugh?”
Hugh blows smoke in their faces, which makes them laugh even harder. Not hard to guess these girls are drunk or stoned.
“You want red or yellow?” Daniel holds up two darts.
He hands me the red darts, then pulls me over to the dartboard. Before I can throw mine, I feel a prick in my upper arm.
“Ouch!” I slap my hand over my arm. “What was that?”
He holds up his yellow dart, looking sheepish. “I poked you with my dart.”
“Jeez, Daniel, that hurt. Not even funny.” I rub the sore spot.
He frowns at the point of his dart. “I’m sorry. I must have pricked you too hard.”
I force myself to relax. “Just…don’t do it again, okay?”
He draws me into his arms. “It won’t happen again.”
I let him hold me for a minute because the contact feels really good. When he releases me, I have to catch myself on a nearby table. My balance is off. I must be still experiencing the effects of the drink. We play one round and then another. My aim is terrible and I hit the wall more than I hit the dartboard. Daniel makes a few jokes about how he hopes I never have to compete in the Hunger Games.
By the third round, my mouth is strangely dry. I reach for my water bottle, but my hand misses and knocks it over. “Oh crap. Sorry.”
I hear the girls giggle behind me. I fall to my knees and look for something to mop up the floor with. My shirt. My shirt is absorbent and already wet. Besides, the fabric is really bothering me. Actually, all of my clothes are starting to irritate me. My bra feels too tight and the elastic of my underwear is digging into my skin. The threads of the hem of my skirt scratch my thighs every time I move. I should take off my clothes.
“That’s a good idea,” Daniel agrees.
I must have said that out loud. “My clothes
bothering me,” I confess.
“Yes, let’s take off our clothes!” one of the girl shouts from the sofa. I hear a rustling of fabric and then more giggles.
“My head is stuck,” one of them chirps.
“Why don’t you two help each other out?” Hugh suggests.
I push to my feet, bracing myself against Daniel’s shoulder. Zoe tugs Nadine’s top off and throws it at Hugh. He drops it to the floor and strolls over to the sofa.
“I should go,” I tell Daniel. I have a good idea what’s going to happen between the three of them, and I don’t really care to watch.
Daniel tugs me against his body again, wrapping an arm around my waist. His physical response to the scene unfolding in front of me is unmistakable.
“Where’s Reed?” I turn abruptly. The tingling between my legs makes me think of him. “I need him.”
“No you don’t. You’ve got me.” Daniel grinds himself slowly against me.
“No.” I jerk out of his grasp. “I’m sorry, Daniel. I don’t think…I’m not…” I raise a hand to my head and shakily push it through my hair. Need is pulsing through my blood. I can hear my heartbeat, loud and fast, in my ears. I force myself to concentrate. “I need Reed.”
“Jesus, you stupid bitch. Just close your eyes and enjoy it.”
His voice isn’t nice anymore. It’s cold and annoyed. He yanks at the bottom of my shirt. I bat at his hands but my movements lack coordination and he’s got my top off before I can protest.
“How’s it going over there?” I hear Hugh say. His voice is close. Very close.
“She’s just rolling. I gave her some molly. She thought I pricked her with a dart.” Daniel sounds delighted with his trick. I try to swing out a fist but my arm is too heavy.
Hugh pauses. “Dude…You think you should be doing that with Ella Royal? I thought we were going to stick with out-of-towners after the thing with Savannah’s cousin. No good to shit where you eat.”
Daniel snorts. “The Royals can’t stand her. She’s not going to say anything. She’s trash. Trumped-up nobody made me work for a week.”