Paper Princess: A Novel (The Royals Book 1) (22 page)

27

C
arrying our shoes
, Valerie and I walk down the shoreline toward the Worthington place. “What stops people from crashing the party?” I ask curiously. “Can’t anyone just walk down this beach and then up into the house?”

“They’d know you didn’t belong just by the clothes you were wearing. Plus, the only people who have access to this beach live on it, and unless you can afford a ten million dollar pad, you won’t be on this sand.”

“Will we be turned away?” The thought hadn’t even occurred to me because I’ve never encountered parties like this before.

“Nope, because you’re Ella Royal and even though I’m a poor relation, my last name is still Carrington.”

We don’t even get far enough in to be confronted by Brent Worthington, because the five Royal brothers are clustered together at the edge of the property. They’re cooking something up, just like I knew they would. And it’s definitely a scheme to get back at Daniel, because who else could they be targeting?

If anyone deserves to get revenge, it’s me. I stomp right up to their group and they don’t even notice.

“Hey big bro, what’s going on?” I poke Gideon in the back.

Reed swivels around and chastises me first. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay home.”

“So did I.” Gideon looks down at me with a tight-lipped frown.

“Me, too.” Easton tosses in his two cents.

“And you two?” I look pointedly at the twins, both of whom are dressed in identical khaki shorts and white polo shirts with an alligator over their left pec. They blink innocently at me. There’s no way to tell them apart tonight, which might be exactly what their girlfriend enjoys. I’m going to have to mark one with lipstick before the night is over. “Well, newsflash, I’m not a dog. I don’t just sit and stay because you order me to. Why was I supposed to stay away anyway? Are the drinks drugged here, too?”

Behind me, Valerie gasps, which sends five annoyed glares in my direction.

“No,” Gideon says, “but if something bad goes down, Dad wouldn’t be as angry if you were home and tucked in your bed.”

“Or making out with Valerie,” Easton pipes up. “But in bed and at home were the important things,” he adds hastily when it’s his turn to get a number of condemning stares.

“You being here might tip off Daniel that we’re planning something,” Reed says, his scowl deepening.

Valerie steps to my side. “If the plan was to not be suspicious, then Easton should have his tongue in someone’s mouth, Reed should be whispering sweet nothings to Abby”—gag me—“Gideon should be doing college stuff and you two,” she waggles a finger between the twins, “should be pranking people because damn if I can tell you apart.”

Easton covers a laugh with a fake cough while the twins pretend to be looking anywhere but at Valerie. Reed and Gideon exchange a long look. When it comes to the Royal brothers, these two are in charge. At least for tonight.

“Since you’re here, there’s no point in making you go home, but this is Royal business.” Gideon gives Valerie a pointed look.

She’s quick. “Suddenly I feel very thirsty. I think I’ll go shake down the hosts for a glass of champagne.”

After Val leaves, I rub my hands together. “So what’s the plan?”

“Reed is going to start a fight and beat the ever loving shit of out Daniel,” Easton informs me.

“That’s a terrible plan.”

They all turn to me again. Being the single focus of five Royals is kind of overwhelming.

I focus on Reed and Gideon, the two that I need to convince. “You think you’re just going to goad Daniel into a fight?” Both brothers shrug. “And I’m sure you think it’s going to work because all of you would fight to defend your name. But this guy has no honor. He’s not a fair fighter. He’s the type of guy who drugs a girl because he wasn’t confident or patient enough to win her over. He’s a coward.” I wave a hand over Reed’s insanely ripped body. “Reed has twenty pounds on him and fights regularly.”

“She knows about the fighting?” Gideon interrupts. Reed gives an abrupt nod and Gideon flicks both hands at us as if he’s done with our high school asses.

“He’s still going to want to defend himself,” Reed argues.

“I bet you a hundred bucks he’ll laugh and say that he knows you’re going to win. Then if you try to push it, you’ll look like the bad guy.”

“I don’t care.”

“Fine. If all you want to do is beat him up then just go and do it.” I point to the back lawn, which is getting crowded.

“Reed can’t throw the first punch,” Easton interjects.

Puzzled, I look from one brother to another. “Is this some kind of fight club rule?”

“No. Dad caught Reed fighting a few months ago. Said if he caught him doing it again he’d ship the twins off to military school.”

Wow, that’s diabolical. I know that Reed wouldn’t care about going to military school—or at least not care that much, but he’d hate it for the twins. Callum is constantly surprising me.

“So you can’t hit anyone ever?”

“No, I can’t throw a punch unless I’m defending myself or a family member from imminent harm. Those were his exact words,” Reed says through clenched teeth. “If you have a better idea, spit it out.”

I don’t and they all know it. Gideon shakes his head and even Easton looks disappointed with me. I stare at the dark blue sky, then at the ocean, up at the house, and then back at the brothers. An idea sparks.

“Do the Worthingtons have a pool house?”

“Yeah,” Reed says warily.

“Where is it?” The Royals’ poolhouse is made almost entirely of glass so you can see the ocean from one side and the pool from the other. I tug on Reed’s arm. “Show me.”

Reed helps me up over the rocky ledge and onto the back lawn. He points to a dark structure standing just to the edge of the concrete deck around the large, rectangular pool. “Worthington keeps it locked.”

“So no one can have sex in there. Valerie told me.” This is all so perfect.

I run my eyes over the twins.

“If this involves me dressing up as a woman, I’m out.” Sawyer holds up a protesting hand. At least I think it’s Sawyer by the fading burn on his wrist.

“Let me get Valerie. It’s going to take two of us. And I’ll need both of the twins. The rest of you pretend like you’re at a party. When the time is right, Sawyer will come out and let you know. You’ll need to gather as much of the crowd as you can by the pool. Maybe get your cameras ready.”

“What do you have planned, little sis?” Easton sidles up to me.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned or a girl drugged against her will,” I say mysteriously and run off to look for Valerie.

I find her chatting up Savannah halfway between the shore and the pool, which is some kind of perfect serendipity. “Hey, can I talk to you guys for a minute?”

Valerie has to drag Savannah, but I manage to sequester the two of them off to the side.

I address Savannah first. “Look, I want to apologize for not listening to you the other night. I was lonely and wanting someone I couldn’t have, so I thought I’d hang with Daniel. That was a mistake.”

She presses her lips together, but either my genuine regret or our mutual hatred of Daniel breaks down her icy barriers. “I accept your apology,” she says stiffly.

“Oh, Sav, get the stick out of your ass,” Valerie chides. “We’re here to get Daniel back. Right, Ella?”

Savannah quirks an interested eyebrow in my direction and I nod enthusiastically. “Here’s the plan.”

After I explain the details to them, Valerie hoots. But Savannah looks skeptical.

“You really thing he’s going to fall for this?”

“Savannah, the guy drugs girls for sex. He’s not going to turn this offer down. It’s a power trip for him and we’re going to feed into that.”

She lifts an elegant shoulder. “All right. I’m in. Let’s take this jackass down.”

D
aniel is sitting
on a lounge chair next to the pool with a Heineken in one hand and the thigh of a young-looking girl in the other. She has to be a freshman. A renewed sense of righteousness washes over me. Daniel has to be stopped. Like Savannah said, it’s time to bring him down.

“Hi, Daniel.” I adopt the most submissive tone I can muster.

His head jerks up and he scans the crowd looking for the Royal brothers. When he doesn’t see them, he leans back, pulling the girl closer to his side, almost as if she’s a shield. “What do you want? I’m busy.”

I scuff the toe of my ballet slipper in the stamped concrete. “I wanted to apologize for the other night. I…I overreacted. You’re Daniel Delacorte and I’m…” I fight back my gag reflex, “…a trumped-up nobody.”

The girl shifts uncomfortably. “Um, I think I hear my sister calling for me.”

She slips out from under Daniel’s hand. When he protests, I jump in. “I just need Daniel for a minute and then he’s all yours.”

Daniel smirks. “Just a minute? I last a lot longer than that.”

The girl titters and runs away. I get it. It’s awkward as hell watching someone humiliating herself. The minute she’s out of earshot, Daniel’s careless smile turns into a glower. “What are you playing at?”

“I want another chance.” I lean forward so that my cleavage is on display for him. “I made a mistake. If you’d just told me what you wanted, I wouldn’t have overreacted.” God, I can’t believe I have to say this crap to him.

His eyes drop to my gaping neckline and he licks his lips like an awful pig. “The Royals didn’t seem really happy.”

“They were mad because I made a scene. They want me to shut up and stay out of sight.”

“Yet you’re here.”

“Their dad makes them bring me.”

He frowns. “So you want to get back at them? Is that it?”

“Honestly? Kind of,” I lie, because I think sticking it to the Royals might be something that will appeal to him. “I’m tired of those jerks forcing me to act like something I’m not.” I shrug. “I like to party and I like to have fun. I was trying to be all proper for their sake, but…that’s not who I am.”

Daniel looks intrigued.

“So let’s stop pretending. Whatever you want, I’m down for and not just me.” I point to some vague area behind me. “You know Valerie, right?” He nods, his gaze dropping back to my chest. “I told her about your friends, Zoe and Nadine. And she’s interested. We thought…” I trail off and brace my hand next to Daniel’s knee. I bring my lips close to his ear. “We thought we could show you what Astor Park girls can do. We’re both dancers, you know.”

“Yeah?” His eyes light up.

“And you can do whatever you want with us,” I tease.

He seems more than interested now. “Anything?”

“Anything…and everything. Feel free to bring your camera. You might want to keep mementos.”

“Where?” His hand slips between his legs. Ugh, is he feeling himself up right in front of me? I clamp my lips together so I don’t ralph all over his lap.

“The pool house. I picked the lock. Meet us there in five minutes.”

I waltz away without looking back. If I’ve misjudged Daniel, this isn’t going to work and I’ll have to eat crow to the Royal brothers. But I don’t think I’m wrong. Daniel Delacorte has an opportunity to degrade two “trumped-up nobodies” and take pictures of them that he can show to all his pervy buddies. No way is he passing up that golden opportunity.

As I let myself into the small structure, Valerie pops up from one of the two chairs that she and Savannah dragged away from the floor-to-ceiling windows. Like the Royals’ pool house, this one is nearly all glass so that the view from the house to the ocean is unobstructed, but there are shades and the two girls have drawn them all.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” I joke.

Valerie tosses me something, which I catch reflexively. A robe tie. “Thanks, we were going for minimalist. Savannah and I thought that it would display our artwork better if there weren’t any distractions. You okay with the sash?”

Thinking back to the yacht and Reed, I tell her, “That’ll work.” I wrap the length around my waist. “Where’s Savannah?”

“I’m in the bathroom,” she hisses out.

A sharp knock on the door signals Daniel’s arrival.

“Showtime,” I whisper and then open the door.

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