Authors: Erin Watt
the railing at the same time Easton pops out of his bedroom. His dark hair sticks up in all directions, and his eyes are bloodshot as he comes up beside me. “What the hell,” he mumbles.
We both look down at foyer, where Brooke and Callum are facing off. It’s comical almost, because she’s more than a head shorter than him thus posing the least threatening picture on the planet.
“It’s my right to be there!” Brooke shouts, jamming the center of Callum’s chest with one sharp fingernail.
“No, it isn’t. You’re not a Royal and you’re not an O’Halloran. It’s not your place.”
“Then tell me, what
my place? Why do I put up with all your bullshit then? You treat me like I’m your mistress instead of your girlfriend! Where’s my ring, Callum?
Where the fuck is my ring
I can’t see Callum’s face, but I don’t miss the tension in his shoulders. “My wife’s body is barely even cold!” he roars.
Beside me, Easton tenses up, too. I reach out and take his hand, and he squeezes my fingers tight enough to bring a sting of pain.
“You expect me to just remarry like it’s no big deal—”
“Two years!” Brooke interrupts. “She’s been dead for two years! Get over it!”
Callum stumbles as if she’s struck him.
“I won’t let you string me along anymore. I
.” Brooke lunges forward and grabs the front of his dress shirt, bunching it between her fingers. “I am done with you, you hear me?
With that, she shoves his chest and spins toward the door, her high heels slapping the marble floor.
Callum doesn’t go after her, and when she realizes it, she whirls around and points a finger at him. “If I walk out right now, I am never coming back!”
His voice is colder than ice. “Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.”
!” Brooke shrieks. She flings open the door with so much force that a gust of air blows through the foyer and I feel it from the second floor.
Her blonde head and minidress-clad body disappear through the threshold. She slams the door with equal force.
Silence crashes over the foyer. I see a flash of movement in the corner of my eye, and I turn around to find the other Royals standing behind us. The twins look sleepy. Gideon looks shocked. Reed’s face is impassive, but I swear I see a glimpse of triumph in his eyes.
Easton doesn’t even try to hide his glee. “Did that really just happen?” he asks us, shaking his head in amazement.
Callum hears his son’s voice, and his head tilts up to the railing. He looks stricken, but not devastated that his girlfriend just stormed off.
“Dad,” Easton calls out, grinning from ear-to-ear. “You the man! Come up here and gimme a high five.”
His father’s expression turns weary. Instead of answering Easton, Callum flicks his gaze toward me. “Since you’re awake, Ella, why don’t you come down to my study? We need to have a little chat.” Then he exits the foyer.
I bite my lip, hesitant to follow him. I suddenly remember what he just said to Brooke—how she’s not a Royal or an O’Halloran—and my anxiety grows. I have a feeling they were fighting about Steve. Which means that indirectly, it was also about me.
“Go,” Reed murmurs when I don’t move from the railing.
As usual, I instinctively obey his command. It’s like he has a hold on me and I’m not sure I like it. But I’m helpless to stop it.
I walk downstairs on wobbly legs and find Callum in the study. He’s already hit the liquor cabinet, pouring himself a glass of scotch when I walk in.
“Are you okay?” I ask quietly.
He waves the glass in his hand, causing liquid to splash over the rim. “I’m fine. It’s fine. I’m sorry you had to wake up to that.”
“Do you think it’s really over with you two?” I can’t help but feel bad for Brooke. I’ve seen a bitchy side to her, definitely, but she’s also been nice to me. Or at least I think she has. Brooke Davidson is a tough nut to crack.
“Probably.” He sips his drink. “She wasn’t entirely out of line. Two years is a long time for a woman to wait.” Callum sets the glass on his desk and runs a hand through his hair. “The reading of the will is scheduled for two weeks from tomorrow.”
I look blankly at him. “The will?”
“Yes. Steve’s will.”
I’m still confused. “Didn’t that already happen? I thought you said there was a funeral.”
“There was, but the estate hasn’t been settled yet. Dinah and I started probate after Steve’s death, but the reading itself was put off until you could be located.”
I bet Dinah must have loved that. “Do I really have to be there? Doesn’t Dinah inherit everything because she’s his wife?”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that.” He doesn’t elaborate. “But yes, you need to be there. I’ll be there, too, as your legal guardian, and so will Dinah and our lawyers. She left for Paris last night, but she’ll be back in two weeks, and then we’ll get everything straightened out. It’ll be painless, I promise.”
With Dinah O’Halloran in attendance? Yeah right. Pain
is more like it.
But I just nod and say, “Okay. If I have to go, I’ll go.”
He nods, too, and picks up his drink again.
off shortly after to play golf. He claims that walking the eighteen links helps clear his mind. I worry about how loaded he plans to get and then remind myself that he’s the adult and I’m the seventeen-year-old, so I bite my tongue.
One by one the Royals leave. Gideon heads off before lunch to go back to college. He always looks happier leaving than arriving.
Soon it’s just me. I heat up leftover quiche and then consider going for a walk on the beach.
It’s only been a month at the Royal household, but that month has been full of, well, life. Stuff is always happening. It’s not always
stuff, but I haven’t been alone, and until now, in this moment of solitude, I realize I don’t like being alone. It’s nice to have friends and family around, even if the family is super dysfunctional.
I wonder if that’s the reason Gideon keeps coming back.
“Did you save some of that egg thing for me?” Reed’s voice makes me jump.
I slap a hand over my heart to keep it from leaping out of my chest. “You scared me. I thought you left with Easton.”
“Nope.” He crosses the room to peer over my shoulder. “What else is in the fridge?”
“Food,” I answer.
He tugs on my hair playfully—at least I hope it’s playfully—and goes to investigate his options.
Door in one hand, he stands in front of the fridge—leans, really, with the other hand braced on the cabinet—until the entire room is cold with refrigerated air.
“Problem?” I take a break from eating so I can admire the sexy line of his body and the way his muscles bunch and flex as he rummages for food.
“Don’t suppose you’d make me a sandwich?” he says from somewhere in the interior of the refrigerator.
“That’d be a no.”
He slams the door shut and joins me at the table, ripping the plate and fork from underneath my nose and then shoveling half the quiche down his throat before I can even protest.
“That was mine!” I reach over and try to wrest it back
“Sandra would want you to share with me.” He holds me off with one hand…again.
Damn. I need to start a weightlifting program. I try one more time to grab the plate back, and this time Reed doesn’t fend me off. He pulls me in and the surprise move makes me lose my balance. I end up tumbling into his lap with my legs splayed on either side of his broad thighs.
My attempts to wriggle free are put to an end when he clamps one hand around my butt and pulls me against him. When he kisses me, I can’t help but respond eagerly, wanting him to make those husky noises that tell me how hot I get him.
“You left this morning,” I say when he releases my mouth. I wish I could stuff the words back in, because I’m afraid he’s going to say something hurtful.
“Didn’t want to,” he replies.
“Why’d you leave?” All my pride is left on the floor, but my weakness doesn’t turn him off.
He runs his fingers through my hair. “Because I’m weak when it comes to you. I don’t trust myself to be in your bed all night. Hell, I should be thrown in jail for half the things I just think about.”
His words fill me with giddy pleasure. “You think too much.”
He makes some indecipherable noise—impatience, cynicism, humor—and then kisses me again. Soon the kissing isn’t enough. I reach down to tug at the bottom of his shirt. His hands are all over me too—inside my T-shirt, down the elastic waistband of my shorts. I strain toward him, seeking the release I’ve discovered only Reed can provide.
A scuffling noise outside the kitchen breaks us apart.
“Did you hear something?” I whisper.
Reed stands up in one smooth and powerful gesture, still holding me in his arms, and walks out into the hall. It’s empty.
Setting me on my feet, he gives my butt a little smack. “Why don’t you go put a swimsuit on?”
“Um, why would I want to do that?” I just want to go back to the table and sit on his lap while he kisses me senseless, but he’s already moving outside.
“Because we’re going for a swim,” he calls over his shoulder.
With a sigh, I trudge upstairs. When I reach the top, I see Brooke coming out of my room. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like.
I halt in my tracks, anger and suspicion forming a tight pretzel in my gut. What the hell was she doing in my bedroom?
My money is in there.
What if she took it?
I scan her quickly but she doesn’t have a purse and her clothes are so tight that there’s no way she can hide a stack of cash on her. Still, she doesn’t belong here, and I make my displeasure known as I march toward her.
“What are you doing here?” I demand.
She saunters my way. “Well, if it isn’t little orphaned Ella, the new princess of Castle Royal.”
“I thought you told Callum you were leaving and never coming back,” I say warily.
“Don’t you wish.” She sneers and flicks her long blonde hair to one side. Whatever warm feelings she may have had for me are long gone.
There’s no point in engaging, so I sidestep her and move in front of my bedroom door. “Stay out of my room. I’m serious, Brooke. If I catch you up here again, I’m telling Callum.”
“Right. Callum. Your savior. The man who swept you out of the gutter and brought you to his palace.” Bitterness fills her eyes. “He did the same thing for me. He saved me too, remember? But guess what, sweetie—we’re disposable. We’re all fucking disposable to him.” She waves a perfectly manicured finger in my face. “Your life is transformed, isn’t it? Like some princess out of a fairytale. But fairytales aren’t real. Girls like us, we’ll always turn back into a pumpkin after the ball.”
I notice that her eyes have started to glisten with unshed tears. “Brooke,” I say gently. “Let me call you a cab, okay?” My heart softens toward her. She’s hurting and needs help. I don’t know what I can do for her, though, other than a safe ride home.
“He’ll tire of you, too,” Brooke continues as if I hadn’t even spoken. My response doesn’t matter. She just needs an audience. “Mark my words.”
“Thanks for your insight,” I say dryly. “But I think it’s time for you to go.”
I try to steer her toward the stairs, but she flinches away, stumbling against the opposite wall. A peal of maniacal laughter tumbles from her cherry red lips. “I’ve had the Royals in my palm for a lot longer than you have, honey.”
I’m done listening to her. She just wants to whine and bad-mouth the Royals. My patience evaporates, so I just duck into my room, slam the door shut, and run to the bathroom. With a shaking hand, I feel inside the cabinet. When my hand brushes across the taped wad of bills, I sag with relief.
I need to move my cash to somewhere only I have access. ASAP.
?” Reed asks the moment I step onto the patio.
I can’t answer him immediately because my tongue is attached to the roof of my mouth. I don’t know how I’m supposed to function when Reed stands there in only a pair of board shorts that look like they’re about to drop off his hips. His chest is a wall of lickable muscle, and it’s hard to concentrate. My argument with Brooke fades in importance when the hottest guy on the planet is standing there on display for me.
“Ella?” he prompts, with humor in his voice.
“What?” I shake myself. “Oh I’m sorry. It was Brooke. She was coming out of my bedroom. Or at least I think it was my bedroom.”
Callum’s room is on the other side of the house. The sweeping staircase bisects the two wings and the boys’ rooms are on one side and Callum’s room is on the other. Guest rooms are on the first floor. There was absolutely no reason for Brooke to be on our side of the house.
Reed frowns and starts to move toward the door.
“She left,” I tell him. “I saw her car heading down the drive before I came out here.”
“We need to change the gate code,” he mutters.
“Mmm-hmm.” I can’t stop staring.
Before I can blink, Reed lifts me in his arms and throws me in the pool.
I land with a huge awkward splash, spitting up water as I kick up to the surface. “What was that for?” I yell, pulling wet strands of hair away from my face.
He grins wickedly. “You looked like you needed cooling off.”
“You’re one to talk!” I swing myself onto the tiled surround and lunge for him.
He skates away easily. There’s no point in chasing him. He’s bigger and faster than me, so I have to resort to trickery.
I pretend to bang my foot against a lounger.
“Ouch!” I holler and stagger over to the pool’s edge where I bend down and clutch my foot.
Reed comes over immediately. “You okay?”
I lift my supposedly hurt foot up for his inspection. “I stubbed my toe.”
He leans down and I push him into the water.
He surfaces immediately, whipping his head around to get the water out of his eyes. Then he grins. “I let you do that.”