Authors: Erin Watt
I’m suddenly aching in spots I didn’t realize could ache. “We could do other stuff.” I lick my lips, thinking of the pool house.
He groans and buries his face in my neck. “There’s no rush. Seriously. We’re going to take our time and do this right.” With another deep breath, he sets me away from him and strokes a strand of hair out of my eyes. “We okay?”
There’s no point in disagreeing. I know Reed well enough that once he’s made up his mind about something, it takes a long time to change it, which means I’m spending the night alone.
“We’re okay.” I rise on my tiptoes to kiss his cheek but Reed turns his face so our lips meet.
The long, tender kiss he gives me goes a long way toward easing any hurt feelings. The feel of his hard frame against my body doesn’t hurt either.
And the last hints of rejection are brushed away when Reed slips into my bed later that night. Silently, I pull his arm around me and fall into a deep and welcome sleep.
, Valerie accosts me at lunch. “What is going on with you and Reed?”
I try to look as innocent as possible when I answer, “What do you mean?”
“Apparently yesterday he walked by you on the way to Bio and flicked your hair,” she announces.
I stare at her and then burst out laughing. “And that’s some sort of big declaration by Reed Royal?” I ask incredulously.
She nods. “Reed does
do PDA. Even when he was supposedly dating Abby—”
I crinkle my nose at this. I don’t like hearing those two names in the same sentence.
Valerie ignores me and continues, “—he avoided her. There was no kissing her up against the locker. No holding her hand. Sure, she went to his football games, but he’s on the field so it’s not like they were making out during the games or anything.” She looks thoughtfully into the distance as if envisioning them. I hold back a gag. “I think the only time people ever saw them together was at a party. So yeah, the fact that he intentionally reached out to touch you is huge.”
I stare at my tray of locally-sourced organic chicken breast and farm-fresh vegetables so that Valerie doesn’t see that it’s huge to me, too. The graze of his fingers against the base of my neck on Tuesday morning stayed with me for hours.
When I get myself under control, I glance back at Valerie. “We’re enjoying a truce,” is all I admit to.
She shoots me a worried look but doesn’t press because she’s a friend.
Impishly, I reach across the table and grab her hand, pressing it to my chest. “You’re first in my heart, Val.”
“I better be, bitch.” She honks my boob and I slap her hand away.
Giggling, she sticks a carrot in her mouth. After we’re done with lunch, she tells me that the Moonglow club is having another eighteen-and-over night. “You in?”
I hesitate, because my first instinct is to text Reed and find out what he’s doing, but then I realize that not only would I give myself away to Valerie but that no matter what is going on between Reed and me, I need a life separate from his. So I nod firmly. “I’m in.”
She bumps my shoulder companionably as we walk back toward our lockers.
“Are we dancing in the cage?” I ask with a grin.
“Is the Pope Catholic?”
“Am I going to need another outfit?”
She shakes her head in mock dismay. “It’s like it’s your first day of school all over again. Have you learned nothing since you’ve been here? Of course you need a new outfit.”
Valerie and I make plans to go shopping later.
“I’ll pick you up after work,” I tell her, remembering my brand new set of wheels cooling at home.
She stops abruptly and grabs my arm. “What do you mean you’ll pick me up? Did you get a car?”
I nod. “A convertible. Callum gave it to me.”
She whistles long and low but loud enough that it turns the heads of everyone within about ten feet from us.
“Did you bring it to school?” She claps her hands together. “I want to see it!”
“Ah, no.” I stall, trying to think of a plausible excuse for why I rode with Reed this morning. “I caught a ride with Reed. He’s got football practice in the mornings so it makes more sense for us to carpool.”
Valerie rolls her eyes. “How long are you two going to pretend that you’re not going out?”
I suppress a smile. “For as long as anyone will buy it.” And that is as close as I’ll come to admitting she’s right.
alerie predictably loves
the little car. And I use some of my stash to buy an outfit for tonight. She takes me to an ordinary mall where the prices are high but not so high that I feel like I’m wearing an entire paycheck to the club. At the Royal mansion, I do her hair and makeup and my own, creating dramatic nightclub looks.
“I look hot,” Valerie declares as she examines herself in the mirror. “Let me take a selfie for Tam.”
“I can take it for you.”
She hands me the phone and I snap a couple of photos, which she sends off immediately to her boyfriend. Those two seem to have such a great relationship, even though he didn’t show up a week ago like he’d promised. Val didn’t seem too upset about it.
“How do you do it?” I think of Reed in college and wonder if I’d be able to handle him being around so many pretty older girls.
Valerie takes a shot of me before answering. “I have to trust him. I send him lots of pictures.”
“Yep. Naughty photos, too, mostly of my chin down…just in case.” She makes a face. “Not that I don’t trust him, but if someone steals his phone or something.”
“Right.” I hesitate. “Was Tam your first?”
“Are you judging me?” she asks curiously.
“No, absolutely not!” I wave my hands in the air. “No judgment.”
She peers at me in disbelief. “Wait. Have you never had sex before?”
I lower my head and admit, “No, never.”
“Never?” She draws back. “Wow. Now I’m rethinking your relationship with Reed because there’s no way that dude is going without.”
“I-I-I—” I stutter, at a loss for words.
She slaps a hand across her mouth. “I did not mean that. If he’s with you, then I guarantee he’s not sleeping around. When he dated Abby, I never saw him hook up with another girl.”
“Yeah, okay.” I feel a little numb. It never even occurred to me that he might be sleeping with someone else. Is that why he’s not pressuring me?
Valerie squeezes my shoulder. “It was a stupid comment. I didn’t mean anything by it. Honest. I tried to be funny and it came off wrong. Forgive me?”
“Of course.” I hug her, but in the back of my mind, doubt has crept in.
A few minutes later, we step out of my bedroom in our teeny dresses, high heels, and big hair. Easton is leaving his room at the same time and lets out a long whistle. “Where are you two going?”
“Moonglow. They’re having another rave,” I explain.
He quirks an eyebrow. “You tell Reed about this?”
“No. Should I?” I hadn’t seen Reed since this morning.
“All right. See you later,” Easton says and jogs down the stairs.
“Later where?” I yell after him.
“Where do you think?” He snorts. “I tell Reed you’re wearing a Band-Aid and cage dancing and you’re going to have one hot-headed Royal on your hands.”
“So I guess that’s a yes that Reed and Easton will be there tonight,” Valerie surmises.
I don’t make any attempt to hide my satisfied smile.
and I are escorted to the cages almost before we can clear the entrance. I guess they remember us. We put on a show for two songs until I hear my name being called. I look down through the bars and see Easton with his hands cupped around his mouth yelling my name.
When he catches my attention, he points toward the bar. I follow the line of his arm to Reed, who’s leaning against the bar top in virtually the same pose as that first night Valerie and I danced here. Only this time he doesn’t disappear.
He waits for me to climb down from the cage.
He waits for me to walk all the way across the room.
He waits for me to reach him.
And all the while his blazing eyes track each step that brings me closer.
I halt a hand’s width away. “What are you thinking about?” I ask huskily.
He looks pointedly at my chest and then the length of my legs exposed by the short, tight black skirt. “You know exactly what I’m thinking about.” He inhales deeply. “But since we’re in public, I can only
I lift a hand to his shoulder, and this guy who doesn’t like public displays of affection takes it and brings it to his mouth. His hot breath gusts against my palm and then, with a hard jerk, he brings me flush against him.
“You’re driving half the guys in here crazy,” he growls against my hair.
“Only half?” I joke.
“The other half are in love with Easton,” he informs me. He dips his hand underneath my hair and runs it all the way down to the small of my back. A small tug brings me sharply between his legs. We both suck in a breath when we make contact.
“Wanna dance,” I manage to croak out.
He tosses back whatever he’s drinking, slams the empty glass on the bar, and takes my hand. “Let’s go.”
On the dance floor, we press tight against each other. One of his strong thighs finds its way between my legs and he bends his knees so that I’m virtually riding him. Then he runs his fingers across the newly exposed skin at the backs of my thighs.
I twine my arms around his neck and hang on, trusting him.
“I almost exploded in my pants watching you dance,” he rasps in my ear.
“Yeah? You like watching Val and I dance together?” I tease. Every guy’s fantasy, I think.
“There was someone else up there with you?” He smooths a hand over my hair. “I only saw you.”
I nearly melt into a puddle of goo. “Keep talking like that and you might get lucky.”
His breath hitches and his fingers tighten against my flesh. “You want to get out of here?”
Heated, anxious, totally desperate for him, I nod helplessly.
“Let me find Easton and let him know we’re taking off.” He squeezes my hand and leans forward to brush his lips against my temple. That innocent kiss lights me up.
“I’m going to the bar to get a glass of water.” I’m beyond parched.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a sec.”
Reed is swallowed up by the crowd while I move in the opposite direction and attempt to flag down a bartender. Val is still up in the cages, dancing her pretty booty off.
A cute guy with floppy brown hair stands in front of me. He’s wearing a button-down shirt rolled and cuffed over a pair of plaid shorts. He looks vaguely familiar and I wonder if he goes to Astor Park.
“Ella Royal, right?” he asks.
I’ve given up on trying to get anyone to call me by my actual last name. I hold a tenner between my fingers and one of the bartenders acknowledges me with a tip of his chin. “Water,” I mouth. The girl nods and I stuff the tip into the jar. It’s a lot of money for water, but I’m thirsty and I figure it’s the fastest way to get served. “Yeah, I’m Ella. Are you from Astor Park?”
“Scott Gastonburg.” He leans an elbow on the counter. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” I take the glass from the bartender and yell my thanks.
“I’m just wondering whether you started with the twins and are moving up the Royal age ladder, or are you just jumping around?”
I jerk around so fast the water spills all over my hand. “Screw you.”
He holds out his hands. “I’m more than willing, baby, but my last name’s not Royal.”
I resist the urge to throw the entire contents of the glass in this asswipe’s face. “Go to hell.” I slam the glass on the bar top, then turn around and bump into Reed.
He takes one look at my face, then at Plaid Shorts’ insolent expression, and immediately sizes up what’s going on.
His eyes narrow and he shoves me behind him. “What’d you say to her?” he demands.
“It’s nothing.” I tug on Reed’s arm. “Nothing. Let’s just go.”
Scott either lacks any self-preservation instincts or has a lot of liquid courage, because he grins and says, “Ellie here just offered to screw me but I reminded her I wasn’t a Royal. I’m not even a cousin, but hey, I’m willing to take her off your hands once she’s done with you guys.”
Reed’s fist flies out so fast I don’t have a chance to react. By the time I realize what’s going on, Scott is on the ground and Reed is pounding on him. Even over the heavy bass, I can hear the crack of knuckles against bone.
“Reed! Reed! Come on!” I yell and pull at his shoulders, but he’s too focused on rearranging all of Scott’s features. Others try to help me, although I think some of them are actively cheering on the fight.
Finally three bouncers push through the crowd and yank Reed away, leaving Scott lying on the floor—blood streaming from his nostrils and one eye swollen shut.
“You’re going to have to leave,” one of the black T-shirt clad bouncers snaps.
“Fine.” Reed jerks out of the bouncer’s grasp and grabs my wrist. I know what he wants before he opens his mouth.
“I’ll get Easton,” I assure him.
Reed nods. He points to one of the bouncers, a blond guy who looks like he eats steroids for breakfast and small children for dinner. “You, stay with her. Anything happens to her again,” he stresses that word, “this place will be shut down and turned into a kiddie playground before end of business tomorrow.”
I don’t wait for the bouncers and Reed to come to an agreement. It’s time for Reed to get out of here. He’s filled with adrenaline and I can see he needs to exit this bar before the urge to get into another fight overtakes him.
“Easton’s over by the bathrooms,” Reed shouts as the bouncers escort him toward the entrance. I’ve lost track of Val, but I’ve got to get to Easton.
As I hurry away, I hear whispers. The people nearest to the fight have started gossiping.
“What just happened?”
“I think we just saw the proclamation of another Royal decree. Say anything bad about Ella Royal and you’ll be drinking your meals from a straw for the next six months.”
“She must be awesome in bed,” someone remarks.
“No sex like trashy sex,” another voice says. “Those bitches will let you do anything.”
My ears burn and I’m tempted to repeat Reed’s violent actions on every one of those smug faces, but I can’t stop because I catch sight of Easton in the hallway near the bathrooms.
I push through the crowd, but Easton doesn’t go into the men’s room. Instead he walks to the end of the hall toward the exit door.
“Excuse me,” I mutter as I duck around the line of girls waiting to use the ladies’ room and past a couple making out in a not-so-dark corner.
“Easton,” I call, but he doesn’t stop. I know he hears me, because I can see his body twitch in acknowledgment. But he just keeps going.
I race down the hall, emerging from the door several seconds after him. I instantly skid to a halt.
He’s in the back alley with two other guys, and it doesn’t look like they’re enjoying a smoke break.
Oh no. What has Easton gotten himself into?