Paper Princess Page 33

“Pass. I don’t like football. Besides, I have to work.”

I reach for the door handle, but he leans over the seat and grabs my arm. A rush of heat travels from his fingers, down my arm, and settles between my legs. I order my traitorous body to stand down, and try not to breathe in the spicy, masculine scent that reaches my nostrils. Why does he have to smell so good?

“I don’t care what you like or don’t like. I know you get off at seven. Kick off is at seven thirty. You’re coming.” His voice is low, rippling with…it’s not anger anymore, but thick with…I don’t know with what. All I know is that he’s too close for comfort, and my heart is beating dangerously fast.

“I’m not going to some stupid high school football game to cheer for you and your meathead friends,” I snap, shrugging his hand off my arm. The loss of his warmth sends an instant shiver through me. “Callum will just have to deal.”

I slide out of the SUV and slam the door, then hurry down the dark sidewalk toward the bakery.

* * *

I barely make it to school before the first bell. I only have time for a quick stop in the bathroom to change into my Astor Park uniform, and then I sit through my morning classes and fight to stay awake. At lunch, I chug so much coffee that Val finally has to cut me off, but at least I feel alert now.

I take my seat next to Easton’s in chem class and greet him with a reluctant hello.

“You were snoring in English class this morning,” he says with a grin.

“I was not. I was wide awake the whole time.” Was I, though? Now I’m not so sure.

Easton rolls his eyes. “Aw, sis. You work too hard. I’m worried about you.”

I roll my eyes back. I know the Royal brothers aren’t happy about my job. Neither is Callum, who wouldn’t quit frowning when I told him about it. He insisted that I should be concentrating on my studies and not splitting my focus between school and work, but I hadn’t budged. After I told him working was important to me and that I needed more than school to occupy my time, he’d backed off.

Or so I’d thought. It isn’t until the bell rings for my last class of the day that I realize Callum has made another power play behind my back.

A tall, lithe woman comes up to me as I’m leaving my math class. She moves with the grace of a ballerina, so when she introduces herself as the coach of the dance team, I’m not surprised.

“Ella,” Ms. Kelley says, her sharp eyes studying me. “Your guardian tells me you’ve been dancing since you were a child. What kind of training have you had?”

I shift in discomfort. “Not much training at all,” I lie. “I’m not sure why Mr. Royal told you otherwise.”

I think she sees right through me, because she arches a brow. “Why don’t you let me be the judge of that? You’re trying out for the team after school today.”

Alarm bells ring in my head. What? No way. I don’t want to join the dance team. Dancing is just a silly hobby. And…oh crap, didn’t Savannah mention that Jordan is the captain of the team? Now I really don’t want to try out.

“I work after school,” I say curtly.

Ms. Kelley blinks. “Work?” She says the word as if it’s a foreign concept to her. But I guess when it comes to having a part-time job, I’m in the minority here at Astor Park. “What time is that?”


She frowns. “All right. Well, my session doesn’t let out until four. Hmmm.” She thinks it over. “You know what, my captain will handle it—Carrington knows what we’re looking for. You can try out for her at three, and that leaves you plenty of time to get to your job.”

My panic triples. I’m going to be trying out for Jordan? Hell to the no.

Ms. Kelley notices my expression and frowns again. “Mr. Royal and I expect you to be there, Ella. Every student at Astor Park Prep Academy is encouraged to contribute something to this school. Extra-curriculars are a healthy and productive way to occupy your time.”

Damn Callum. The fact that she used the same phrase I gave him—occupy my time—tells me that he’s definitely behind this.

“Come to the practice gym after your last class. You can wear your PE uniform.” She pats me on the arm, then walks off before I can protest.

A groan rises in my throat, but I choke it down. Is there anything the Royals aren’t capable of doing? I’m not interested in joining the dance team, but I know that if I don’t show up to the tryout, Ms. Kelley will report back to Callum, and if he’s pissed enough, he might actually force me to quit my job. Or worse, the school might decide I have nothing “special” to offer, and Beringer will kick me out, which Callum definitely won’t like.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t like it either. This school is light-years ahead academically from the public schools I attended in the past.

I can’t concentrate at all during my last class. I’m filled with dread about the tryout, and when I make my way to the south lawn after the bell rings, I feel like an inmate walking the green mile. I should have asked Val how she got out of this sort of thing, because she can dance and I don’t see anyone forcing her to a tryout.

The girls’ locker room is empty when I walk in, but there’s a rectangular box sitting on the long gleaming bench between the rows of lockers.

ELLA is scrawled on the top, and there’s a folded piece of paper taped next to my name.

My stomach churns. With shaky hands, I snatch the note and unfold it.

Sorry, sweetie, we don’t allow dirty strippers on the team. But I’m sure The XCalibur Club in town would LOVE to let you try out. In fact, I have so much faith in you that I even bought you an audition outfit. The club’s located at the corner of Trash St. and Gutter Ave. Break a leg!


Her name is signed in a feminine scrawl, and the glee behind each letter is unmistakable.

My hands tremble even harder as I open the box and shove the tissue paper aside. When I see what’s inside, embarrassment floods my stomach.

The box contains a teeny pair of red panties, five-inch spiked stilettos, and a lacy red bra with black tassels. The lingerie is ugly and trashy and not unlike what I wore at Miss Candy’s back in Kirkwood.

I wonder which Royal told them about my stripping. Callum must have confided in his sons, so who talked? Reed? Easton? I’m betting on Reed.

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