Paper Princess Page 5

“I’m not looking for a hooker. I’m here for you.” After that ominous statement, Royal shrugs out of his suit coat and offers it to me.

Part of me wishes I was just a little bolder, but sitting here in this super fancy car in front of the man I’d just used as a pole is making me feel awkward and exposed. I’d give anything for a pair of granny panties right now. Reluctantly, I slip the jacket on, ignoring the uncomfortable pain the corset is causing me, and clutch the lapels tight against my chest.

“I have nothing you want.” Surely the small amount of cash shoved into the bottom of my bag is peanuts to this dude. We could trade this car for all of Daddy G’s.

Royal raises one eyebrow in a wordless rebuttal. Now that he’s in his shirtsleeves, I can see his watch and it looks…exactly like mine. His eyes follow my gaze.

“You’ve seen this before.” It’s not a question. He shoves his wrist toward me. The watch has a plain black leather band, silver knobs and an 18-carat gold housing around the domed glass of the watch face. The numbers and hands are glow-in-the-dark.

Dry-mouthed, I lie, “Never seen it before in my life.”

“Really? It’s an Oris watch. Swiss, made by hand. It was a gift when I graduated BUD/S. My best friend, Steve O’Halloran, received the same exact watch when he graduated from BUD/S, too. On the back it’s engraved—”

Non sibi sed patriae.

I looked up the phrase when I was nine years old, after my mom told me the story of my birth. Sorry, kid, but I slept with a sailor. He left me with nothing more than his first name and this watch. And me, I’d reminded her. She’d playfully ruffled my hair and told me I was the best thing ever. My heart lurches again at her absence.

“—It means ‘not for self, but for country.’ Steve’s watch went missing eighteen years ago. He said he lost it, but he never replaced it. Never wore another watch.” Royal releases a rueful snort. “He used that as an excuse for why he was late all the time.”

I catch myself leaning forward, wanting to know more about Steve O’Halloran, what the heck ‘buds’ is, and how the men knew each other. Then I give myself a mental face slap and slouch back against the door.

“Cool story, bro. But what does that have to do with me?” I glance at Goliath in the front seat and raise my voice. “Because both of you just kidnapped a minor, and I’m pretty sure that’s a felony in all fifty states.”

Only Royal responds. “It’s a felony to kidnap anyone regardless of age, but since I’m your guardian and you were engaging in illegal acts, it’s within my right to remove you from the premises.”

I force out a mocking laugh. “I’m not sure who you think I am, but I’m thirty-four.” I reach into the backpack to find my ID, pushing aside the watch that’s a perfect match to the one Royal has on his left wrist. “See? Margaret Harper. Age thirty-four.”

He plucks the identification from my fingers. “Five foot seven inches. One hundred and thirty pounds.” His eyes flick over me. “Felt more like a hundred, but I suspect you’ve lost weight since you’ve been on the run.”

On the run? How the hell does he know that?

As if he can read my expression, he snorts. “I’ve got five sons. There’s no trick in the book that one of them haven’t tried on me, and I know a teenager when I see one, even beneath a foot of makeup.”

I stare back stonily. This man, whoever he is, is getting nothing from me.

“Your father is Steven O’Halloran.” He checks himself. “Was. Your father was Steven O’Halloran.”

I turn my face against the window so this stranger doesn’t see the flash of pain that crosses my expression before I can bury it. Of course my dad is dead. Of course.

My throat feels tight and the awful sensation of tears pricks at the back of my eyes. Crying is for babies. Crying is for weaklings. Crying for a dad I never knew? Totally weak.

Over the hum of the road, I hear a clink of glass against glass and then the familiar sound of liquor splashing into a tumbler. Royal starts talking a moment later.

“Your father and I were best friends. We grew up together. Went to college together. Decided to enlist in the Navy on a whim. We eventually joined the SEALs, but our fathers wanted to retire early so instead of re-upping for duty, we moved home to take up the reins of our family business. We build airplanes, if you were wondering.”

Of course you do, I think sourly.

He ignores my silence or takes it as approval to continue. “Five months ago, Steve died during a hang-gliding accident. But before he left…it’s eerie, almost like he had some kind of premonition”—Royal shakes his head—“he gave me a letter and said it might be the most important piece of correspondence he’d ever received. He told me we’d go over it together once he got back, but a week later, his wife returned from the trip and informed me Steve was dead. I set the letter aside to deal with…complications regarding his death and his widow.”

Complications? What did that mean? You die and then that’s it, no? Plus, the way he said widow, like it was a nasty word, makes me wonder about her.

“A couple of months later, I remembered the letter. Do you want to know what it said?”

What a horrible tease. Of course I want to know what the letter said but I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of a response. I fix my cheek against the window.

Several blocks whiz by before Royal gives in.

“The letter was from your mother.”

“What?” I whip my head around in shock.

He doesn’t look smug that he’s finally gained my attention—only tired. The loss of his friend, of my dad, is etched all over his face, and for the first time I see Callum Royal as the man he professes to be: a father who lost his best friend and received the surprise of a lifetime.

Before he can say another word, though, the car comes to a stop. I look out the window and see we’re out in the country. There’s a long flat strip of land, a large one-story building made of metal sheeting, and a tower. Near the building is a large white airplane with the words “Atlantic Aviation” emblazoned on it. When Royal said he built airplanes, I didn’t expect this kind of airplane. I don’t know what I expected, but a huge ass jet large enough to carry hundreds of people across the world was not it.

Prev Next