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Royal

By´╝ÜWinter Renshaw

Prologue

Demi, Age 10

{fifteen years ago}


“What are you doing in here?” I cross my arms and scowl so hard my face hurts.

Royal Lockhart’s head pokes through the opening in the bottom of my tree house.

“No boys allowed. Can’t you read?” I point to the yellow piece of construction paper taped outside one of the windows. One of my little sisters drew it in red crayon and added a hundred exclamation points.

“Whatcha doing, Demi?” He ignores me. Boys are annoying.

“I think Derek’s calling your name.” My big brother uses that trick on me when he wants me to leave him alone. He always says Mom wants me. I don’t fall for it anymore, but maybe Royal will.

“I don’t hear anything.” He climbs the rest of the way inside my tree house and goes straight for a box of Barbies in the corner. “You still play with these?”

My cheeks burn. “Nope.”

Sometimes.

“Those belong to the twins,” I add. I blame everything on my little sisters, and everyone always believes me.

Royal picks up a naked Skipper and checks her out from all angles. He’s so weird.

“Why don’t your Barbies wear clothes?” he asks.

“I don’t know. Ask my sisters. I told you, I don’t play with those.”

“What do you do up here?” He throws Skipper into the box and leans out a nearby window.

“None of your business.” I roll my eyes as hard as I can. “You need to leave. You can’t be in here.”

“Why not?” His smile makes my blood boil. Ever since Derek brought him home from school last month, all he does is mess with me. He doesn’t bother my little sisters. Only me.

“Fifth graders and fourth graders aren’t supposed to hang out,” I say.

“Says who?”

“Um, everyone at school.”

“What’s this?” He walks toward me and plucks a plastic crown off my head.

I blush. I’d forgotten I was wearing it.

“Pretending to be a princess?” He laughs at me. I want to punch him.

“I was trying it on to see if it still fit.” I try to grab it back, but he pulls it away.

“Yeah, right, Demi.” He puts it on top of his dark brown hair. “How do I look?”

He smiles, staring down at me and lifting his fist just under his chin. He looks like a prince. In a good way. Like the kind in movies. But I’m not telling him that.

“You look dumb.” I swipe it off his stupid head. “Get out of here.”

“Doesn’t the prince get to kiss the princess first? I climbed this tower and everything.”

I stick my tongue out. “Gross.”

My heart beats hard in my chest. I don’t know what this means. Royal is annoying. He thinks he’s really funny and he’s not. All the girls follow him around on the playground at school, but I don’t think he’s anything special. I’d rather climb on the monkey bars or play tetherball than pay any attention to him. Hadley Mayberry had a pretend wedding to him at recess yesterday. I heard they really kissed. And then I heard Mrs. Quick put him in timeout against the wall. She called him Romeo. I don’t know what that means.

Royal walks past me, and my body won’t move. He looks at the ladder and then at me.

“Royal.” My brother’s voice comes from beneath the wooden floor. “You up there?”

“Yeah,” he calls back. “Just a sec.”

I tap my foot on the ground.

“Demi?”

“What?”

Royal licks his lips and leans in to give me a peck on the lips.

Disgusting!

I try to shove him across the tree house, but he’s bigger than me so he barely moves. When he laughs at me, I slap him across the face. I’ve never hit anyone before. Not even Derek, and man, have I wanted to a couple of dozen different times.

“Why’d you do that?” I wipe my mouth against my arm and then spit onto the dirty floor of the tree house.

Royal shrugs. “Because I’m a prince. It’s why my name is Royal. Princes kiss princesses.”

I know that’s not true. Mom said he’s a foster child. I don’t know what that means, but I know he’s not a prince. We don’t have princes in Rixton Falls anyway.

He won’t stop looking at me. It’s super uncomfortable.

I spit again. He laughs. I think he liked the kiss. He hasn’t tried to wipe it off yet.

“I’m not a princess.”

“You act like one most of the time. And you’re always hiding up here like it’s some fancy tower or something.”

“Don’t do that again.” I glare and step back. “Next time I’ll tell Derek.”

Royal’s face falls. Derek is his best friend. They’re like brothers. Sometimes I get jealous that Derek spends more time with Royal than me anymore.

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