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By´╝ÜWillow Renshaw

He climbs down the ladder, stopping one more time to look at me. “See you at dinner, Princess Demi.”


He’s staying for dinner again?

I need to see if I can change places with Delilah tonight. I don’t want to play footsie with Royal under the table again. I want to eat my shepherd’s pie, then go upstairs, lock my door so he can’t bug me, and read my book until he finally goes home.

He’s so annoying.


Demi, Age 13

{three years later}

“Oh, my goodness . . .” My mother’s making a fuss down the hall. The front door slams. “It’s so good to see you again. How’ve you been, sweetheart?”

I yank my ear buds and cock my head. Sounds like a stampede of winter boots downstairs. I pick up a boy’s voice, but it’s not Derek.

Popping up from my bed, I peer out my bedroom window to the driveway below. I don’t see any cars. I dog-ear my page and fold my book across a pillow before tiptoeing down the hall and peeking down the stairs.

One careful step. Then another. And another. I’m halfway down when I see my mother with her arms wrapped around someone. She pulls away a second later, and then I see him.

Royal Lockhart.

I hold my breath, flatten myself against the stair wall, and pray he doesn’t notice me.

“I’m so glad you were placed back in Rixton Falls,” Mom says, running her hand along his cheek like he’s a little boy. “Are you liking your new foster parents?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He doesn’t seem excited. Royal folds his hands in front. He stands up straight. I think he’s taller now. His hair is longer. He looks older.

A year ago, he had to move in with a different family in the northeast part of the state. Derek went to visit a few times, but Royal’s new family could never drive him here for some reason.

“You’ll spend Christmas with us, won’t you, Royal?” Mom asks. “Christmas dinner is tomorrow. You’re welcome to stay the night. Derek told me you were coming. I hope it’s okay. I went ahead and put some gifts under the tree for you. Just because you went away for a while, it doesn’t mean you’re not still an honorary Rosewood.”

Royal’s face lights when my mom says that. I know he doesn’t have a family like we do. I know it means a lot that we include him. I just wish he wasn’t so obnoxious.

He’s pretty cute now though. Like the kind of boy I’d pass a note to in school if he were anyone but Royal Lockhart.

I’m not sure how long I’ve been staring at him, but the second his eyes lift to the stairs, my heart leaps into my throat.

“Hi, Demi,” he says.

Mom and Derek turn to see me trip down one of the steps.

“Hi, Royal.” I turn around and march back up the stairs. He hasn’t seen me since I had braces put on, and I’m nursing a breakout on my chin. I’m in sweats and an old t-shirt from seventh grade volleyball.

Not that I care what he thinks of me.

I don’t.

I mean it.

I lock my door. I’ll hide in here all night if I have to.

My stomach growls when the smell of Christmas Eve supper wafts upstairs.

An hour later, three quick knocks send a sweat to my palms.

I clear my throat and smooth my ponytail.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me.” Delilah’s voice is a Godsend.

“Come in.”

My baby sister, who acts older than all of us most of the time, barges in.

“Why are you hiding up here?” She tucks a strand of stand of cocoa hair behind her ear. “You know Royal’s downstairs, right?”

I roll my eyes. “Yeah, so?”

“You look cute. Did you just change?” she asks.


“Nope. Been wearing this all day.” I tug on my cozy pink sweater and run my hand down my leggings until I reach the top of my chunky socks. I saw a girl on Instagram wearing a similar outfit. She was older than me, but I think I can pull this off.

For some reason, I feel the need to look older. Like Royal does now.

Delilah scrunches her perfect nose at me. “Anyway, come downstairs. We’re playing Mario Kart and we need another player.”

I stare at my waiting book that clearly isn’t going anywhere and rack my brain for an excuse.

“I have homework,” I say.

“It’s Christmas break.”

“I hate Mario Kart.”

“No you don’t. You’re better than all of us.”

“I’ll be down later.”

Delilah frowns. “It’s because of Royal, isn’t it? You always act weird around him. Everyone sees it.”

“Not true,” I lie.

“Fine. You can just stay up here like some stuck-up princess in a tower. Maybe I’ll send Royal up to rescue you.”