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Authors: Winter Renshaw


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Valorie Clifton

Janice Owen and Carey Sullivan

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“Here lie remains of a ship
that sailed too close to the storm

Capsized, grounded,
washed-up, sounded . . .

. . . I hear their voices, sirens calling
out emergency

for you, for me, for you, for
you, for you

for you, for you, for you,
for me . . .”


- Sirens, by The Weepies




Never Kiss a
(Never Series #1)

Never Is a
(Never Series #2)

Never Say
(Never Series #3)


(Arrogant Series #1)

(Arrogant Series #2)

Playboy (Arrogant Series #3)


Dark Paradise


Vegas Baby




His name is Royal, but he’s no prince charming. He’s
not even a prince—though you could say I loved him once upon a time.

He was my older brother’s best friend.

Growing up, he sat at our dinner table every Sunday,
teased me mercilessly, and pretended I annoyed him.

When I was old enough, he took me on my first date.

Royal taught me how to drive. Escorted me to my junior
prom. Gave me my first kiss—amongst other things. He was my first taste
of toe-curling, all-consuming, can’t sleep love.

We had our whole lives ahead of us. There was never
anyone else for me but him.

And then he disappeared. No letter. No explanation.
Not even a goodbye.

My sisters and brother never forgave him, and my
parents forbade me from speaking his name in our house ever again. For all
intents and purposes, we were to pretend that Royal Lockhart never existed.

I’ve spent the last seven years trying in vain to forget my
first love, but just when I think I’ve finally moved on, guess who’s back in




To my husband,
because . . . love.


- Winter


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.”


“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

“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

“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

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.



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


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.

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


He’s staying for dinner

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,

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.”

My cheeks burn. Before I get a chance to say anything,
Delilah slams my door. It bounces back open, and the sound of her feet hitting
the steps grows further away.

I pace my room for a solid thirty minutes, dabbing concealer
on my chin each time I pass my mirror.

Mom calls my name from downstairs.

Dinner must be ready. I holler down that I’ll be there in a
minute, and then run back to my dresser to fix my hair one last time. I can
never get these topknots to lay the right way. And I have so much damn hair, I
don’t know what to do with it half the time. Why can’t I just have straight,
shiny, perfect hair like everybody else?

“Need help?” A boy’s voice startles me.

I whip around to see Royal in my doorway. I kick myself for
leaving the door open.

“What are you doing up here?” I spit.

“Everyone’s waiting on you downstairs. Dinner’s ready.”

Great. Now I’m going to walk downstairs and my whole
family’s going to be staring at me. They’re going to see that I changed my
clothes and put on makeup.

God, I feel so stupid now.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” I say.

“You said that twenty minutes ago.” He takes another step
into my room. How rude. “They told me to come rescue you. Now come on. I’ll
personally escort you to the dinner table, Princess.”

Royal grabs my arm, and butterflies swarm my stomach.

Was. Not. Expecting. That.

I get lightheaded. I think my heart’s racing too fast. I
need to sit down. I need him to go away.

Yanking my elbow from his grip, I roll my eyes.

“Don’t.” I swallow hard.

He smirks, and I notice a dimple in his right cheek. Was it
always there? Royal’s lashes are long and dark, and they frame his deep blues
perfectly. He has the girliest eyes I’ve ever seen. Why am I just now noticing
these things?

“You coming or what?” He’s in the hallway now. “Saved you a

Royal winks. I release the smile I’ve been biting away as
soon as his back is turned.

He’s annoying. But cute. Kind of.




Demi, Age 15

{two years later}


“Derek was supposed to teach me how to drive.” I’m seated in
the front of Royal’s beat-up Chevy. It’s rusty and the exhaust is super loud.
I’ve seen him drive around town in this thing before, and he acts like he’s so
hot. Girls hang off the tailgate in the high school parking lot after school
like it’s some exclusive club.

Just so happened that my parents decided to take their
Jamaican anniversary cruise during my fifteenth birthday. My learner’s permit
is burning a hole in my wallet. Two weeks is a long time to wait when you’re

“Yeah, well, Derek chose summer break to get mono, so you
get me instead.” Royal jingles the keys. “Put your left foot on the clutch and
your right foot on the brake.”

“This is a stick?” My voice cracks. I grip the skinny
steering wheel of the old blue beater.

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