“But last night,” she continued, wanting to chase him, to force him to retreat from his anger. “I found myself trapped in the lie, even as I began to develop genuine feelings for you—” She stopped, and Francesco whirled around, his dark eyes connecting with hers. “Even as we talked, and I learned who you really were.”
“You mean, you became the first paparazzo to learn that we, on the other side of the camera, are human? Great,” Francesco said coldly. “That’s just great.”
“I genuinely enjoyed my time with you last night,” Lisa whispered. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. But when you asked me to eat with you, I knew I couldn’t refuse.”
“Because you could learn so much about me, my family, and my relationship with Princess Rose,” Francesco said, his tone accusatory. “You knew what you were doing the entire time.”
Lisa shook her head sadly, closing her eyes. Tiny crows’ feet formed on either side, a reminder of her age. She’d spent the majority of her 20s ruining peoples’ lives. She’d become something she’d never dreamed of being.
“It may have started that way,” she said. “But all that floated away when I realized that you—you were someone truly special. And I wanted to come home with you. I wanted to be physically close, even without speaking or listening. And, God, Francesco. I told you things. I told you things about myself that I’ve never told anyone.”
She pressed her palm against her forehead, sensing she was running in circles. “Doesn’t that mean anything?” she breathed, tapping her tongue against the top of her mouth, feeling outside of reality. A bird flew past the penthouse window, a reminder that the world outside continued to spin.
“Get out,” the Prince said, then. “I can’t have you here another moment more. I want you out of my life forever. Do you understand?”
His words rang through her ears, and she nodded hesitantly, beginning to grab her things. She dressed wearily, tugging her tights over her legs, hooking her bra behind her back without flourish. She sensed Francesco’s eyes upon her, but she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t acknowledge his hatred of her.
She’d seen the way he’d looked at her that morning—a mere fifteen minutes before—and she’d fallen for it. She’d felt she’d been dozing on a hill, beneath the sun, the grass tickling her face. But now, she was bruised, kicked from the home of the most handsome, fairy-tale prince in the world. And perhaps it really was because she was rotten, wretched, and undeserving of love.
Lisa flipped the zipper up on her dress, and then donned her coat, turning back toward the man she’d shared a perfect evening with. “I suppose this is goodbye,” she whispered.
Francesco held up his finger, his nostrils flared. “One moment,” he said, lifting himself from his chair. “You said you told me things that you haven’t told anyone,” he said. He couldn’t bear to look her in the eye, and his gaze settled somewhere near her toes. “Does that mean—” He paused. “Did you tell me the truth last night, at any point?”
Lisa nodded, her heart jutting up against her ribcage. “Everything I told you was the truth, except what I do for a living. Everything about my mother. And my life in Detroit. And my friends. And my hopes and dreams.” She bit her lip, trembling.
Moments passed. The Prince sighed heavily, acknowledging the weight of their shared silence. Lisa prayed that he would change his mind. That he’d ask her to join him back in bed. He’d ask her to delete the photographs, to unstrap herself from her commitment to Rocco and Daily Sneak.
But he didn’t.
“You can let yourself out,” he barked, his voice gruff, tired with disappointment. He turned toward the window and gazed at the horizon, which seemed heavenly in the distance, its edge gleaming with light.
Lisa turned toward the door and marched sullenly to the elevator, tapping over the floorboards and then the marble, trying to memorize every nook and cranny of the apartment, the brilliant details, and the intricate tapestries, the like of which she’d never glimpsed before.
She ducked into the elevator and bounded to the first floor, sending a sad, small wave to the doorman before exiting the building.
Outside, on the street corner, Lisa nearly ran nearly headlong into Sergio, Francesco’s driver. Again, a cigarette sat between his lips, and he blocked her path, his breath coming raggedly.
“My girl, my girl,” he said, his eyes glinting mischievously. “Don’t imagine I won’t tell the Prince just exactly what you’re up to.” He stretched his palm outward, clearly demanding funds.
But Lisa shifted her weight and crossed her arms over her chest, anger sizzling through her. “Get out of my way, Sergio. I’ve given you enough.”
“Not enough. I didn’t know just how deep you’d go. You’re a dirty little paparazzo, aren’t you?” he sneered.
Lisa felt tears glimmer in her eyes, but she stood firm. “He already knows what I do, you ass. Get out of my way now, or I’ll call the police.” She lifted her phone and dangled it from two fingers, watching the man’s fat face fall, defeated.
“It was better working for the last guy,” he said softly, gazing down the street. “Fewer demands, and fewer people like you.”
Lisa shuffled past him and bounded toward the subway, kicking up into a run. Tears streamed down her face, easing between her lips and dripping from her chin. Suddenly, she felt she couldn’t inhale enough oxygen, and fell into a full-force panic attack, leaning heavily against a telephone pole.
With each inhale, the world seemed to spin faster. She eyed her feet on the ground, and sensed that she was tilting away from them. They certainly wouldn’t hold her up. She wasn’t going to be okay.
An elderly man stopped beside her and wrapped a cracked hand around her shoulder, holding her upright. His cataract-coated, cloudy eyes peered up at her, from his five-foot-nothing stance. And his words filled her with a brief burst of hope.