Home > Fallen Heir (The Royals #4)(11)

Fallen Heir (The Royals #4)(11)
Author: Erin Watt

She stiffens. “No fighting.”

“No fighting,” I echo with the roll of my eyes.

“Easton…”

“I’m serious.” I hold up my hands in an innocent gesture. “It’s Tuesday, anyway. No fights on Tuesdays.”

Ella doesn’t look entirely convinced. “So then where are you going?”

“Somewhere that good girls shouldn’t be seen.” I grab the rest of the apples and walk out.

“Easton!” she yells after me.

I give her a wave but don’t turn around. I don’t want Ella following me tonight. She’d be full of disapproval and that would take the shine off my glow.

Upstairs, I throw on my favorite pair of jeans. The rips in the knees are getting larger and are starting to look less like a fashion statement and more like I stole them from a hobo, but I don’t like throwing shit out. Besides, where I’m going, it doesn’t pay to look like you have money. I find a hoodie on the floor and shrug that over my favorite black wifebeater tank.

Palming my keys and a few hundred dollars, I take the back stairs to avoid Ella, Dad, and all the other prying eyes. In the garage, I pull the tarp off the splurge that I’m hoping Dad doesn’t notice I bought. The motorcycle is used, but I couldn’t swing a more expensive one without setting off warning bells in the accounting office. Any purchase over ten grand is flagged these days. I’m kinda glad of that anyway, because some of the places I’ve been going, something pricey would stand out and likely get boosted.

I roll the black-and-silver Yamaha halfway down the drive before climbing on and gunning it the remainder of the way. It takes thirty minutes to reach my destination.

Outside the rundown house, there are a half-dozen people smoking—cigarettes, of course, because weed’s not legal here and probably won’t be until the entire country okays it. Inside is a different story. Not only is there weed, but a whole drugstore of choices. I didn’t come for that, though. I’m trying to stay away from the drugs, although it hasn’t been easy.

Just seeing a joint can make my mouth water and my tongue tingle. I force my eyes away from the group who are cutting white powder at the table and make myself tromp down the stairs. It’s hard, but I promised my brothers, and after seeing what it did to my mom, I’ve tried to eliminate that one addiction. I don’t have a death wish. I just want to have a good time. The pills helped settle me down, mellowed me out enough to enjoy life, but I know that too much of a good thing can lead to disaster.

At the bottom of the stairs, a guy with a gut large enough to be seen from the Pacific greets me with a finger salute. “Royal.”

Tony’s size is deceiving. He looks soft, but he’s the one guy down here you don’t want to piss off. One swipe from his paw and you’ll be out cold.

I clasp the bouncer’s hand and go in for a manly side hug. He gives me a bone-rattling back slap before moving aside. In the dimly lit cement box, four tables are set up. No smoking is allowed down here due to the fact that it’s already a fire hazard. There’s only one exit and that’s up the stairs.

There’s plenty of booze. Three of the tables are already filled, but the fourth has three empty chairs. Although the dealer is new to me, I throw my five spot into the middle regardless.

“Long time, no see, Royal,” says the guy next to me.

“Hey, Nate Dog.” We slap hands. His is coarse from working on the docks. I met him after a fight once and he invited me to one of these games. I think it’s because he knew I had money and wanted to relieve me of some of it. Whatever the motivation, this place is a good way to blow off steam. I don’t mind losing and, for the most part, I break even.

Despite me having at least three inches on him, I still feel small around Nate D. It’s not just his age but the way he carries himself. He knows who he is. Gotta admire that.

The third player lifts his chin in my direction, acting like a tough guy. He straightens his shoulders under the oversized hoodie designed, I guess, to give him more bulk than he really has.

“You got a problem with me?” the kid asks, jutting his chin out.

“No. Why?”

“You were staring,” Nate D informs me.

“Yeah, look at your own cards.” The kid is getting on my nerves.

“You’re just so cute that I can’t help myself,” I say.

Nate D covers his mouth with his arm to stifle a laugh, and even the stone-faced dealer cracks a smile.

The kid doesn’t think I’m amusing. Too bad the punk has no sense of humor. Someone hands me a bottle of beer as the dealer whips out the first hand. I chug half the bottle before coming up for air.

I might’ve given up one addiction, but I can’t shake all of them. I told Ella once that it’s part of my genetic makeup. I get obsessed with shit. That’s just how I’m built and I’m not going to be sorry for it. I don’t hurt anyone—or, at least, I try to avoid it.

I pick up my cards and start playing. Not only does the punk have no sense of humor, but he’s bad at cards. He doesn’t pay attention to the ones that have been played and he makes reckless bets.

After five quick hands, he’s lost all the money in front of him while my pile keeps growing.

“You’re lucky tonight, son,” Nate D sighs, throwing his three sixes on the table in frustration.

“That’s your second straight in five hands.” The kid scowls at me. “You’re cheating, aren’t you?”

I pause in the middle of raking in the kitty. “I don’t even know the dealer’s name, so how am I supposed to be cheating?”

“I was winning until you got here. It’s real suspicious,” he says.

I roll my eyes.

“Play your cards,” Nate barks.

The punk grits his teeth but backs down.

I look down at my cards and pull out two. “Two, please,” I tell the dealer.

“Please? Like we’re in some country club,” scoffs Tough Guy, who folds his cards together. “I pass. My hand’s a winner.”

He ends up losing to Nate. We cycle through another deck with Tough Guy losing another two grand. I take his last hundred in a major bluff where I have jack shit. Nate folds and Tough Guy follows suit.

“Let’s see your cards,” he growls.

“No.” Maybe if it was with Nate and a few others, I wouldn’t mind, but this guy’s been an ass all night. I’m not in a friendly mood and haven’t been since lunch. Ella was right—getting reamed out by Hartley did upset me.

“I want to see your cards!” He reaches across the table to grab them, but I flick them toward the dealer, who smoothly slides them into the discard pile.

“Sit down,” I order.

“This is bullshit!” Tough Guy slams his fist on the table. “Take off your clothes.” He lunges forward as if to snatch my hoodie off my back.

I scramble out of the way while Nate arm-bars Tough Guy back into his chair. “Settle down,” Nate warns, flicking a finger in my direction.

Sullenly, Tough Guy crosses his arm. “I’m not playing another dime until he takes off his hoodie. I’m not bad at cards.”

I snort.

“I’m not,” he insists.

Nate tugs on the back of my sweatshirt. “Just do it so we can play.”

In other words, shut up so we can take more of this easy mark’s money.

I shrug out of the dockworker’s grip. “No. I’m not cheating and I’m not taking my clothes off because some dipshit who can’t bluff tells me to.”

Nate gets to his feet. “His money’s green. Just take it off, Royal.”

Talk about bullshit. Nate is so hungry for cash that he’s gonna throw me under the table? Forget that.

“Take it off, cheater,” Tough Guy taunts. He’s all false confidence now that Nate’s backing him.

I smile humorlessly. “No.”

Nate tugs on my arm, and I whip forward out of his grip. I’m not sure where it all goes wrong, but after that, it’s a blur. The table tips over. Money falls to the ground. Knuckles come out of nowhere and connect with my jaw, spinning me around.

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