Tarnished Crown

By: Erin Watt

Chapter 1


“Why did I agree to come here?” I grumble as I look around the crowded room. This party is like a hundred others I’ve been to since I was fourteen and figured out how to boost a ride from dear old dad’s garage. The music is marginally better since the frat sprang for an actual DJ, but the beer is mediocre and so are the pills.

“Because there’s free booze and hot women. What other incentive do you need?” Cal Lonigan, one of my swim teammates, answers.

“It was a rhetorical question.”

“Did you look at those babes? You either have a half-chub or it’s dead in your trunks. There’s a dozen reasons standing right over there.” Cal waves his beer bottle toward a group of girls.

They all look the same to me. Big blown-out hair, skimpy dresses, and shoes that lace up around their ankles. I think my stepsister had a name for them. Roman sandals? Greek sandals? Shit, do I really care?

No. No, I do not. I gave up on caring a while back.

I hand Cal my beer. “Pass.”

“Pass?” he echoes incredulously. “What about her? The Asian in the corner is a gymnast. I hear she can bend into a pretzel.”

Since when do we want to screw pretzels? “Hard pass.”

“I’m worried about you, man.” He raises the bottle in front of his mouth, I guess to prevent all those lip readers from figuring out what he’s going to say. “Word in the water is that you haven’t dipped your bucket in anyone’s well for a long time. Are you suffering permanent shrinkage?”

I open my mouth to explain to Cal that is not a thing but then decide against it. He was exposed to too much chlorine as a baby and it’s messed with his mental processes. You can’t hold that against him. “It’s a good thing you swim well and you’re pretty, Cal.” I pat him on the back.

“You think I’m pretty,” he squeaks. Eyes wide, he glances around to see if anyone heard. “Look, dude, you’re a handsome fella, too, but you know I don’t swing that way, right?”

“Right,” I drawl. “Anyway, I’m outta here. This party is—”

And that’s when I see her.

Her dark hair is flat-ironed, which I know from past experience takes her an hour to do. Her face is painted into sharp lines with smoky sweeps near her blue eyes and points at the top of her cupid bow lips. It’s the mask she’s worn since she dumped me. The one that says she’s mad at the world and is ready to take it out on some poor sap.

I don’t know how many guys she’s screwed since she told me that she was going to hurt me the same way I hurt her, but I know she hasn’t enjoyed it even once. How can she when her body belongs to me, like mine belongs to her?

“Who’s the honey you’re staring at?” Cal asks curiously.

“Touch her and you die, Lonigan,” I growl.

Then I stalk off to find out what Savannah Montgomery is doing in this hellhole frat house when she should be destroying the dreams of freshmen at Astor Park Prep.

Some Sigma gets to her before I do. He plants an elbow above her head and tries to dry hump her before she can get out of the entryway.

I grab him by the shoulder. “Your brother Paul’s looking for you.”

The polo-shirted, bland-faced asshole blinks at me. “Paul?”

“Peter maybe? Parker? He’s this tall.” I wave my hand somewhere around my chin. “Has blond hair.”

“You mean Jason Pruitt?”

“Must be.” I give the guy a not-so-gentle shove away from Savannah.

“I gotta take care of this.” The asshole winks at my girl. “But keep the place beside you warm. I’ll be back.”

“Who’s brother Paul?” a voice beside me says.

Dammit, Cal. I whip around. “What are you doing?”

“I had to see what caught the mighty Gideon Royal’s attention.” He sticks out his giant paw toward Sav. “Cal Lonigan. Call me Long.”

She takes his hand and holds it far longer than I’d like. “Long? Is that one of those nicknames where it describes the opposite of reality?”

I grit my teeth. It’s a miracle I have any enamel there left. I’ve been grinding those back molars together since we met.