Note to Reader: THIS IS A CLEAN STORY, although the first couple of chapters are a little intense! -Julie L. Spencer
Chapter One: (POV Character: Gus)
“Hundred bucks says she’ll be mine by the end of the party,” Gus said, leaning against the railing of the back deck overlooking the gardens, and closer to his best friend, Alex.
“What’s the wager?” Alex asked, taking a sip from the red Solo cup of whatever cheap beer was flowing from the keg. “All the way? Inside the house? Or out?”
“Anywhere on the grounds of the estate,” Gus said. “It’s a balmy evening. She might be convinced to take a stroll in the gardens.”
“Eh, whatever you want.” Gus shrugged and sipped from his cup. “Take my word for it, ask her straight up, follow me from afar and watch me seduce her with your own eyes.”
“Gross, no way,” Alex said. “I’ll take your word for it. Besides, her bedroom eyes prompt me to resign myself to the loss of a Benjamin Franklin.”
Gus slammed back a shot of the top-shelf whisky he kept in a flask in his pocket, chased by the last of the cheap beer in his Solo cup, and he stepped away from his friend. “Wish me luck.”
“You got this,” Alex called after him.
Phoebe was standing a few feet away from the keg where Gus was heading. He maintained eye contact with her until the last possible second, then filled his cup and handed it to her. “Will you hold this for me?”
“Uh… okay.” She took the cup from his hand and he took her nearly empty cup from hers, reaching over and holding it under the spigot of the keg.
Gus realized there was an inch of lukewarm beer in the bottom of her cup and paused to empty it into the nearby sink before filling it to the brim. He handed hers back and they juggled for a few seconds to switch cups. When they were finally holding the correct drinks, Gus raised his in a subtle toast, meant to be shared by just the two of them.
“Cheers.” He drank heartily without waiting to see whether she would follow his lead. He knew she would. No girl had ever denied him. She lifted her cup and took a little sip. He smiled triumphantly. “How are you this fine evening, Phoebe?”
“You know my name?” she feigned innocence and held her hand to her heart, batting her eyelashes.
“I may or may not have asked around after seeing you from across the room.” Gus realized his words were slow, on the verge of slurring.
“Well I may or may not have asked around about you as well, Your Highness.”
“Now, now, let’s not go throwing around titles, trying to impress your friends.” Gus winked at the girl to Phoebe’s left. She giggled.
“What are you and your brothers doing slumming it on this side of town?”
“Slumming?” Gus feigned insult. “Logan’s estate is nearly as large as mine.”
“Between you and me,” —Gus leaned closer and stage whispered. “I think the gardens on this estate are even larger than mine.”
“I didn’t think that was possible,” Phoebe said, playfully flirting. “Rumor has it, your garden is very large.”
“Maybe you and I could take a little walk through the gardens and I’ll show you.” Gus leaned even closer.
“I might enjoy that,” she said.
“Oh honey, I promise you will.” His whisper was very close to her ear and she shivered.
Phoebe turned her head a half inch and his lips met her neck. She let out a soft moan in response and whispered, “Lead the way, my prince.”
* * * * * * * * *
Chapter Two: (POV Character: Alex)
“Dang, he’s good,” Alex said from his vantage point on the outer deck. “How does he do that?”
“Our little brother learned from the best,” Aaron said. At the ripe old age of twenty, Aaron was the oldest of the sons of Prince Marcos Sayid of Madain Saleh, and would be considered the crown prince, if they still had a kingdom to call their own.
As it was, they had all been born in the United States and their monarchy had fallen into the hands of their corrupt cousins. They were still billionaires, and notwithstanding a throne and a kingdom, still royalty should they ever choose to return to Northern Saudi Arabia and win back the chunk of arid land that was once their inheritance. Why fight for a tiny oasis bordered by the Jordanian desert when the world was their playground?
Their parents had not waited a day past the required six weeks after having their babies before becoming pregnant for the next. As a result, Aaron, Owen, Hayden, and Augustus had been born less than a year apart from each other.
As luck would have it, Alex’s father, his namesake and Prince Marcos’s best friend, had brought forth his only son just days prior to Gus, and Alex grew up as an honorary brother of the young princes.
Alex stood within the protective circle of his friends and watched as Gus escorted the unsuspecting seventeen-year-old girl down the path toward the low shrubbery that made up the garden maze.
Having visited their friend Logan’s inherited estate many times in the past few years, Gus knew the exact route to the center of the maze, where there was a romantic fountain and stone bench just the right size for a late-night rendezvous. Aaron hadn’t been joking when he’d said Gus learned from the best. Each of them had utilized that exact spot for the same purpose many times.
They toasted their brother’s conquest as Gus and Phoebe disappeared into the privacy of the maze. Then their heads turned at the sound of taunting.
“Not again,” Alex muttered then set down his cup and pushed himself away from the deck railing. “You’d think they’d at least leave him alone at his own house.”
“Especially when he’s the one hosting the party,” Aaron said.
“They just don’t let up, do they?” Owen cracked his knuckles as he traipsed down the stairs of the deck.
“Once a bully, always a bully,” Hayden said. “Let’s go show them what a real bully looks like.”
Logan was a senior in high school, just like Gus and Alex. But unlike the popular and handsome brothers, Logan was geeky, scrawny, and heir to the suspected ill-begotten fortune of the late corrupt Mayor Noah Adlin.
He was a good kid, smart and funny, and always willing to host the parties since there were never any responsible adults nearby. His mother’s revolving door of suitors always seemed willing to supply a keg or two and the liquor cabinet had never been locked.
“Hey, Zach,” Alex called as he and the princes approached the small group of bullies taunting Logan. “I see you’re offering Logan appreciation for his hospitality.”
“Your presence is not necessary, Your Highness.” Zach sneered. His buddies snickered.
“Oh, Zach, you are mistaken,” Alex said in a condescending tone. “I am not royalty. I just have friends in high places.” Although only seventeen, Alex tended to take the point position with the older princes. They preferred to keep a lower profile and Alex was a natural leader.
“You mean your flanking bodyguards?” Zach took a long pull from the bottle he openly carried, not hiding its cheap label or its contents. “Can’t fight yer own battles?”
“This is not our battle,” Alex said, stepping closer to Logan and draping his large, well-defined arm around Logan’s scrawny shoulder. He noticed a few of Zach’s gang members took a step back.
“His daddy stole a lotta money from a lotta people in this town,” Zach slurred. “He deserves to know who helped build this fancy house.”
“And you’re just the guy to tell him, huh?” Alex asked.
Aaron took a step closer to Zach, towering over him in a menacing way that Alex knew was all for show. None of the princes would dare lay a finger on the high school kids. They’d be tried as the adults they were. Zach was most likely too drunk to realize that, because he backed down.
“How about we all just enjoy the fancy house while we’re here for the party and we can figure the rest out later, when we’re sober,” Alex said.
“In my part a town, ain’t nobody got no reason to be sober,” Zach said.
“That’s unfortunate,” Alex said. “But it’s not Logan’s fault either.”
All the guys were distracted by an angry girl emerging from the garden maze spouting obscenities at the youngest prince, Gus, who followed after her, frantically trying to tuck in his shirt and buckle his belt.
“Come on, babe, don’t go,” Gus called after her. “We were just havin’ a little fun.”
“You have no right to call me babe.” Phoebe spun around and stuck a finger in Gus’s chest. “I don’t want you to call me anything, you bastard.”
“Bastard?” Gus drew himself to his full height. “I am Prince Augustus Sayid of Madain Saleh and most definitely not a bastard.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Highness.” She poked him in the chest again. “What are you? Fourth in line to the throne of a country that no longer exists on any modern-day map? Some prince, you are.”
“I see you’ve done your research.” Gus grinned. “You must like me even more than you let on.”
“I do not.” Phoebe’s voice was shaking slightly.
Gus stepped closer and placed his hands on her hips. His voice was sultry again. “How about you and I head back into the maze and finish our conversation?”
“I wouldn’t go back into that maze with you if you were the last prince on earth.” Phoebe hauled back and smacked Gus across the cheek. “Go home to the desert, where you belong, Your Highness.”
With that, Phoebe spun on her heels and stomped up toward the house. Gus laughed in spite of the growing red splotch on his cheek that wouldn’t truly hurt until he was sober, and even then, his hangover-induced headache would likely overpower the pain.
“Alex, I believe I owe you a hundred bucks,” Gus said while walking toward his group of friends, enemies, and brothers, all witness to his shameful rejection by the beautiful and haughty Phoebe Harris. He finished tucking in his shirt before fishing his wallet from his back pocket and slipping a crisp hundred-dollar bill from within.
“Bummer,” Alex said.
“I’m disappointed in you, little brother,” Hayden said. “You’ve lost your touch.”
“You’ve finally met your match,” Owen said. “The one woman in this world brave enough to tell you no.”
“That, or his biggest challenge.” Aaron raised his eyebrows when Gus’s head turned toward his oldest brother and their eyes met. Aaron smirked. “That’s what I thought. This isn’t over.”
“What’s he talkin’ about,” Zach asked.
“Gus’s got a soft spot for Phoebe,” Alex guessed. “He likes her, for real, not just as a one-night stand. He really likes her.”
“I don’t know what yer talking about.” Gus lowered his gaze and all of them laughed at him. “I need another beer.” Gus turned and headed toward the house.
“And a cold shower,” Aaron called after him.
“Shut up, Aaron,” Gus called back without turning around. All the guys laughed again.