Heavy Crown (Brutal Birthright #6) by Sophie Lark



I’m sitting in the corner booth of La Mer with my two brothers and my little sister Aida. It’s an hour past closing time, so the servers have already taken the linen and glassware off the tables, and the cooks are just finishing their deep-clean of the stovetops and fridges.

The bartender is still doing his nightly inventory check, probably lingering longer than usual in case any of us want one last drink. That’s the perk of owning the restaurant—nobody can kick you out.

La Mer is known for its high-end seafood—halibut and salmon flown in from the east coast every morning, and king crab legs longer than your arm. We all feasted on butter-drenched lobster earlier in the evening. For the last several hours we’ve simply been sipping our drinks and talking. This might be our last night all together for a while.

Dante leaves for Paris tomorrow morning. He’s taking his wife, his son, and his brand-new baby girl across the Atlantic for what he’s calling an extended honeymoon. But I’ve got a feeling that he’s not coming back.

Dante never wanted to become the capocrimine. He’s been the de facto leader of our family for years only because he’s the eldest—not because it was his ambition.

Of course my father is still the real don, but his health is getting worse every year. He’s been delegating more and more of the running of our family business. It used to be that he personally handled every meeting with the other mafia families, no matter how small the issue. Now he only puts on his suit and goes out for the most dire of situations.

He’s become a hermit in our old mansion on Meyer Ave. If our housekeeper Greta didn’t also live there full-time, eating lunch with him, and listening to him complain about how Steinbeck should be ranked higher than Hemingway in the pantheon of authors, then I might be seriously worried about him.

I guess I feel guilty because I could be living there with him, too. All the rest of my siblings have moved out—Dante and Aida to get married, Nero to live with his girlfriend Camille in the apartment over her brand-new custom car mod shop.

Once I finished school, I could have come back home. But I didn’t. I’ve been living with my lieutenant Jace in Hyde Park.

I tell myself that I need a little more privacy for bringing girls home or staying out as late as I want. But the truth is, I feel a strange kind of wedge between me and the rest of my family. I feel like I’m drifting—in sight of the rest of them, but not on the same boat.

They’re all changing so rapidly, and I am, too. But I don’t think we’re changing in the same way.

It’s been three years since we had our last run-in with the Griffin family.

That night changed my life.

It started with a dinner, very like this one, except it was on the rooftop of our family home, while we were all still living there. We saw fireworks breaking over the lake, and we knew the Griffins were holding a birthday party for their youngest daughter.

How different our lives would be if we hadn’t seen those fireworks. If Aida hadn’t perceived them as a sort of challenge, or a call.

I remember the bursts of colored light reflecting in her eyes as she turned to me and whispered, “We should crash the party.”

We snuck onto the Griffins’ estate. Aida stole their great-grandfather’s watch and accidentally lit a fire in their library. Which made Callum Griffin come hunting for us later that night. He trapped Aida and me on the pier. Then his bodyguard smashed my knee.

That was the fracture in time that sent my life shooting off in a completely different direction.

Before that moment, all I cared about was basketball. I played hours and hours every day. It’s hard to even remember how much it consumed me. Everywhere I went, I had a ball with me. I’d practice dribbling and crossovers in every spare moment. I’d watch old games every night before bed. I read that Kobe Bryant never stopped practicing until he’d made at least four hundred baskets a day. I decided I’d sink five hundred daily, and I stayed for hours after our regular practices, until the janitors turned off the lights in the gym.

The rhythm and feel of the ball in my hands was burned into my brain. Its pebbled texture was the most familiar thing in the world, and the most familiar sound was sneakers squeaking on hardwood.

It was the one true love of my life. The way I felt about that game was stronger than my interest in girls, or food, or entertainment, or anything else.

When the bodyguard’s boot came down on my knee, and I felt that blinding, sickening burst of pain, I knew my dream was over. Pros come back from injuries, but injured players don’t make pro.