Cracked kingdom, p.1
Cracked Kingdom, p.1Erin Watt
When It’s Real
About the Author
These Royals will ruin you.
Ever since Hartley Wright met Easton Royal, her life hasn’t been the same. There are enemies behind every corner and dangers beyond each door. When tragedy strikes and steals her memories, she can’t trust anyone, not even the blue-eyed boy who promises her that everything will be all right.
Because while Hartley’s memory is full of gaps, her instincts tell her Easton is dangerous. She doesn’t know if he’s the snake in the garden or her chance at salvation. The chaos he brings wherever he goes is too much to handle, the intense feelings he evokes are too confusing to unravel.
Easton wants her to remember. Hartley thinks it’s better to forget.
She might be right.
Tragedy. Treachery. Trust. Hartley has to face the facts—in this world, you can’t escape the Royals. Either you live by their rules or you die by them.
Light of life.
Everyone is screaming.
If I weren’t in a state of shock—not to mention drunker than drunk—I might’ve been able to hear the individual shouts, connect them to certain voices, make sense of the caustic words and angry accusations being hurled around.
But right now, it sounds like one unending wave of sound. A symphony of hatred, worry, and fear.
“…your son’s fault!”
“Like hell it is!”
My head is buried in my hands, and I rub my eyes against my callused palms.
“…even here?...should have you taken out in handcuffs, you son of a bitch…harassment…”
“…like to see you try…not afraid of you, Callum Royal. I’m the district attorney—”
“Assistant district attorney.”
My eyes feel dry and itchy. I’m sure they’re bloodshot, too. They always get bloodshot when I’m wasted.
Something smacks my shoulder, and one voice breaks through the others. I jerk my head up to find my stepsister regarding me with deep concern in her blue eyes.
“You haven’t moved in three hours. Talk to me,” Ella begs softly. “Let me know you’re okay.”
Okay? How could I be okay? Look at what’s happening, for fuck’s sake. We’re in a private waiting room at Bayview General—the Royals don’t have to wait in the real ER waiting room with the rest of the peasants. We get special treatment everywhere we go, even hospitals. When my older brother Reed got stabbed last year, he was rushed into surgery like he was the president himself, no doubt taking an OR slot from someone who needed it more. But Callum Royal’s name goes a long way in this state. Hell, the country. Everyone knows my father. Everyone fears him.
“…criminal charges against your son—”
“Your fucking daughter is responsible for…”
“Easton,” Ella urges again.
I ignore her. She doesn’t exist to me at the moment. None of them do. Not Ella. Not Dad. Not John Wright. Not even my younger brother Sawyer, who was just allowed to join us after getting a couple stitches on his temple. Massive car accident and Sawyer walks away with a scrape.
Meanwhile, his twin brother is…
Fuck if I know. We haven’t received an update about Sebastian since we got to the hospital. His bloody, broken body was whisked away on a gurney, his family banished to this room to await the news of whether he’s alive or dead.
“If my son doesn’t survive, your daughter will pay for this.”
“You sure he’s even your son?”
“You goddamn asshole!”
“What? Seems to me like all your boys need DNA tests. Why not get all the testing done now? We’re at a hospital, after all. It’ll be easy enough to draw some blood and confirm which one of your boys is a Royal, and which one is O’Halloran spawn—”
“Dad! SHUT UP!”
Hartley’s anguished voice cuts into me like a knife. The others might not exist to me right now, but she does. She’s been sitting in the corner of the room for three hours. Like me, she hadn’t spoken a word. Until now. Now she’s on her feet, her gray eyes blazing with fury, her voice high and ringing with accusation as she lunges toward her father.
I don’t know why John Wright is even here. He can’t stand his daughter. He sent Hartley to boarding school. He wouldn’t let her move back in once she returned to Bayview. He shouted at her tonight, told her she wasn’t part of his family and threatened to send her little sister away.
But after the ambulances took Hartley, the twins, and the twins’ girlfriend away, Mr. Wright was the first person to leave for the hospital. Maybe he wants to make sure Hartley doesn’t tell anyone about what a piece of shit he is.
“Why are you even here!” Hartley screams out my thoughts. “I wasn’t hurt in the accident! I’m just fine! I don’t need you here and I don’t want you here!”
Wright yells something back, but I’m not paying attention. I’m too busy watching Hartley. Since her car collided with the twins’ Range Rover outside her father’s mansion, she’s insisted she’s fine. Not to me, of course—nope, she hasn’t looked my way even once. I don’t blame her.
I did this. I destroyed her life tonight. My actions drove her to get into that car, at the exact moment my brothers were speeding around the curve. If she hadn’t been upset, maybe she would’ve seen them sooner. Maybe Sebastian wouldn’t be… dead? Alive?
Goddammit, why aren’t there any updates?
Hartley keeps insisting she’s not hurt, and the EMTs obviously concurred because they examined her and then let her come to the waiting room, but she doesn’t look so good right now. She’s swaying slightly on her feet. Her breathing is short. She’s also paler than the white wall behind her head, creating a shocking contrast between her skin and jet-black hair. There isn’t a drop of blood on her, though. None. It makes me weak with relief to see that, because Sebastian was covered in it.
Bile coats my throat as the scene of the accident flashes through my mind. Shards of the broken windshield littering the pavement. Sebastian’s body. The red puddle. Lauren’s shrieks. The Donovans already picked up Lauren and took her home, thank God. The girl didn’t stop screaming from the second she got to Bayview General to the second she left it.
“Hartley,” comes Ella’s quiet voice, and I know my stepsister has noticed Hartley’s ashen state. “Come sit down. You’re not loo
My younger brother disappears without a word. He’s been a zombie since his twin was taken away.
“I’m fine!” Hartley spits out, shoving Ella’s small hand off her arm. She turns back to her father, still wobbly on her knees. “You’re the reason Sebastian Royal got hurt!”
Wright’s jaw drops. “How dare you insinuate—”
“Insinuate?” she interrupts angrily. “I’m not insinuating! I’m stating a fact! Easton wouldn’t have been at the house tonight if you hadn’t threatened to send my sister away! I wouldn’t have come after him if he hadn’t come to see you!”
That makes it my fault, I want to object, but I’m too weak and too fucking cowardly to do it. But it’s true. I’m the reason this happened. I caused the accident, not Hartley’s dad.
Hartley wobbles again, and this time Ella doesn’t hesitate—she clamps a hand around Hartley’s upper arm and forces her to a chair.
“Sit,” Ella orders.
Meanwhile, my father and Hartley’s father are staring each other down again. I’ve never seen my dad so pissed.
“You’re not going to be able to buy yourself out of this one, Royal.”
“Your daughter was driving the car, Wright. She’ll be lucky if she doesn’t spend her next birthday in juvie.”
“If anyone’s going to jail, it’s your son. Hell, all of your sons belong there.”
“Don’t you dare threaten me, Wright. I can have the mayor here in five minutes.”
“The mayor? You think that sniveling pencil-dick has the balls to fire me? I’ve won more cases in this godforsaken county than any other DA in the history of Bayview. The citizens would crucify him and you—”
For the first time in three hours, I find my voice.
“Hartley,” I say hoarsely.
Mr. Wright stops mid-sentence. He whirls around to face me, daggers in his eyes. “Don’t speak to my daughter! You hear me, you little bastard! Don’t say a word to her.”
I ignore him. My gaze is glued to Hartley’s pale face.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper to her. “This was all my fault. I caused the accident.”
Her eyes widen.
“Don’t say a word to her!” Shockingly, this comes from my father, not hers.
“Callum,” Ella says, looking as astonished as I feel.
“No,” he booms, his Royal-blue eyes fixed on me. “Not one word, Easton. Criminal charges could come into play here. And he”—Dad glances at John Wright as if he’s a living manifestation of the Ebola virus—“is an assistant district attorney. Not another word about the accident without our lawyers present.”
“Typical Royals,” Wright sneers. “Always covering each other’s asses.”
“Your daughter hit my sons’ car,” Dad hisses back. “She is the only one responsible.”
Hartley makes a whimpering sound. Ella sighs and strokes her shoulder.
“You’re not responsible,” I tell Hartley, ignoring everyone else. It’s like we’re the only two people in the room. Me and this girl. The first girl I’ve wanted to spend time with without getting naked. A girl I consider a friend. A girl I wanted to be more than friends with.
Because of me, this girl is facing my father’s wrath. And she’s wracked with guilt over an accident that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t in the picture. My older brother Reed used to call himself the Destroyer. He thought he ruined the lives of everyone he loved.
Reed’s wrong. I’m the one who screws everything up.
“Don’t worry, we’re leaving,” Wright growls.
I tense up as he stomps toward Hartley’s seat.
Ella wraps one arm around Hartley’s shoulder in a protective gesture, but my dad briskly shakes his head at her.
“Let them go,” Dad barks. “Bastard’s right—they don’t belong here with us.”
Panic lodges in my throat. I don’t want Hartley to go. And I especially don’t want her to go with her father. Who knows what he’ll do to her.
Hartley obviously agrees, because she instantly balks when her dad tries to grab her. She shrugs off Ella’s arm. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“You have no choice,” he snaps. “I’m still your legal guardian whether you like it or not.”
“No!” Hartley’s voice is like a crack of thunder. “I’m not going!” Her head swivels toward my father. “Listen, my dad’s a—”
She never finishes her sentence because in the next second she topples forward, crashing to the floor. The sound of her head thudding against the tile is going to live with me until I die.
A hundred hands seem to reach for her, but I get to her side first. “Hartley!” I yell, pulling on her shoulder. “Hartley!”
“Don’t move her,” my dad barks, and tries to shove me away.
I jerk out of his grasp but let her go. I lie down on the floor so my face is next to hers. “Hartley. Hart. It’s me. Open your eyes. It’s me.”
Her eyelids don’t move.
“Get away from her, you punk!” screams her father.
“Easton.” It’s Ella, and her voice is lined with horror as she gestures to the side of Hartley’s head, where a thin stream of blood is spidering out. I feel like throwing up, and it’s not just because of the alcohol still buzzing through my veins.
“Oh my God,” Ella breathes. “Her head. She hit her head so hard.”
I swallow my terror. “It’s fine. It’s going to be fine.” I turn to Dad. “Get a doctor! She’s hurt!”
Someone grabs my shoulder. “I said get away from my daughter!”
“You get away from her!” I spit at Hartley’s father.
Suddenly there’s a commotion behind me. Footsteps. More shouts. This time I let myself be wrenched away. It’s like Sebastian all over again. Hartley’s on a gurney, and doctors and nurses are barking orders at each other as they wheel her away.
I stare at the empty doorway, numb. Stunned.
What just happened?
“Oh my God,” Ella says again.
My legs can no longer support my own weight. I drop into the nearest chair and gasp for air. What. Just. Happened?
Hartley was hurt this entire time and didn’t say anything? Or maybe she didn’t realize it? The paramedics cleared her, damn it.
“They said she was okay,” I croak. “They didn’t even admit her.”
“She’s going to be fine,” Ella assures me, but her tone doesn’t hold much conviction. We both saw that blood, and the purple bruise forming at her temple, and her slack mouth.
Oh fuck. I’m going to be sick.
Gotta give Ella credit—she doesn’t jump away when I bend over and throw up all over her shoes. She simply strokes my hair and smooths it away from my forehead. “It’s okay, East,” she murmurs. “Callum, go get him some water. I don’t know where Sawyer wandered off to when I sent him to get some. And you—” I assume she’s talking to Mr. Wright, “I think it’s time you left. You can wait for news about Hartley somewhere else.”
“Gladly,” Hartley’s father says in disgust.
I know the moment he’s gone, because the air in the room loses some of its tension.
“She’s going to be fine,” Ella says again. “And so will Sebastian. Everyone’s going to be fine, East.”
Rather than feel reassured, I throw up again.
I hear her murmur under her breath, “God, Reed, would you just get here already.”
The waiting game begins again. I drink water. My dad and Sawyer sit in silence. Ella throws her arms around Reed when he finally shows up. He had to drive all the way from college and he looks exhausted. I don’t blame him—it’s three in the morning. We’re all exhausted.
News of Sebastian’s condition is the first to trickle in. His head injury is the biggest concern. There’s swelling in his brain, but the doctors don’t know how serious it is yet.
My oldest brother Gideon arrives a bit after Reed, in time to hear the part abou
It’s hours later when a different doctor appears in the doorway. It’s not the one who operated on Seb, and he looks incredibly uneasy as he glances around the room.
I stumble to my feet. Hartley. This has to be about Hartley.
A bright light aimed at my face wakes me up. I blink groggily, trying to decipher actual shapes from the blobs of white in front of my eyes.
“There she is. Sleeping Beauty has awakened. How are you feeling?” The light flashes again. I reach up to wave it away and nearly black out from the pain that washes over me.
“That good, huh?” the voice says. “Why don’t we give her another thirty milligrams of Toradol, but make sure to watch for bleeding.”
“Great.” Someone snaps two pieces of metal together, making me wince.
What happened to me? Why am I in so much pain that even my teeth ache? Did I get in an accident?
“Steady there.” A hand presses me back onto something soft—a mattress. “Don’t sit up.”
A mechanical whir buzzes and the back of the bed raises. I manage to unstick one of my eyelids and, through my lashes, I see a bed rail, the edge of a white coat, and another dark blob.
“What happened?” I croak.
“You were in a car accident,” the dark blob at my side says. “When the airbag deployed it broke a couple ribs on the left side. Your eardrum burst. As a result of the vestibular imbalance along with some dyspnea—that’s shortness of breath—you passed out and hit your noggin pretty hard. You have a concussion and some mild brain trauma.”
Cracked Kingdom by Erin Watt / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes