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The Skull King (Skull 1) Penelope Sky 2022/8/5 16:50:54

It had a lot of renovations about a decade ago because the plumbing was bad, the kitchen was out of date, and the ventilation system couldn’t keep up with the summer humidity. After a remodel, it still possessed its antique charm, but now it embraced modern civilization.

I never cared that Case inherited almost everything because he was the oldest son. All three of us inherited the pasta company, but I’d been removed from that line of work once I became Lucian’s wife. My brothers were nice enough to continue to give me my cut even though I didn’t work for it—and I didn’t have any need for money. It piled up in a bank account that I never touched.

My brothers clearly had some hope that Lucian wouldn’t be around forever. And once he was gone, they wanted me to have what I needed to start a new life. They were my arrogant and annoying brothers, but they were also my protectors, taking the place of Mother and Father since they were gone.

I pulled up to Case’s house, which was surrounded by a gate with a short driveway. I’d brought a bottle of wine from our favorite Italian vineyards, Barsetti. I walked inside and smelled lunch being prepared in the kitchen. “Something smells good.”

“Definitely not you,” Dirk called out.

I stepped inside and saw Dirk sitting on a stool at the island. Business paperwork was in front of him, like he was going over the books even though it was Saturday.

Case had an apron around his body, form-fitting like the t-shirt he wore. He pulled the pan off the stove and scooped the chicken parmesan fillets onto the plate then spooned the sauce on top. He finished by sprinkling parsley and mozzarella cheese.

I loved my brother’s cooking. He’d always been much better at it than I was.

He pulled the zucchini noodles from the bowl and dropped them onto each plate. “Hungry?” he asked, barely giving me a glance.

“Do you have any idea who you are talking to?” I grabbed the plate, helped myself to cutlery from the utensil drawer, and sat on the stool on the edge of the kitchen island.

Case took a seat so each one of us was on a different side.

Silently, we dug into our food.

Both of my brothers were quiet by nature, so I didn’t think their silence was unusual. They were both the strong and silent type, the kind with powerful poker faces. It was almost impossible to read their moods, so people assumed they were angry all the time.

“I brought some wine.” I held up the bottle.

“I’ll take some,” Dirk said, scooping the food into his mouth.

“Me too.” Case rose to his feet and grabbed three wineglasses.

I poured the wine then handed the glasses across the table.

Case took a long drink before he picked up his fork again. He preferred hard liquor over wine, but whenever he sat down to a meal, he usually drank wine. It was when he had an empty stomach that he preferred the stronger stuff.

“How’s business?” I asked, looking at the paperwork in front of Dirk.

He set his fork down. “Good—like usual.”

“When you do bookkeeping on Saturday, it usually means something really good or something really bad happened.” I remembered Father used to do the exact same thing. He either reflected on having a strong week, or he panicked for having a lousy one.

“Good,” Dirk answered. “Only good.”

Case looked up from his plate for a moment to hold eye contact with my brother. As if a silent conversation had just passed between them, he looked away again.

I grew up with these guys. I picked up on all their subtleties, the way they casually lied to protect me from the truth. Most of the time, they were trying to keep me out of trouble. But now we were all adults—and had been adults for a long time. “What’s going on, guys?”

“Nothing,” Dirk answered. “You’re just paranoid.”

“No. I just know you that well.” I took a bite of my brother’s cooking, loving the homemade marinara sauce and the noodles. My brothers stayed in shape because they skipped the carbs, which was incredible since they worked with pasta all day. “I know when you’re hiding something.”

Case kept eating, his eyes downcast.

I guess I’d have to pull it out of them. “I’m gonna get it out of you sooner or later. You may as well tell me.”

“This is how it works,” Dirk said as he turned to me. “We do all the work, and you get your cut. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“I don’t care about my cut.” Lucian gave me access to his money, so I could buy anything I wanted. If there was an expensive dress in the store window, all I had to do was run his credit card and it would be mine. He never put me on an allowance. He just told me to get whatever I wanted. “I care about my family’s legacy.”