Prince Ever After(3)

By: A.C. Arthur

“Fold,” Henri said grimly and pushed his cards facedown toward the deck.

Kip and Reece added their bets to the pot, and Hugo smiled giddily. “Yes sir! Lucky indeed!”

Reece put down two cards, nudging them toward the dealer so he could take two new ones. Kip took one new card. Hugo took none. Neither did Roland.

“I’ll raise the bet,” Hugo said, “to three thousand five hundred.”

Roland was amused.

Reece folded. Kip did, too.

Roland saw the bet.

Hugo continued to smile.

Roland slowly set his cards down faceup in a neat row on the table.

Hugo almost fell out of his chair he was so excited. A huge grin spread across the man’s face as he fanned himself with his cards. “Best night ever!” he said before finally dropping his cards to the table.

Roland didn’t look down to see his opponent’s cards immediately. Instead, he kept his gaze trained on Hugo Harrington. He was a short man, well below Roland’s six-foot-one-inch stature. He had a very round face with a dusky-brown complexion. When he laughed, his chins, all three of them, shook in a funny, animated way. His bugged eyes watered and the thick, bristly mustache above his top lip twitched. Something wasn’t right.

“You’re an idiot, Harrington,” Kip stated. “Your hand’s a loser.”

Reece chuckled as he reached over and spread Hugo’s cards farther apart. “Yeah, man, you lost. And His Royal Highness over here only has three of a kind. He beat you with a royal bluff.”

Roland still did not look down at the cards. He continued to stare at Hugo, who continued to laugh.

“Oh, he won, alright. He won the best prize ever!” Hugo told Roland. “See this right here?”

Hugo had reached into the money pot, sifting through the bills he’d thrown down. “This here, this little slip of paper, is a promissory note.”

“What?” Kip asked. “You put up the money for the bet. Why add a promissory note in, too? Have you been drinking, old man?”

Hugo shook his head, one tear running down his face as he continued to chuckle. “It’s fake. All of it is fake! Got it from some sailor a few months ago. Should have known the bastard was crooked from the start. Who the hell would pay all that money for one of Val’s pictures? Just ridiculous!”

“You tryin’ to cheat us old man?” Reece asked. “We play an honorable game here.”

Now Hugo was standing and nodding. “I know. I know. The prince, especially, is honest and loyal. All of the DeSaunters are. Ain’t that correct?” he asked with another nod.

Roland was feeling uneasy now. Actually, he was quite irritated.

“I got your winnings, though,” Hugo told him. “I got the payment you deserve. Don’t you worry. Come on, follow me.”

Reece and Kip looked at Roland questioningly. Roland didn’t hesitate, but stood and followed the old man down a short hall.

“I wouldn’t cheat you, Your Highness. No, not at all. I’m an honorable man, too. Just like my daddy before me and his before him. We’ve been on Grand Serenity since the beginning and we do what’s right. We keep our word,” Hugo told him. “Unlike others.”

Hugo said the last word as he turned the knob on a door at the end of the hallway.

“Your prize, Prince Roland,” Hugo said, and motioned for Roland to enter.

The scream that greeted Roland before he could even take a step was ear shattering. The curses that followed were fluent and angry.

The half-dressed woman spouting the saucy words was…for lack of a better word…impressive.

* * *

Why had she let her father borrow her car? Why had she agreed to stay at his house tonight while he went out on yet another crazy chase for fortune and fame? Why, oh why, was this her life?

Valora “Val” Harrington had asked herself these questions over and over as she reached for her bag and began to change out of the uniform she wore while working as a tour guide at the Serenade Museum. She’d worked there for the last three years in lieu of pursuing her dream to become an artist. But that was only partially true. Val was an artist. Her paintings were far better than a good number of the ones hanging in the museum. The only things she was missing were an agent and high-paying clients clamoring over them.

She’d settled for the job at the museum because it was the closest thing she had to the life she really wanted. Grand Serenity was her home. She’d been born there and had never entertained the thought of leaving the beautiful island. She could paint in the evenings in the comfort of her home, but during the day she shared the history and the artifacts of her heritage. It was a complete picture, even if deep down she wished for something more.

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