The release of Keeping House is tomorrow- and in honor of the occasion I'm sharing a bit more of the story with my readers today. Here's the prologue, which explains exactly how Mischa got himself into this mess in the first place! Enjoy!
Poker Night at the Blakes’The door slamming behind Mischa Blake drew all his brothers’ eyes to him. He sauntered slowly into the room resisting the urge to run his hand over the hair he knew damn well still stood in four-inch spikes down the center of his head to the nape of his neck. He met each pair of familiar green eyes defiantly, refusing to look away.
“Hey,” he ventured, hoping his voice wouldn’t squeak.
“Damn it, Mischa!” Terry, Chief Financial Officer of the family-owned production studio that employed every member of the Blake family—except Mischa—immediately leaned away as Mischa took the seat at the green baize game table right next to him. “You stink! Where the hell have you been?”
Dan, the creative brother, studio scriptwriter, the brother most like Mischa in personality—though even that was a stretch—leaned in and sniffed appraisingly. “Somewhere that beer and pot are readily had in great quantities judging by the smell.”
Brandon, eldest brother, CEO of the studio, and all around royal pain in Mischa’s ass, frowned in disapproval. “Are you hanging out in those clubs again? Damn—the fucking paparazzi would love to catch you in some club. I can see the headlines now. Blake’s Youngest Son—Underage Alcoholic and Drug Addict—Caught in Gay Sex Club Scandal.”
Mischa scowled in return, clicking the stud in his tongue against his front teeth, just because he knew it annoyed Terry. “Fuck you all. Are we playing poker or not?”
Wednesday night poker games between the Blake brothers were a long-standing tradition. With all the other traditions Mischa rebelled against, he couldn’t even fathom why he’d rather die than miss this weekly game with his brothers. Not that he’d let them know that, though. He made it a habit of either showing up late or insisting on leaving early—as though they were an added burden he could scarcely make time for in his busy life.
He reached to his back pocket for his wallet and realized almost immediately that he must have left it behind. Instead he reached for Terry’s wallet on the table to his right and rifled through it for cash to buy in.
“What the hell?” Terry demanded. “Are you broke already? I just deposited money in your account yesterday!”
“No. I’m good, for a while anyway. Just forgot my wallet. And you wouldn’t have to deposit money in my account all the time if you’d just loosen up the controls there and give me direct access to my accounts.” Millions of dollars in trust funds and he had to beg for cash from his brothers before he could make a purchase, at least until he was thirty-five—fifteen long years from now. He pulled a wad of hundred dollar bills from the leather wallet and tossed them on the table in front of him.
Terry grabbed the wallet back muttering dire insults under his breath. “You’re paying that back.”
Mischa smirked and clicked his piercing loudly. “You’ll end up owing it to me in a few hours anyway!”
Brandon, Dan, and Terry did the older brother thing. Their eyes met in a circle around the table that excluded Mischa, and he flushed.
“Want to put your money where your mouth is, kid?” That was Brandon, pushing his buttons as only an older sibling can. He hated being reminded he was so much younger than his brothers.
“I’m not a kid. I’m an adult, a licensed driver, and a registered voter.” He forced the words out trying not to scream them. He’d made the same protest so many times before.
“When you support yourself and don’t live off a trust fund you’re an adult. Until then, you’re another rich kid with too much money and time on your hands.”
“Hey! You guys all have trust funds, too! If having makes me a kid, then you’re kids.” He fucking knew he wasn’t going to win this one, he never did.
“We also have careers with futures. You have nothing but a trust fund.” That was Terry, putting in his two cents worth. Fuck that. Terry knew the value of a dollar—probably figured his two cents worth was actually worth two dollars.
“I’m an artist.” That was the answer he gave his mother every time she asked, and it always resulted in an indulgent smile. She and his father had taken it into their heads to retire in the French Riviera last year, but they had traveled and been on set so much during his childhood that Brandon had really stood in more of a parental role than his parents had.
“Bull shit.” Brandon spoke again.
Mischa glared at Dan who was busily shuffling cards and had been for the past five minutes. “Fucking deal already so these assholes have something to think about besides my life and how they can ruin it.”
Dan cleared his throat and swiftly dealt the cards around the table.”You guys up for a little side bet?”
Mischa peeked at his cards then turned to Dan. His face was impassive, but there was no denying the fact that he was up to something.
Terry chimed in, equally impassive. “Money means nothing to us all, as the kid has pointed out, so how about we play for Truth or Dare?”
Brandon was nodding before Terry had even finished speaking. “Yeah, last hand of the night. Winner’s choice, loser pays a penalty to each of the players if he chickens out.”
It was a plot. Somehow, they were all in it together, and he was going to come out on the bottom of this some way. He picked absently at the loose threads in the rips of the five hundred dollar black jeans he’d bought, cut, and pinned back together while he considered his options. He had to make some move to salvage the situation, because protesting the game would mean he really was just a kid. The rules had to be established in the beginning and he had to find a way to slant them in his favor.
“And if the loser follows through, he gets to claim a boon from each of the other players.” It was the best he could do, and he knew exactly what boon he’d ask for too, because he was damn sure his brothers were going to manipulate him into losing. No way could his brothers come up with a dare he wouldn’t fulfill. He’d do anything. There was no truth he wasn’t willing to tell. This could definitely be worked to his advantage either way the chips fell. And if the cards fell in his favor tonight, they’d better look out because he had some pretty good dares he could lay on his superior older brothers.
Two hours later, his chances of being the big winner of the night looked good. Despite losing the last hand, he’d turned Terry’s thousand dollars into twelve thousand, and was easily way ahead of his brothers for the night.
Terry shoved his chair back from the table. “Okay, guys, I’m done. That was the last hand.”
Brandon and Dan made agreeing noises and Mischa stiffened in shock. Fuck. He was screwed.
“Wait a minute… You guys usually play a lot later than this. I mean, it’s only eleven o’clock!”
“Nope.” Brandon shook his head. “You usually leave around this time, and we always quit when you leave.”
If that was the last hand, which he’d lost, that meant he’d really lost.
Dan nodded in agreement. “And I make Brandon out as the winner of that hand, and you as the loser, squirt. So what’ll it be, Brandon, Truth or Dare?”
It was so fake. So fucking staged, it was obvious. He’d been set up. The first hand he lost was destined to be the last hand they played no matter how many it took or how few.
Brandon was a terrible actor. He smiled as he spoke lines that had probably been written by Dan expressly for the occasion. “Well, brother, I’m going to have to say Dare. But we should name the penalties
before I tell him the dare, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yeah,” Terry was outwardly smirking now. “You owe one penalty per player, kid. If you welsh on the dare, I get to give you a complete makeover, new clothes, new hair, whole new style.”
Surveying his brother’s “style” - navy blue Brooks Brothers suit, crisp white cotton shirt, Italian silk tie, and neatly trimmed blond hair, Mischa shuddered. He turned to Brandon, next brother in the row seated at the round table, and quirked his pierced left brow in what he hoped was a sardonic Spock-like inquiry and not a laughable dumb younger brother affectation.
Brandon smoothly responded with an elevated right brow and cough into his fist. “If you welsh, you take the assistant producer’s job I’ve been holding open for you since you graduated high school. Join the family business and make yourself useful.”
Damn. That was even worse. He held his breath momentarily before turning to Dan. Dan could swing either way. He was the brother who understood Mischa best, but he was also the cleverest, most devious, and creative of the brothers. No doubt he was the mastermind behind this whole plot.
Dan smiled broadly, tapping the playing cards against his chin gently as he considered his youngest brother. “If you welsh, brother, you attend the college of my choice for a full four years—or until you attain a degree, whichever comes first.”
“That’s a bit harsh!” Mischa protested. “In exchange for a single hand of cards, you guys expect to be able to run my life to suit yourselves for an infinite amount of time?”
“Oh, no,” Brandon interjected smoothly. “We expect you to honor your debts brother. Are you saying that you can’t meet the dare? You don’t even know what it is yet.”
Good point. Given the penalties though, Mischa was pretty sure the dare was going to be something he would really hate.
“Okay. What’s the dare?”
They did it again, the older brother silent communication thing. This time Dan broke the silence.
“We dare you to get a job and support yourself without resorting to your trust fund for a whole year.”
Mischa’s mouth fell open. “That’s all I have to do? Get a job?”
Terry shook his head. “No. You have to support yourself. No more sending your bills to me to pay. No more monthly deposits into your account. Take care of yourself.”
If Terry had deposited his usual allowance into his account yesterday, that meant he had fifty thousand, plus the twelve on the table in front of him to get through the next year. “What if I can’t find a job? I mean, I’ll make every effort to find one, but I don’t get one?”
“Nope. Have to get a job.” Brandon was insistent.
“But I have plenty of money to get through a year… even if I don’t find a job.”
Terry shook his head again. “No. You don’t. You don’t even have any idea how much your lifestyle costs, do you? The money I put in your account this morning won’t last you a month at the rate you normally spend it. If you don’t find a job you’ll be living a very different lifestyle next month, with a new hairstyle and a new wardrobe to match.”
No freaking way. He’d find a way to beat his brothers at their own game.