Who can you trust with your love? With your friendship? With your life itself? Prince Phillip Sinclair is lucky he can depend on Lord Alex, the best friend a man can have! Learn how Phillip and his brother Crown Prince Zhaiden overcome the paranoid tendencies of their parents Emperor Victor and Empress Felice, to build friendships with Fight Brothers who help them find the ladies of their dreams!
As the Heir Second of a multi-planetary empire, raised with proper Imperial paranoia, unable to trust anyone outside of his family, Prince Phillip Sinclair has no one he can truly call a friend, much less a lady to trust with his love. A medical emergency finds him meeting Alex Guinard, a no-nonsense, intellectually astute and emotionally troubled medic with many of the same problems and interests, including the love of a good fight and a pure dedication to the Service.
Phillip and Alex become responsible for creating a sociological phenomenon that inspires the Royalty of the Sinclair Demesnes to hone their defensive skills and unite in a society of Fight Brothers. Although Alex is Low Royal, as he becomes more involved in the Imperial Family through his friendship with Phillip and romance with Sophia, he starts a game which results in Phillip finding the lady of his dreams. Talk about the best friend a man could have, by God! Even the Fight Brothers get in on the action!
The return of Crown Prince Zhaiden from his diplomatic tour heralds an era of conflict that leads to his divorce. Beyond grateful for Phillip’s support, Zhaiden immerses himself in the Fight Club, for he had few opportunities for training, and none for associating with men of rank, for two years. Their honor weaves bonds of loyalty and trust as they support each other through romances, deaths, assassination attempts, and political minefields to represent a new society that takes the galaxy by storm.
This futuristic romance is the third book of the seven-part To Be Sinclair series. The saga continues with Fealty and its companion volume Royalty, which detail the romances and political struggles of the Prince Second and Crown Prince of the Sinclair Demesnes. A few scenes describe sexually explicit behavior.
Phillip was trying not to laugh. Alex was not quite blushing, but he was unused to the rarified atmosphere of a ball at the Palace.
They had both opted for suits instead of dress uniforms. Alex was a very frugal man, but the few formal clothes he owned were of as fine a quality as the few possessions in his tiny high-rise apartment. His current suit was a very sleek, stylish Andino, somber charcoal grey of the finest wool, while Phillip had opted for a double-breasted dark blue silk suit with his Imperial crest sewn over the handkerchief pocket. As a result, the ladies surrounded them three-deep in a semicircle that had them backed against the wall.
“Would you like to dance, Lord Alex?” one of the bolder ones asked. Alex finished his drink and bowed to the lady in question before leading her to the dance floor. He wasn’t a great dancer, but he was cautious enough not to step on the ladies’ toes.
Checking on Alex’s progress while he danced with his own share of ladies, Phillip gave even odds that his best friend didn’t talk much while he danced, given his concentration. Nevertheless, within a few hours he had shown distinct improvement. Somehow Phillip could tell his mood was rather low, even though he smiled politely at the ladies and repartee.
At one point, when they met again near a window, Alex asked rather plaintively, “How long do these things go on, anyway?” He was frowning.
“We can leave at any time. I have some nice brandies in my suite, if you are interested. Better than that rotgut you drink, that’s for sure.” Phillip indicated the exit with his head. “Come on; let’s go try some real grog.”
After fixing themselves a couple of drinks, Phillip took Alex down to the Palace gym. Alex not only laughed at the knife victims on the wall, he gloated over the sword practice arena. “My God, man, this is awesome! Sheesh, I didn’t think anyone on the planet knew how to wield a sword anymore.”
“Duchess Pallavi Adamov is my foster-grandmother. Mother even owns the sword Pallavi used to execute Dalanov. We learn it in tribute to her as much as for the workout. You should see my sister Marie; if it’s got a blade, she can use it. She has amazing upper-body strength, too.” Phillip pointed at one of the ballistics-gel manikins with realistic vertebrae in the neck. “She has no problem whacking off a guy’s head.”
“Good God, how old is she?”
“Twenty-two. After me, there’s Catherine, Marie, Elizabeth, Brian, Christian, Anne, and Stefan, all born a year apart, then the trips are Evan, Josef, and Sophia. If you remember, Stefan was born around Midsummer like the rest of us, except the triplets were born three and a half months later, on Father’s birthday of that same year, so all four are seventeen.”
Alex shook his head. “It was bad enough being number two of three. I can’t imagine being number two of twelve.”
Phillip grimaced. “Trust me, it’s better than being number one. I do not, at any point, envy Zhaiden his position. I think I was happier than he was when his Heir Matthieu was born. Too bad they were scheduled for that diplomatic tour. I don’t give a fig about anything but his safety. The rest of the galaxy can go to hell; I just want Zhaiden on-planet.”
He ran his hand through his hair. “And I miss him, too. He may have Father’s black hair and green eyes like most of us do, but he’s known as The Golden Boy in the family.” He indicated the exit, so they headed back to Phillip’s suite.
“Why do you refer to him as The Golden Boy?” Alex listened carefully, seeming more than curious. Since they almost never spoke about anything but fighting, books, booze, nutrition, and work-related problems, Phillip had always assumed Alex was just a boon companion, but he wondered why the brilliant, witty medic had never spoken of family matters before.
Still, Phillip couldn’t help but smile when talking about Zhaiden. “Take every good and beautiful virtue you can think of. That’s Zhaiden. Brilliant, honorable, sparkling personality. Compassionate, hard to anger, quick to forgive, everyone’s friend. You should have seen him at social events before he got married. You think the girls were thick tonight? He was surrounded by swarms. And the men!” He barked a short laugh. “Every man, upon meeting him, would die for him within a minute of knowing him. His people skills are amazing. After all, he was trained by both Father and Mother, who are the most extraordinary people who have ever existed.”
They swung out of the lift. Once again, two Sentinels were outside the door to Phillip’s suite. One scanned the suite quickly, then they gestured the men in.
Alex asked, “They do that every time?”
“Yes. Trust me, it was much worse when Mother and Father were first married. They had constant Sentinel surveillance. Now the monitoring equipment is on in every room except our suites, so Sentinel searches them every time we are about to enter.
“It was one of the reasons I got my own condo. There are plenty of Sentinel agents around my condo, to be sure, and they do follow me discreetly, but I moved out three years ago just to get some privacy.” He flung himself on the brown leather couch. “Need another drink yet?”
Alex had just settled on one of the matching arm chairs but rose again. “I’ll get it.” He wandered over to the bar. “Though I don’t know which one to pick. What were you having?”
“The Reserve. Should be fourth bottle from the left.” Phillip laughed. “Aw hell, let’s just line ‘em up and sample them all, what do you think?” He cleared the books off his coffee table. “You got anywhere to be tomorrow?”
“No. All weekend off, for once.” Alex brought seven partial bottles over to the table, and they began to drink. Every time they tried a new one, Phillip would describe how he interpreted the flavors, to give Alex a guideline on the differences between fine brandies.
They were half-potted when Phillip asked, “So, why did you want to leave the ball so early? You didn’t even get to meet my parents yet. I know I should have introduced you right away, but they usually get mobbed right off.”
“Yeah, and so did we,” Alex murmured, looking dour. Phillip laughed. Alex grumbled, “You may be used to nubile Royal ladies throwing themselves at you, but they don’t tend to look twice at me. Unless, obviously, I am in your exalted presence.”
Phillip’s laughter died down. “You are really bummed about this, aren’t you?” When Alex nodded, Phillip shook his head in sympathy. “You can’t imagine how much we have in common, then. To stand by, watching Zhaiden get mobbed, and only have women interested in me just because I might be the Emperor in some dire future. I think I want Zhaiden back so they will pester him, despite the fact that he’s married.” Phillip finished his drink before pouring a hefty amount in his glass. He drank again, not sipping this time.
Alex observed him a few moments. “Do you suffer depression?”
Phillip blinked in surprise before laughing bitterly. “Damn, but you’re sharp. How did you figure that out?”
Alex shrugged. “You don’t appear to have a girlfriend, despite all the women who want you. You work your shift, you fight like the very devil, then you either suffer through a social event or you sit and drink with the rest of us at a bar. And when you are at your condo, you throw knives. A lot of repression, there, bleeding out via violence and drink. You’re good at hiding it, though. I think it’s the drinking that gives you away. I’ve never seen you really wasted, but you drink every day, medicating yourself in socially acceptable circumstances.”
Phillip lifted his glass as a toast to Alex and drank some more. “What about you? You’ve never talked about a girlfriend. You fight like a demon, too. Do you do a lot of drinking, besides the nights we end up in a bar? You don’t talk about your weekends, either, I noticed.”
“I pull a lot of extra weekend shifts. I don’t mind because I need to keep my trauma skills up. It’s nice to have the extra money, too. My apartment is small, but it is in a decent building for what I can afford; the rents here in the capital are so high.” He sipped.
“I suffer my share of depression. My father could be a real bastard, and my oldest brother is as arrogant a son-of-a-bitch as you can imagine. My youngest brother is pretty sensitive; I’m sure he’s suffered as much as I have. As you can tell, I tend toward the sardonic, when I open my mouth at all. My mother tried to mitigate things when we were young, but she’s not a very strong-willed person, more the martyr than anything, bless her heart.”
Alex next took a hefty swig. “Then there are the ladies. I’ve only had one real girlfriend before, and I’m 29. I used to sleep around with a lot of commoners, but Lady Martina really broke my heart.
“We dated for three years. She was more ambitious for me than I was for myself. Sure, I could be a physician, make more money and all that. But I just like dealing with scientific facts more than people. She was one of those women who think they can encourage you to be what they want. So of course, when she realized I wasn’t going to do anything different, she dumped me. That was almost two years ago. I haven’t had sex since then.”
Phillip snorted. “It’s been almost a year for me.” He poured more brandy. “I am so sick of these women. I guess it’s because I see how awesome my mother is, and no one has even come close to being like her. Psychoanalyze that, hey? And while you’re at it, I can tell you about the sex talks she’s given every one of us. I don’t know what the girls’ sex talks are like, but you would not believe the ones she gave us boys.” He shook his head, still in disbelief.
Alex was incredulous. “Your mother gave you your sex talk?”
Phillip nodded. “She would give the initial sex talk, the physical parts, then a week or so later Father had his turn. Then she would give you a second, third, sometimes fourth sex talk, depending on how many questions we had. Those were about the social responsibilities of controlling our sex lives, and they usually only lasted an hour or so each.”
Alex’s look of surprise was comical enough to set Phillip off on another hearty laugh. “Good God, how long was the physical sex talk?”
“About three or four hours. She would start with this book she got from her own mother, turn it to page 47, which was a labeled diagram of female genitalia, and start right in. But she was so professional about it, it was unreal. I remember her saying, ‘Go throw up if you have to, but we are going to have this talk, so pay attention.’
“It was amazing, though, how I went from absolutely mortified to asking her detailed questions about the female response. Father’s sex talk was just as explicit, talking about the male response. That was page 53 of the book, though Mother kind of covered that page, too.”
Alex sat back in his chair. “I’ve got to see that book. That’s unbelievable.”
“I don’t know who has it right now. Probably Sophia, she’s the blazing hot romantic of the family. She’s seventeen, and bound and determined to find her first man, though Mother always has the girls wait until they are eighteen; they didn’t get their contraceptive implants until they were late seventeen, to make sure. Mother would give the sex talk to everyone at fifteen, but we boys had to wait until we were sixteen to find our first partner.”
“God, I love your mother already. I can’t wait to meet her. A woman with some actual common sense.” Alex radiated jealousy. “I mean, beyond her scientific prowess, which does not always align with common sense, let me tell you.”
“Hah! I know what you mean, though. I’ve met some of Mother’s subordinates before.” Phillip poured Alex a generous amount of brandy. “You sure don’t drink very much, do you? Here, you can’t let me get shit-faced all by myself. Drink up, man. Surely you appreciate the good stuff now, after all my instruction?” Alex laughed, and the real drinking began.
A few hours later, Phillip shook Alex awake. “Hey, man. Come on, these nice Sentinel agents will see you to a room.”
Alex groaned, sprawled with one leg over the arm of the chair. “God, I’m going to hate myself in the morning.”
“Yeah. We killed a few bottles,” Phillip slurred, pointing to five bottles lying on their sides. Alex vaguely remembered the jokes they made about decimating the troops whenever they finished a bottle and knocked it over as a symbol that they weren’t drunk enough to miss yet. At least Phillip was wavering on his feet, too.
Alex tried to get up, but the two Sentinel agents had to help. Pointing him toward the door, he managed to stumble a few meters with their help before he passed out in the corridor.
◊ ◊ ◊
Alex woke up to bright lights and a stunning hangover. He moaned piteously, flinging his arm over his eyes. “Oh God, where am I?”
From the side came Phillip’s gravelly voice. “Palace infirmary. The Sentinels thought you would appreciate the joke.”
At Alex’s wordless choke and stuffed expression, Phillip quickly handed over a basin. After Alex was done, he admitted, “I did my own retching earlier. Mother found me there and told me you were down here. You think you’re done?” Alex gave him a very short nod.
“Lucky you, I spent at least ten minutes at it. But then again, I know you drank less, and you’ve got twenty-some-odd kilos on me. You aren’t much of a drinker, are you?” When Alex shook his head and then grasped it in pain, Phillip moved the basin to the decon flash-bin and offered him some Dry-Out and a glass of water. Alex whimpered in gratitude.
The door opened, and Empress Felice Sinclair entered. Phillip slowly collapsed in the chair and winced. “Mother, don’t you think it’s rather cruel to witness us in our, ah, debilitated state?”
The Empress snorted delicately. At least she spoke in low tones when she said, “My dear, you neglected to introduce your friend to me last night. When Sentinel reported your binge at our security briefing this morning, it was your father who suggested I see what caused the binge.”
She came over to Alex’s hospital bed. “I suppose I am pleased to meet you, Alex, though I wish you were more vertical. Do you think you would like a brunch of some sort, or would you prefer to wait until lunch?”
Thank God for a naturally strong stomach, Alex thought to himself. “An honor to meet you, Your Majesty. I think lunch would be optimistic, myself. But the Dry-Out is working already, so who knows?”
“Mother? Would you arrange to have lunch sent to us in my suite? I don’t think we are going to be able to manage social niceties for a while.” Phillip held his hand to his temple, as if speaking that long of a sentence was still painful despite the Dry-Out.
“Sure. How does 14:00 sound?” The Empress’ voice was practical and compassionate. Alex liked her immediately.
“Wonderful. Thank you, Mother.” Phillip essayed a ghastly smile. Alex snorted at it, then held his own head with both hands.
Leaning against the end of the bed, she visually evaluated their condition. “So, is there any particular reason for the binge?”
Phillip looked at Alex with a question in his eyes, so Alex gave him a short nod. “Mostly talking about depression, and women. And being second sons.”
The Empress nodded. “Well, we can work on two out of the three. Some other time,” she remarked gently. Giving Phillip a kiss on the forehead, she left, closing the door gently behind her.
Phillip stared at the door. “I’ve always wondered if she was psychic. Her instincts are unbelievable.”
“Either that, or she has Sentinel agents always at the monitors to tell her when to intervene,” Alex said gruffly, thinking about his fascination with the Imperial security men. He had always wished he could be a Sentinel, for to guard the Imperial Family was surely the highest honor a man could have on Sinclair Demesne.
“Ah, yes. I am sure you’re right.” Phillip frowned. “I’m so used to them, I forget they are even there.”
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