Home > The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)(9)

The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)(9)
Author: Karina Halle

"Take me to the dirtiest bar you can think of," I tell the cab driver as I climb in the backseat, handing him a stack of Kroners. "And don't take me back until I'm sufficiently drunk."

* * *

***

* * *

"Viktor."

My mother's voice rings through the fog in my brain, coming in like music in a dream. Something that you know isn't existing outside your brain and yet has a whole life of its own. So real.

"Viktor, darling, please wake up. You're safe now."

Safe?

I open my eyes and that, in itself, is a struggle. It's like they want to stay shut forever, like my body is already telling me to give up. Go back into that darkness. She lies. It's safer there, not here.

"There you are," my mother says softly.

And there she is, sitting on the edge of my bed in...

Wait, this isn't my bed. This is my old room in the palace where I grew up, the palace where my parents live. The king and queen.

She gives me a tight smile and I then notice my father hovering by the door. It's closed. There's no one else in the room except for...

Oh wait, Dr. Bonakov. He's sitting in an ornate velvet chair by a desk, sipping a cup of tea.

"What happened?" I ask, my voice sounding groggy, foreign, far away.

I can't remember a thing.

And what I can remember is horrible. Getting out of the car. Fighting with Freddie. Punching Gustav. Escaping. Getting a cab to a dive bar in the worst neighborhood possible. Sitting alone in the corner, avoiding people's eyes, having shot after shot of vodka until...

This.

"You had a bit of an... episode," my mother says. "Luckily, the people who you had the episode around were the types to not remember any of it afterward."

I glance at the doctor. "I took one of the pills," I told him.

He nods. "I figured. Thankfully you're here now and all in one piece."

"But how did I get here?"

"The taxi driver that drove you to the bar kept coming around every hour to keep an eye on you. Finally, he phoned our press office. Didn't even take it to the tabloids."

"Proves that not all Stockholm cabbies do the devil's work," the doctor says impishly.

"Viktor," my mother says, her voice becoming more stern now, ignoring him. "We can't go on like this. We just can't."

I attempt to sit up in bed, my head ringing, pounding like a parade of horses is trampling over my brain. She slides a pillow behind me and through a wince, I get a better look at her. She's dressed in her nightgown and robe, her blonde hair in curlers, her eyes and nose red from crying. My father is in a suit, his face giving me nothing though I swear he’s got a few more gray hairs than he did yesterday.

“I’m sorry,” I say, clearing my throat. “I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

“Lost your temper?” my father says gruffly. His words ooze with disappointment. “Losing your temper is snapping at someone because they gave you a hard-boiled egg instead of soft. What you did was act violently toward not only one of your guards that are charged with protecting you, a guard who would lay down his life for you, but with Frederick Vereberg, who is one of the few people left here with any brains. That wasn’t losing your temper, Viktor, that was losing your god damn mind.”

I have no rebuttal to that. He’s right. I have lost my mind.

“I don’t know what to say.”

My mother sighs and looks over at my father, raising her brows. He just scoffs and turns away, hands behind his back, acting like the crown moulding around the door is far more fascinating than what’s to be done with his son.

His only son.

Once again, the sorrow hits me like an ice pick to the chest.

“Dear boy,” my mother says softly, placing a frail hand on mine. I stare down at it, peppered with sunspots, with lines and veins, and I realize that no one else outside this room gets to see my mother this way. To the nation she is Her Royal Highness, Queen Elin of House Nordin. To me, she is a mother. A mother who just lost her oldest son, who is trying her hardest to hold it together for the good of her country.

“I’ve been discussing you with Dr. Bonakov,” she goes on.

“You’re sending me to a mental institution?” I ask.

She doesn’t smile at that. It was a poor joke.

“I’m sending you somewhere,” she says.

I cock my head at her, wondering what she means, as my father comes over and hands me a large yellow envelope.

“What is this?” I ask, opening it. Onto my lap falls a driver’s license, a credit card, a bank card and a passport. My picture is on all of them with the name Johan Andersson. My place of birth has changed from Stockholm to the city of Malmo. My birthday remains the same.

I stare at them blankly, my brain too drugged and sluggish to comprehend.

“This is your therapy, Viktor,” my mother says. She looks at Dr. Bonakov who nods ever so slightly. “We know that you haven’t been handling the changes here very well.”

“So you’re giving me a new identity?”

“Temporarily,” the doctor says. “It’s a break. A break that we would all rather see you take than abdicate.”

“Abdicate?” Who said anything about abdicating?

“Look,” my father says, walking over slowly, hands still behind his back. “We’re no fools. We’re not heartless either. You’ve gone your whole life knowing you’d probably never sit on the throne, never having to worry about anything beyond just showing up for photos. The press has left you alone for the most part. You’ve been in the military, you’ve gone to school, you’ve studied, you’ve planned a different future from the one you’ve been handed. Now you’ve had to re-route. Your freedom has been stripped. That’s why you’ve been having a nervous breakdown.”

“Getting drunk isn’t a nervous breakdown,” I protest, though even as the words leave my mouth they’re already sounding like lies.

“Last week you swore during a live interview,” my father says, ticking off his fingers like bombs. “The next day you proceeded to forget the names of our own government officers during your meeting with the Prime Minister. Followed by you getting…ahem…handsy with one of the women at the Estonian embassy’s dinner party.”

I shrug. “She was handsy first.”

“She was the ambassador’s daughter!” he snaps. “You grabbed her ass in front of him!”

“Arvid, calm down,” my mother says, waving him away with her hand.

He lets out a huff of air and starts pacing.

She looks back to me, sympathy creasing her brow. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. But we think the best way for you to deal with what happened to Alex, to deal with your new future, is to take a break. A real break. A holiday. Pretend to be someone else for a while.”

I blink at her, still having a hard time letting this sink in. “Who will I be? Even under another name, people will recognize me.”

“Here they will. Europe too. Go to America. Canada. Australia. Anywhere away from the continent. I promise you, they don’t know who you are.”

“For how long?”

“However long it takes you to get yourself together,” my father says, pausing near the door.

“I would say three weeks,” the doctor says after my mother looks at him for his opinion. “Maybe four. Any longer than that, and you might not want to come back.”

“Oh, you’ll come back, even if you don’t want to,” my father says, “you’ll come back. Or we’ll force you back here.”

“Arvid,” my mom chastises him. “Have a little kindness right now.” She smiles at me gingerly. “Four weeks. That’s about as long as we can cover for your lack of public appearances.”

“What are you going to tell people?” I have to admit, there is a kernel of hope burning in my stomach, the idea of not having to do any appearances for four weeks. Not having to be the heir apparent. Not having to be a prince.

I’m not sure the last time I felt this much light inside me.

“We’ll think of something,” she says. “You just make sure that you stay out of trouble, wherever you are. If it gets back to us that there is a prince on the loose,” she stops to chuckle at her own words and I can’t help but smile, “well, we’ll all have a lot to answer for. Above all, my dear boy, I want you safe.”

“Which means I won’t have any guards…” I say slowly. I’ve never not had a bodyguard around me, even when I was at university, even when I was in the military.

“That’s right.”

“We’re taking a big risk,” my father adds. “What you did yesterday, you won’t get away with over there. You understand?”

I look him in the eye, nod. “I understand.” I glance at the doctor, at my mother, and do my best to hold back my smile. “When do I leave?”

“After you’ve apologized to Frederick and Gustav,” she says. “In person.”

“Of course, of course. I’ll apologize right away. That was…that was beneath me, what I did.”

She pats my hand. “Then if you do that today, perhaps you can leave tomorrow. Just let us know where and we’ll arrange your ticket.”

I pick up the passport, slowly flipping through the pages.

The pages are blank and waiting.

A clean slate.

Chapter Four

Maggie

I was tossing and turning all night long, my mind racing, latching onto Korkort Sverige in my parent’s bedroom and then running wild with loose and erratic thoughts that didn’t make much sense at all. At one point I got up to pee and spent a good five minutes standing in the dim light of the hallway, staring at my parent’s door, daring myself to open it and see if the stranger was still in there. Maybe the whole thing had just been a dream, my underused imagination having concocted this mysterious man out of thin air.

   
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