🌹🌹The Swedish Prince 🌹🌹
🌸🌸(ROYAL ROMANCE) 🌸🌸
Maggie’s Pov ❤️
“I’m fine, by the way,” I manage to say between gulps of air.
The smell and taste of licorice seem to sing in my senses, no amount of water will wash it away.
“I know you’re fine.” He calmly takes another sip. “Like I said earlier, you’re tougher than you look.”
I cough again, my eyes water. “Holy crap” I tell him, my hands braced against the edge of the table. “I think I saw Jesus.”
He chuckles, the sound warm and rich. He’s still looking at me like everything I do greatly amuses him.
“But you’re more relaxed now, no?”
Actually, he’s right. The drink was strong, but I can already feel it washing through me, this languid warmth, like sinking into a hot bath.
“Did I seem tense before?”
He gives a light shrug. “A little.”
“Yeah well don’t go getting yourself a big head. I haven’t been relaxed in a very long time.”
“You know, like an ego.”
“Oh,” he says. “I see. I thought you meant like a big cock. And you can contest that I already have one.”
The gulp of water I had in my mouth just goes flying across the table in a spray.
“Oh my god,” I gasp. “I am so sorry.”
I frantically grab my napkin and start wiping down the surface.
“It’s quite alright,” he says nonchalantly as he dusts the spray off his shoulders, “this seems to be the normal reaction from you when my dick is involved.”
My hand goes to my mouth this time to stifle the laugh and anything else that wants to come out. I know my cheeks are burning up, but I think they’ve been burning up ever since I had that aquavit.
“I like it when you blush, you know,” he says, eyeing me. “It makes me wonder what else I can do to make you turn so rosy.”
“Stop,” I cry out playfully, averting my eyes.
“Oh, I can go all night long.”
I shake my head. He is unbelievable. His accent makes everything sound light and flirtatious but the wicked gleam in his eyes tell me he’s serious.
If I wasn’t hot and bothered before, I definitely am now.
Don’t forget who he is, I remind myself. Don’t forget you’re recording all of it.
I wince at the thought of playing this all back later.
“You okay?” he asks me, leaning in a bit.
“Oh yes, fine,” I tell him. “I mean, aside from spitting on you and nearly choking on the drink. What was even in that? Tastes like burning licorice and, like, dill.”
“Caraway seed,” he says, having another sip. I watch him swallow, my eyes resting in the hollow of his throat. God, he’s got a sexy throat. I can imagine his neck muscles all corded and tense when he’s coming and–
“Smaken är som baken, delad,” he rattles off in Swedish, interrupting my fantasy. “Taste is like your bum…divided.”
“Excuse me, what? Tasting my bum?”
“Only if you’re into it,” he says, a tiny, knowing smile crosses his lips, like he knows exactly what’s happening later.
The thought makes me squeeze my thighs together.
Then he clears his throat. “Actually, it’s a saying. Taste is like your bum, divided. It means that…well, not everyone likes aquavit.”
I don’t think my body will ever stop feeling like it’s on fire. “How many more sayings are there?”
“We have quite a few,” he says. “We even have a family motto.”
Ah, here we are. Here is the segue. Here’s where I can get this on track to something like an interview.
“Does it involve bums or cows?” I ask warily.
That gorgeous smile widens. “I’m afraid not. Our motto is alltid mer, aldrig mindre.” He pauses. “It means always more, never less.”
“Always more, never less,” I repeat, louder, for the recorder. “I like that.”
“So do I. In the past…in the company, things were rather formal and stuffy, you might say. Everything was just for show. There was no…warmth. But my parents, my father, but especially my mother, they decided to do things a bit differently. More time with the public.”
“Public?” I ask.
“Clients,” he says smoothly. “More time with the clients. More time getting to know them. More time doing charity work and being involved with the community. Always more, never less. Always go all in, always give more of yourself, always do your best. Never settle, never cheat, never withdraw.”
It’s so weird to hear him talk about his family and job like this because I know what his actual family is, his job, his role. I could probably get a lot out of him this way, just asking questions and twisting his answers around to apply to the monarchy.
The waitress comes by with the onion rings and then takes our orders. I haven’t had a steak in ages, so I ask for a nice juicy rib-eye with a baked potato and asparagus. My mouth is practically watering even ordering it.
“It’s nice to see a girl who likes to eat,” he remarks.
“Hey, most girls love to eat,” I point out. “But I do especially because it’s so rare I get to eat something this good, like a steak. God, I can practically taste it already.”
“Do you do most of the cooking at your house?” he asks.
“Yeah, usually,” I tell him, picking at the onion rings. It’s taking great restraint not to devour them all. “If not, Pike does. It’s usually more me than him but he helps out.”
“Must be lucky to have his support. He seems old enough.”
“He’s eighteen,” I tell him.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-three.” And though I know how old he is because I spent all day googling him, I have to ask. “And you?”
“Thirty,” he says. “And your brothers and sisters, how old are they?”
I dip my onion ring in and out of the ranch dressing and list off their names and ages.
“Wow.” Viktor sits back in his seat, running his hand through his hair. “I admire you.”
I shrug it off. He means well, but I hate that term. “There’s nothing to admire. I’m just doing what I have to do. Anyone in my position would do the same.”
“No,” he says and a darkness flits across his eyes. “They wouldn’t. People are inherently selfish at heart, even with family. They’ll push others away in order to save themselves.”
I pause with the onion ring and stare at him, wondering what brought this out. Despite the always more, never less motto, was there problems in his own family. Did it have something to do with his brother?
I know I probably shouldn’t ask this next question but in journalism school we were taught that the dangerous questions are the right ones to ask. “Do you have any siblings?”
He looks like I just slapped his face and he pales before my eyes, a world of pain crushing his features. I instantly regret the question.
He opens his mouth to say something and I don’t want to put him on the spot. “Have you always lived in Stockholm?” I ask quickly, trying to cover it up.
“Yes,” he says quietly. “To both. I was born in Stockholm and while I’ve traveled around Europe, it has always been my home base. And yes, I had a brother.”
I swallow uneasily, looking away from his eyes. They’ve turned so haunting, I feel haunted in return. “Had?”
“He died just over a month ago.”
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him.
“Thank you,” he says. “And thank you for not asking how.”
I manage a weak smile. Even though a journalist would ask how, especially since the real reports are conflicting, as someone who lost loved ones, I know better. If we want people to know, we’ll tell them. “I understand.”
“I know you do,” he says. “Maybe that’s why…”
He shrugs and finishes the rest of his drink. “I don’t know.” He puts the glass down and shoots me a furtive glance.
“I feel drawn to you, Maggie. In ways I can’t quite explain. And maybe that explains it.”
Drawn to me? If we weren’t just talking about something so serious I think I would be swooning in my seat.
“You know the other day,” he says, “I was in Vegas. I’d always wanted to go, and it was a natural stopover on the highway. But I barely made it into the hotel. There was a wedding, and everyone had these flowers and the smell…”
“White lilies,” I whisper absently, the images of them in front of the caskets clouding my mind, bringing with it all the memories of pain.
“Yes.” He frowns and sits up straighter, leaning forward on his elbows. “How did you know?”
I take in a deep breath and blink. I don’t want to cry here, not now.
“It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything,” he says.
“No, it’s fine. Really. I just needed a moment. Sometimes I think I’m always needing a moment.” I let out a shaky breath. “We had white lilies at the funeral for my parents. It’s common here. It’s the symbol of innocence and I guess people think there’s innocence in death, even though the way my parents died was anything but innocent. Anyway, I can’t smell them either without being transported to that day. They’re forever tainted to me. And the problem is, a lot of flowers smell similar to lilies, at least to me.”
“So what you’re saying is, you’re not a girl who loves getting flowers.”
I let out a soft laugh. “No. That’s never been me.”
The smile fades from his face. “Well, now I know how it affects me too. When I smelled them, suddenly I was brought back to everything I’ve been running away from and I had to get out of there. That’s how I ended up here, with extra medication in my system and a lovely girl who took pity on me.”
“You’ve been running away?”
He nods, his hands slowly twisting around his empty glass. “I am on vacation but the reason for the vacation is that I need a break.”
“If you just lost your brother, that’s understandable.”
“Yes. I suppose. But in this business, we don’t have time to grieve. You see, I wasn’t poised to take over the company. My brother was. Alex was his name. Is his name. See? Fuck. Sometimes I’m not sure if he’s alive or dead.”
The sight of Viktor pretending not to be Viktor and yet suffering this loss all the same is breaking me up inside. No matter how hard he’s trying to be someone else, the pain doesn’t take a vacation. The pain remembers who you are. Like Liam Neeson, the pain will always find you.
“Anyway, it was always Alex’s job and not mine and now, well everything has changed.” Around and around the glass goes. “Now the job is mine and I’m stuck with it. Drowning in it, if I may be so honest. I’m just not…not good enough or strong enough for it.”
“I highly doubt that. I know we don’t really know each other but I think you might be the strongest, most capable man I’ve ever met.” He doesn’t seem to believe it. I go on, “But if you don’t want the…job…can’t you quit?”
“People in this line of work don’t usually quit. Not unless it is a danger to their health. And, well…let’s just say I’ve seen firsthand what that danger is. I see what awaits me.”
“Another drink?” the waitress says cheerfully, interrupting our conversation like someone shining a buzzing fluorescent light in a dark room.
“Could I get a glass of the house red?” I ask her.
“Sure thing.” She looks to Viktor and he just nods and taps his glass.
She walks off, leaving us alone again.
“Are you going to finish that?” he nods at my nearly full glass of aquavit.
“No,” I tell him, pushing it across the table toward him. “It seems the bum is still divided on this one.”
“It’s too bad I’m not here for that much longer, I think you’d be quick to pick up Swedish.”
“Yeah,” I say softly, my heart dipping inside my chest. “It is too bad. So when do you think you’ll go to LA?”
“When the car is fixed. I ordered in a part today from a store in Bakersfield. Should come up on Monday. I can just get it in there and go.”
“You could use Pike’s garage, I’m sure that will be a lot easier than tinkering in La Quinta’s parking lot.”
“I might take him up on that. But that still leaves me tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow is Sunday. Do you want to spend your Sunday with me?”
Yes. Yes I want to spend Sunday with you and every day after that.
“I have work.”
“Seven to three.”
“So then I can’t keep you out too late tonight then, can I?”
I think you’re worth all the sleep-deprivation in the world.
“Or maybe,” he continues, his eyes lazily drifting down from my gaze toward my lips, then down my neck, then sliding across my chest. My skin dances from the intensity of it all, at the way he so easily affects me.
“Maybe you’ll spend the night at work. You won’t even need to go home. Can’t promise you that you won’t be exhausted though.”
“Here’s your drinks.”
The waitress appears sliding a glass of wine toward me and another glass of aquavit toward Viktor and while I smile politely my eyes are telling her she’s interrupting something really important.
I think she gets it because she gingerly says, “I should let you two know that the food will be out shortly.” Then she scurries off.
“So what was it like growing up here?” Viktor asks and everything inside me just sinks. We were so close to getting into that flirty sexy talk, the kind that teases with everything promising to come, and now he’s reverted back to small talk.
But I like talking with Viktor. About anything, even small talk about my boring life. Even though he’s pretending to be someone else and even though I’m pretending that I don’t know he’s pretending. I just like being around him, period.
And honestly, I don’t really care that he’s a prince. I easily buy into his fake persona because that other stuff doesn’t interest me.
As someone who is just passing through town, everything else that he is to the world doesn’t matter because for right now he’s here and he’s with me and this is the first time in a long time, maybe ever, that I actually feel like someone wants to be with me, wants to talk to me. And yes, wants to sleep with me. I just hope he’s not pretending that part too.
Then dinner is served, and I tell him about my life and he tells me more about his, and then it slowly dawns on me that I absolutely can’t betray this man. I know that an article would pay for things we desperately need, I know that it would kickstart my career, the one that’s been put on the backburner. I know it would change things for me, for my brothers and sisters, in a positive way.
But this man…this gorgeous, funny, sweet, cocky, forward man, I can’t do that to him. Even if he leaves in a day or two and I never have contact with him again, I can’t betray his trust, even if he doesn’t realize he’s trusting me with something so big.
The minute I decide that, the weight lifts off me. Something in my chest becomes lighter. Now I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the night, which now seems to be dessert in the literal sense.
“Chocolate lava cake,” the waitress says, sliding the plate toward us.
We’re doing the cheesy couple thing where we’re both sharing the one piece, with the one plate in the middle of the table between us.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to have a bite after all that steak but now that I’m looking at it,” I tell him, my fork poised to dig in.
He takes his fork and taps my fork out of the way.
I look up and meet his eyes. He gives me a wicked smile.
“I only want a taste,” he says, his voice growing low and rough, causing my stomach to flip.
Cue the innuendo. “Is that so?”
“I don’t want to spoil my appetite for later.”
I feel my brow lift.
He just keeps giving me that panty-melting grin. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
He slices into the cake with zeal, chopping off the corner.
Silly Sweden, don’t they have lava cakes back home?
I slice right into the middle, the best part.
With a little too much zeal.
Some of the hot melted chocolate in the middle goes spilling outward on the table, edging toward my lap.
“I’ve got it,” he says, reaching over to the end of the table where a stack of napkins is behind my purse. He yanks them out of the holder, passing them to me, and his motions cause my purse to jerk forward, the phone to flip off the top of it and land on the table, right beside the cake.
Showing the voice memo.
My fingers grip the napkins and suddenly I’ve forgotten all about the cake.
Fucking hell. Fucking hell, please don’t let him see that, please don’t let him realize what that is, please don’t –
“What is this?” he asks, his brows coming together as he stares at it, watching the counter roll onwards, the red waves dancing on the graph as they record the sound of his voice. He glances up at me and there’s fear etched all across his face.
I think I must look the same. Because I am scared shitless.
“What is this?” he repeats, picking up my phone, staring at it. He presses the red button to stop and then displays the screen to me. “Why were you recording this for…” he looks at it again, “the last hour and a half. Our entire dinner?”
No, no, no, no, no, no.
“It’s an accident,” I tell him feebly. Not the best excuse but the only one I have.
He stares at me so deeply, with so much bold ferocity, that I shrink back.
“You’re lying,” he says. His eyes may be made of fire right now, but his voice has turned cold.
I feel that cold in my bones.
“You’re lying,” he says again, his grip tightening around my phone. “I can tell. Why were you recording this? Us? Tell me, Maggie.”
I lick my lips. My mouth feels like sand.
I’m trying to think fast but the evening and the wine and the steak and everything and I’m just…I’ve got nothing.
It was an accident. Tell him it was an accident again.
But he won’t believe it. I know he won’t.
He’s seeing right through me. Right to my rotten core.
“I didn’t mean to,” I whisper to him. “I’m sorry.”
“Didn’t mean to? How did you not mean to?”
“I…okay, so I was but then I decided not to. I decided not to.”
“Why. The fuck. Were you. Recording us?” he asks, his words sharp blades hitting between all my ribs. “Do you know who I am?”
I can only blink at him. My eyes tell him everything.
“Well, fuck,” he swears, pushing himself back against the seat, arms braced against the table, the muscles in his forearms popping like he’s holding himself back from something, a vein in his forehead looking dangerous. “You know,” he says to himself. “And you knew. This whole time, you knew who I was.”
“No,” I say adamantly, finding my voice. “I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t know. You have to believe me.”
“Bullshit, Maggie,” he says. “And fuck your bullshit.”
His eyes flash as they fly to mine. “Oh my god. And you just called me Viktor.” He shuts his eyes, shakes his head. “So much for everything.”The waitress comes by with the bill and before she can get close I give her the look that she better not dare come here right now. She gives me the yikes awkward girl look and then gladly leaves.
“You knew,” he says again, rubbing the palm of his hand up and down his face. “You knew.”
“I didn’t, I swear. I only found out this afternoon, after you left, I promise.”
“Your promises mean nothing.”
I balk at that. I shouldn’t be bothered by it, but I am. “Hey, I never promised you anything, okay. And by the way, it was wrong to record it and you can decide whether I’m telling the truth or not, but you’ve been lying to me this whole time.”
“Don’t you dare flip it around on me.”
“I’m not flipping anything, I’m just pointing something out. You told me lies first.”
“I had to,” he says, practically growling at me. “I had to for my own sake and my family’s sake.”
“Okay, well, I’m just saying.”
“And I’m just saying, we’re done here.”
He shakes his head sharply and taps his fingers on top of my phone. “Delete this, please.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” I tell him. I grab the phone and though it takes me a moment, my hands are shaking so hard I nearly drop it, I figure out how to delete it. “It’s gone.” I show it to him.
But he doesn’t look relieved. He doesn’t look anything except pissed. And while I had been treated to the Viktor who minds his manners and has funny sayings and loves innuendo, I’d also witnessed the Viktor today that had no problems knocking out Tito several times with complete ease, a man he didn’t know and a problem that wasn’t his.
Maybe I don’t know this guy at all. Maybe Johan Andersson was someone totally different than Crown Prince Viktor and maybe now I’m seeing who he really is.
But I don’t think that’s the case. I think Viktor is as multi-faceted as anyone is and what I’m seeing now is a man who is suitably angry because I broke his trust.
“The way you looked after me,” he starts to say and then trails off.
“I didn’t know,” I tell him, desperation running through me like wild horses. “I swear I didn’t know. Everything I did, I did for the very same reason you gave me earlier. That I’m drawn to you. And I just wanted to help. That’s all. You have to believe me, I had no idea who you were until tonight. Please.”
That seems to get through to him, seems to sink in. His shoulders drop a little, his breath comes out long and hard. Then, “You said you were a journalism student.”
“So I guess you were recording us for, what, a tell-all article?”
I don’t say anything. Clamp my mouth shut.
He shakes his head. “How much would they have paid you, huh?”
I inhale deeply, trying to catch my breath and stop shaking. “It would have been enough for everyone to get new clothes and school supplies for the fall and for a plumber to fix our downstairs toilet,” I tell him. “It’s been broken forever and even Pike can’t fix it.”
I’m not trying to guilt-trip him or anything, it’s just the truth. But even so, it reaches him.
He stares at me. It feels like eternity. I hate the way his eyes have changed, especially as the fire hardens to steel, to something forever cold.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him softly, my words breaking, because what else can I do? Inside I feel the big black pit of shame starting to pull at me, dragging me down under into its depths. To say I feel embarrassed is an understatement.
He doesn’t say anything. Just raises his hand to get the attention of a passing bus boy and asks for him to call him a cab.
There are tears burning behind my eyes, but I manage to keep them at bay. I get my purse and fish out my wallet. I know whatever money I have in there is for groceries for the week, but I won’t let him pay, not now. I’ll show him.
Suddenly his hand reaches out and grabs my wrist, holding me in place. “Keep it,” he says gruffly. “I know how much you need it.”
Then he brings a wad of cash out and throws it down on the table. “Come on,” he says to me as he gets up, pulling on his jacket. “Cab will be here soon.”
“I can get Pike to pick me up,” I tell him feebly, staring at his money on the table, wishing I had enough pride that I would still pay. But I’m not that proud. I have no pride, not anymore.
“You’re getting a cab.” He jerks his head toward the front doors. “Come on.”
I take in a shaking breath and get to my feet, walking behind him with my head down, afraid to look at the other tables. Though I’m sure our argument wasn’t heard or witnessed by anyone, I still feel like everyone is looking at me and pitying me.
There goes Maggie McPherson, they’d whisper to each other.
Such a shame what happened to her parents.
Now she’s in charge of all of them.
She can’t do it on her own.
That man is way too good for her.
I think she’s a prostitute now.
How desperate she must be.
I follow Viktor out of the restaurant and into the night, the stars above us like tiny lanterns but I find no beauty in it. If only I could turn back time, we could have avoided all of that. We could have stepped out of here drunk and full and happy and maybe he’d say something romantic about the stars, or maybe he’d say something about sex and then we’d still get a cab but instead of standing apart like two strangers, maybe we’d be falling into each other. Smiling, laughing, touching, excited for the night to come.
If only I could turn back time, the two of us may have embarked on a very different future, maybe one that involved us together.
But I can’t turn back time. I wished with all my might that I could the night my parents died, and I wish it now, but it hasn’t worked, and it will never work.
I am stuck with this new reality.
I am stuck, period.
The cab pulls up and to my relief it’s not Earl White again, just some old guy.
Viktor strides over to the driver and hands him a wad of cash through the window and then, then he somehow still has his manners, and he opens the back door to me, gesturing for me to get inside.
“Get in. He’s taking you home. Or wherever thirty dollars will get you.”
Now this, this feels like a walk of shame. Deep shame. “I’m so sorry,” I tell him as I get in the backseat.
“Goodbye Maggie,” he says without even looking at me and then slams the door in my face.
That door slamming was like the closing of a prison door on every dream and hope and what ifs I had blooming inside me tonight.
Now that bloom has wilted, dead.
The cab drives off, the driver asking where he’s to take me.
But all I can do is just sit there.
Sit there and think about how royally things got fucked up.
I burst into tears and cry all the way home.
It’s past midnight.
I’ve not been able to sleep for a second.
I’ve been tossing and turning in bed, then watching TV, then pacing up and down the room. I have a nest of hornets in my heart, buzzing around viciously, their barbs stinging the same wound over and over again.
She knows who I am.
Maggie, this girl of sweetness and light, was hiding a secret just as big as mine.
I was such an idiot to think she couldn’t see the truth. Of course, she knew the truth, had ulterior motives. Why else would she have come to my rescue like that at the bar? Did I really think it was from the goodness of her heart?
I feel like an idiot. I am an idiot.
I was so blinded by her beauty, her body, the way she looked at me, the way I wanted nothing more than to bury my head between her soft legs and make her cheeks go that rosy pink, that I didn’t even consider she could have had another motive.
I know I shouldn’t be so upset about this, that I should have seen it coming. But for a moment there…I wanted to talk about Alex. About how he died. I wanted to share with her parts of me I don’t share with anyone, not even Dr. Bonakov. I wanted to unload on her all the vile, bitter things that have been dragging me under into the raging darkness, this darkness that I know I can never escape.
And to think she knew exactly what I was talking about.
But that wasn’t for show.
That was the truth, her truth.
Her parents were murdered and the moment I found that out in the cab was the moment that I vowed to myself I would do everything I could to make her life better. If I was drawn to her before, after that I was affixed.
All of that is gone now. That vow shattered like the scant bit of trust I had in her.
But perhaps I had more trust in this girl, this stranger, than I thought I did.
Maybe it’s why this hurts so much.
This betrayal feels bigger than it is because she was starting to mean more to me than she should. Like she had never been a stranger to begin with.
And maybe that’s why I can’t help but cringe when I think about the way her face fell, the open remorse and embarrassment and shame in her eyes when I found that recording. I’d never seen someone crumble like that right in front of me. Her hope and joy disintegrated in a second.
I was angry. Disappointed. I still am.
But I could have acted like more of a gentleman. I didn’t have to slam that cab door on her. I could have handled all of this with more grace and understanding. Always more, never less.
I’m nothing close to being the prince I need to be.
I sigh and sit down on the bed, head in my hands. I need to talk to someone, but I don’t have many people to talk to. I felt Maggie could have been–or was–that someone, but I was wrong. There’s always Freddie but he’s so clinical with the way he handles me. And my parents–forget it.