🌹The Swedish Prince 🌹🌹
🌸🌸(ROYAL r0m@nç£) 🌸🌸
He tilts his head, his eyes settling on myl-ips for a moment before he looks up to meet my gaze again.
“Can I k!ssyou?” he asks, his voice low and smooth.
Oh my goodness.
Did he just ask if he could k!ssme?
I knew the guy was a gentleman, but I didn’t know how much of one he was.
I swallow the brick in my throat, fireworks going off in my heart.
“Of course,” I say softly, wishing my voice was steady.
This is it. This is it.
I close my eyes, myl-ips p@rting open, just enough.
Nerves on fire.
li-ps aching for him…
And I don’t feel him come any closer.
I open my eyes and look at him.
He hasn’t moved. Instead he’s just watching me, wearing the c0ckiest sm-irk I’ve ever seen.
“I didn’t mean now,” he says. “I just wanted to know for future reference.”
My eyes narrow, my b©dy growing h0t with embarras-sment and S-xual frustration. “You’re a j£rk.”
He laughs pla-yfully. “Someone has to keep you on your toes.”
I shake my head and snatch the apron from his hands, bringing it to the small hamper we have in the p@n-try and tossing it in there.
“So your nickname is moose, huh?” I say, trying to cover up the awkwardness.
Even with my back turned to him, I can tell he’s still grinning. “Maybe your nickname oughta be d!¢k.”
“Who’s to say it isn’t?” he answers.
Once everything is dry, I tell the girls to do their homework and tell Callum he has to get re-ady for be-d.
Like I thought, he makes a hvge fuss not wanting to miss out on what’s going on with Viktor and the “adults.”
Then I bring up story time.
Then to my surprise, though honestly, I don’t think I should be surprised by anything he does now, Viktor volunteers for story time.
And suddenly Callum is racing to his be-droom to put on his pajamas and get in be-d.
“Do you even know what story time is?” I ask Viktor as we go up the stairs.
When he doesn’t say anything I look down at him over my shoulder and see that his focus is completely on my as-s.
His eyes flit up to mine. “Sorry” he says, not sounding very sorry at all. “And story time, that sounds like when you make up a story, a be-dtime story.”
“Callum usually has Pike re-ad from a certain book.”
“Nah, I think I’ll just make something up,” he says.
“Suit yourself, he’s a tough critic,” I tell him as we step into Callum’s room.
He’s alre-ady sitting in be-d, big grin on his face, in his faded Superman pajamas. Viktor pu-lls up a chair from the desk and I sit down on the end of the be-d because there’s no way I’m not going to be here for this.
“I know you usually have a book re-ad to you,” Viktor notes, “but I have a special Swedish story to share with you. Do you like trolls?”
Callum shakes his head.
Viktor looks at me, trying not to smile. “Okay, do you like dragons?”
“What about dragons and Vikings?”
Callum sits up straighter. “Are there battles and axes and swords and blood?” he asks excitedly.
“Of course,” Viktor says to him and then he looks at me. I’m shaking my head. No. Not a good idea before be-dtime.
“Or maybe not,” hecorrects himself.
“Awwww,” Callum whines.
“Or maybe a little.” Viktor nods at me. “Your sister can just cover her ears at that p@rt.”
I raise my brow and try to bite back a smile.
So Viktor launches into a story about a Viking prince named Erling. At first I know he’s ma-king it all up off the t©p of his head, but the more he goes into the story, the more it seems natural, real, and the more I get involved in it. Soon both Rosemary and Thyme are sitting together on Callum’s bean bag chair and listening intently to the battles and the wars and the Viking boats and the dragons and even the fair maidens that nee-d rescuing. There’s an evil king and a supernatural queen and a witch and flying whales.
By the time it’s all over–almost an hour later–Callum is both wired and half asleep. And out in the hallway is April, skulking around outside the door, having listened to most of it even though she would never dare admit it.
Now it’s late and everyone is tired and Viktor says he should get going.
I want to protest, but he’s right.
The cab is called.
I follow him out in front of the house, waiting with him for the cab. After that whole “can I k!ssyou” thing, I’m feeling a little slighted but still hopeful. Maybe this is it. Maybe he was waiting until we were really alone.
I gaze up at him, the moon rising behind him. He gazes down at me.
But the moment I start to think it might happen for real, Viktor’s eyes fly up to the windows behind me.
I turn around and look up to see everyone watching us from the be-droom windows, goofy smiles on their faces. I wave, sigh, and look back at Viktor with a wry smile.
“Always an audience, huh,” I say.
“I’m used to it,” he says just as the cab pu-lls up. “So tomorrow we’ll get more…professional.”
Professional? fv¢king great.
“Of course,” I tell him, pasting a smile on my face. “Thanks again for dinner.”
“It was my plea-sure,” he says and does a little bow.
I curtsey to him in return which makes him bur-st out laughing. Then he gets in the backseat and the cab drives off.
TWO DAYS LATER
“I don’t think you give yourself enough credit,” Viktor says, seemingly out of the blue.
We’ve been talking about the Swedish football (you know, soccer) for what feels like forever, so this change of conversation throws me.
“What are you talking about?” I ask, folding my legs up un-der me, careful not to knock over the bottle of wine between us.
It’s Wednesday evening and after two days of Viktor and I having rather “professional” meetings after work, either in coffee shops or in the minivan, I decided that enough was enough. I wanted to have some fun.
Actually it was Viktor who decided it. Maybe he could tell the interview was coming out stiff and formal after a while. Maybe it was because I was so damn rusty at it, maybe because I don’t actually like interviewing Viktor. I like talking to him, having an exchange of ideas, being honestly invested in what he says, because I want to, not because I have an article to write.
To be honest…I don’t think I want to do the article anymore. I haven’t completely vetoed the idea but I’m leaning toward it.
Even with the formalities of asking lot of questions and listening to the pla-yback to make sure I got it all, scribbling notes when something strikes me later, I keep feeling the same feeling I had when he made us dinner. That our relationsh!p, whatever it was, our time together, it was just for me and him. No one else. I want to keep it close to me and protect it like the fragile and precious thing it is.
And so today after work, Viktor picked me up in his sweet mustang, now fully-fixed thanks to some help from Pike, and we’re here, sitting on the t©p of the highest hills to the south of town, a pla-id blanket I found in the garage la-id out beneath us.
We have a bottle of wine. Actually two. Plus tubs of olives, slices of cheese, and onion and fig jam, and crackers. The sun is setting to one side of us, bathing us in gold that shines on the soft fresh gras-s of the rolling hills below us.
From here it looks like Tehachapi is another world, a beautiful world. Viktor wanted to go somewhere enchanting and this was the only place I could think of.
Right now, it feels like we’re the only two people left in the world.
Right now, it’s perfect.
He sighs and leans back so he’s propped up on one elbow, one of his long legs stretched out, the other knee bent, and though he has sunglas-ses on, his gaze is focused on the setting sun. “I’m talking about everything, Maggie. Everything you do.”
“We’re not talking about me here,” I tell him.
“We never talk about you,” he says. “It’s been nothing but me the last two days. Frankly, I’m boring.”
“You were the one who suggested I interview you,” I point out, popping an olive in my mouth. And you’re never boring.
He looks over at me. “I know. But tonight, it’s all you.”
“Then why have you been talking about soccer this whole time?” I ask with a teasing smile.
He takes his sunglas-ses off to give me a steady look, the blue of his eyes popping like cornflowers against the sunset. “It’s called football, my dear.”
“My dear. So formal.”
“Did you ever want kids?”He asks.
He just lays that question on my l@p, just like that.
I blink at him. “Excuse me? Did I ever want kids? Shouldn’t the question be, do I want kids? No wait,” I wave my hand dismissively, “why are we even talking about this.”
“Because I’m curious,” he says gravely. “Because the last two days I’ve been talking, and I’ve wanted nothing more than to hear you talk. Because I want you to tell me the things you keep inside, I want to be the man that you confide in, that you trust, that you want to let in.”
If that’s what you want, what even are we?
But I don’t ask that. Instead I run my hands over the pla-id, the scratchy wool pricking the s-en-sitive skin of my palm.
“Kids? Honestly, I never gave them much thought. When I was younger, having a family wasn’t on my mind. All I wanted was out of this town. I wanted to be the journalists you re-ad about, the ones out there getting the important stories, ma-king a difference in people’s lives, shining light on injustices. That’s what I wanted. I thought that getting out of this town and going to New York would change everything. So no, I never really wanted kids, I guess. I certainly didn’t think I would be saddled with five of them, that’s for sure.”
“And did it? Change everything, that is.”
I shrug, trying to ignore the pangs of regret, the disappointment. “It might have. I was never really given the chance. You have to un-derstand, one minute I was just a student at NYU, studying for clas-ses, p@rtying with friends, just trying to figure herself out on her own. The next I was here, and I was in charge of my brothers and sisters. I lost my mother, my father, hell, my dog. It’s only been a year. I’ve had no time to adjust.”
“I think you have,” he says.
I can’t help but glare at him. “You have no idea,” I snap.
His forehead creases in sympathy. “I know I have no idea. I have some idea, but not to your extent. I just don’t think you see yourself the way that I do, the way that others see you. That you’ve adjusted more to this than you think you have.”
I gnaw on myl-ip. I want to ask how he sees me, but I don’t have the courage right now. Suddenly I’m his focus. I think I’ve always been his focus but now he’s looking at me like I’m some puzzle he has to get to the bo-ttomof and he won’t st©p until he does.
And I should open up to him because he’s a stranger. No, he’s not a stranger anymore, he’s Viktor. He’s not the crown prince of Sweden either, he’s just Viktor. But Viktor leaves in a couple of days.
He leaves in a couple of days.
And I both want to let him in so I feel like someone out there knows me inti-mately, knows who I am and what I’m made of, and I also want to shut him out because if I let him in, a piece of myself will leave me and I’ll never get it back.
I’ll always think back to this and think, there’s a man out there, a prince, and he knows my de-epest thoughts and feelings and it might be freeing or it might be the opposite. Giving Viktor my heart might just put me in a cage.
It doesn’t seem fair to have someone get to know you right before you never see them again.
“So, how do you see me?” I whisper.
He stares at me for a few long moments, taking in the different corners and features of my face. In this light, with the sun setting behind him, the gold in his brown hair glows.
“I see a young girl, a strong girl, who had to give up her dreams and everything she wanted in life in order to do the right thing. I see a woman who made a choice to do the right thing, which was to take care of her family. Her brothers and her sisters who mean the world to her. She decided to step up and be their guardian, the one to protect them, the one to raise them. I see a woman whose strength not only lies in the day to day but in the choice to be there forever.”
I look away from his gaze, feeling like he’s peeling back too many layers and only seeing what he wants to. “I had no choice.”
“Of course you did,” he says. “You had a choice to tell the courts that you weren’t capable of raising your siblings. Legal guardian or not, they would have taken one look at you and seen how young you were, seen your lack of experience and education, maybe even the trauma that you had gone throu-gh when you lost them. They would have given them to a state worker or whatever you call them here. But that didn’t happen. That wasn’t even option for you, was it?”
I shrug. “It had to be me. There was no one else.”
“You wouldn’t have done it if you didn’t think you were strong, if you didn’t think you could handle it. You would have quit. But you didn’t, Maggie. That’s strength unlike any I have seen. And, in time, maybe you’ll see it too.”
“I don’t feel strong though,” I tell him. “I just feel like I’m constantly trying.”
“There is great strength in trying. It’s like working a muscle. The more you try to do something, the more you try to do better, the stronger you’ll get.”
A silence falls between us as the last of the sun disappears. Dark blue seems to drift down from above.
“I’m only strong because I’ve been lucky so far. I don’t know what’s around the bend, especially with April. And I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it. I never asked for any of this.”
“I know. But that’s life. Life is about ma-king the best out of what you’ve been given.”
I stare at him, sometimes so lost in the beauty of his face that I forget to see that sadness swimming beneath his eyes.
Somehow it seems even more apparent in the dusk. “It sounds like that should apply to you, too.”
He gives me a slow nod and looks away. “You’re good at switching the subject.”
All of our conversations the last couple of days–or at least the questions I’ve lobbied his way–have been quite shallow and safe. They have to be. Something painful and in-depth, Viktor would never agree to that. He’s as guarded to the others back home, the public, his family, as he is to me here.
“You’re good at avoiding the personal questions,” I rally back.
“You’ve never asked me any personal questions.”
“Okay, then I will,” I tell him, adjusting my position to pour myself my second glas-s of wine. “You had told me on our first d@t£, well, our only d@t£,” he frowns at that, “that you were running away from something. What was that?”
“Is this on the record?”
“Of course not,” I tell him before I have a sip of wine. “This is between you and me.”
“All right,” he says. He turns over so he’s on his side, facing me, his face open. A breeze ruffles a few wisps of hair. He clears his throat de-eply. “My brother committed suicide.”
I still, the wine nearly sli-pping out of my hands. I place it down on the blanket and hold it upright, my grip ti-ght on the stem.
I had no idea this was what he was going to say.
He goes on, voice lower, maybe trying to mask the tremor in it. “He took a bunch of medication our doctor prescribe-d him. I was the one who found him. Not his guards, not his secretary, not his parents. Me. I found him because I wanted to check up on him. You see,” he trails off, looks off, wrestling with a bitter smile.
“He had actually called me a few days before saying he nee-ded to talk to me and I blew him off. I couldn’t even tell you why. Maybe because I was going throu-gh a rou-gh patch myself, maybe because Alex was always the strong one, the perfect one. Of course we all knew better. My parents pretend they didn’t know, but they all knew fv¢king better.”
I’m holding my breath as he tells me this, feeling like if I make it seem like I’m not here, it might be easier for him to talk, to continue. At the same time, I don’t want him to relive any pain, I don’t want him to hurt.
He takes in a shaking breath, his nostrils flaring. “Alex never wanted to be on the throne. He never wanted to be the direct heir. It’s not that…okay, the job, the role itself, it’s extremely stressful. It might not be what it used to be, but at the same time it’s not for the weak, not for the timid. There are rules, there are obligations, your freedom and your privacy are str!pped. I personally think the roles should be appointed and not throu-gh birth. Appointed to those who want them, who earn them. If that had been the case, well Alex would have never been prince and I wouldn’t be either. But here we are.”
He reaches for the bottle of wine, unscre-ws the cap in one motion and then pours a big, messy glas-sful before downing half of it in one gulp. After that, his breath seems to slow.
“Alex,” he says, after letting out a de-ep exhale, “was a perfectionist. Always was. My parents can be tough. He had a lot he had to live up to. From an early age he cared very much about being perfect. About being strong. Unfeeling, even. The more he did that, the older he got, the more shut off he bec@m£. He had a…an inner world, if you can imagine. A world I didn’t un-derstand. I tried to but he wouldn’t let me in. He wouldn’t let anyone in, which is probably why he never married, never had a serious girlfriend for long. There were rumors, of course, that he was g@y but that wasn’t the case. It was just that Alex started to separate that inner world of his from the outer world and the more disconnect that happened, the ha-rder he had to appear normal and perfect. The pressure crushed him in the end. That’s all it was. The pressure. God, how alone he must have felt. So alone that he reached out to me and I c@m£ to him too late.”
He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose, shoulders slumped. He breathes in and out and I wish there was something I could do or say. Putting my hand on his back and telling him how sorry I am feels so trivial.
And yet I have to think about how I wanted people to be around me right after my parent’s death. People always meant well but pithy remarks never meant much to me. What mattered was knowing that someone was there for me. That I wasn’t alone.
Viktor has been nothing but alone in this.
“I un-derstand,” I tell him, my words so soft they almost disappear on the breeze. I won’t share with him what I want to, how I can relate, that I blame myself sometimes for my parents’ death. It’s absurd, I know, I was on the other side of the country. I just think that had I not been in New York, had I been at home, it wouldn’t have happened.
But I know that comparisons don’t help. Every death is different. So I inch closer to him and I put my hand on his back and though it feels trivial still, like it’s not enough, I can only hope it is.
“Maggie,” he says, voice choked.
“I’m here,” I tell him, bringing my knees in closer so I’m now hvgging him from the side. It’s an awkward angle, I’m not quite comfortable, and yet I’m not going anywhere. I hold onto him as if I can somehow absorb all his grief and combine it into mine. Maybe I don’t think I’m strong enough to be me but right now I’m strong enough for him.
“I know this isn’t like the old days,” he says, moving his face so it’s nestled in my arms, his words muffled.
“I know that the monarchy doesn’t hold the power that it once did. But I am so afraid of taking this role. My whole life I lived with knowing it didn’t matter, that I would never likely be king. I was the one no one paid attention to and I liked it, I fv¢king liked it, because I could fail on my own and no one would notice. But now a whole country is watching. A whole country is measuring me against Alex. They never knew the truth about him, other than that he was poised and perfect. They never will know the truth. But with that comes the fact that I’ll never be enough. And that was fine before when no one cared…but now…”
“Viktor, Viktor,” I whisper to him, cradling his head, feeling his soft hair un-der my hands. “My moose.” I feel him smile faintly against me. “You are more than enough. So much more. You live by your family’s moto so well. Always more, never less. You are the always more and you…you fv¢king astound me. You know, growing up, as a little girl, you have fantasies about princes. Blame it on Disney, blame it on the fairy tales. You want that man to be noble and kind and powerful and oh so good-looking.” I let out a soft laugh. “Man, I thought Prince Eric was such a babe.”
“From The Little Mermaid?” he mumbles into me.
“Yes. Him and Prince Philli-p. The way he slayed that dragon for her…anyway. These princes were ingrained in our heads as children and as we got older, we not only realized that Prince Charming was never coming for us, but that we didn’t want him. The real princes seemed so stuffy, so cold. Don’t get me wrong, I love Prince Harry and I guess William is okay, but in general, the term prince lost its meaning. It no longer conjured up the fantastic. But you…you Viktor, you are a prince in every way shape and form. You emb©dy the word, you are selfless and kind and proud and smart and noble and you care, more than anything, you care. You’re the prince that every girl had a fantasy about but you’re more than that, because you’re real. You’re so real. And you’re here right now and you’re with me and I can’t…I can’t thank you enough.”
He raises his head to look at me. His eyes search my face as if he’s found something he’s lost and he has to double-check that it’s still his.
“What about Prince, the musician?” he asks and though his voice is hoarse, there’s a flutter of amusement in his eyes.
I can’t help but smile. “Different prince,” I tell him. “Everyone wants that prince and to be that prince.”
Viktor stares at me, giving only the subtlest of nods. I’m very aware that my arms are still wra-pped around him from the side but I can’t figure out how to let go or if I even want to.
I never want to.
“I’m going to k!ssyou,” he says as he gazes up at me, heat burning throu-gh whatever sadness was there before.
I laugh sharply. “Is that so? Because I don’t—”
What I was going to say was I don’t believe you.
But all of that falls away the moment he places one large, warm hand against my small face and presses hisl-ips to mine.
For a moment I’m stilled.
Every atom around us slows and slows until the world focuses on just one thing.
His step into this great unknown.
My leap off the cliff.
Viktor is k!ss!ngme, hisl-ips moving against mine in a long, sweet, soft embr@ce until my ownl-ips are dancing with his. He tastes like wine and salt and something I never knew I nee-ded, never knew I craved, until right now. He k!sses me with confidence, like he knows how to k!ssme alre-ady and somehow he alre-ady does. As our k!ssde-epens, our mouths open in unison, our ton-gues tease and t©uçh and li-ck like we are discovering who the other is for the first time.
Then his f!ngerspress into the side of my face and another hand comes up to gr-ab the back of my n£¢k and I’m pitching backward onto the blanket. I know that food and wine and plates and knives are below me but I don’t care. I will roll around in a sea of wine, I so don’t care.
But he has me, his grip strong as ever and he lowers me back gently to the ground, brushing away anything in the way until I feel the wool blanket scratch at the back of my n£¢k.
Now he’s p@rtially on t©p of me and I’m so conscious of the weight of him, how big he is, and then I’m conscious of how much I’ve craved this. Craved this feeling of being un-der him, being dominated, no matter how slightly, of being wanted, nee-ded.
Because now his k!sses are consuming me, not just his softl-ips and the we-t warmth of his mouth moving hungrily against mine, but that he holds me, as if I might b!ow away in the breeze, the way he presses into me. I can feel the ha-rd , long length of his d!¢k dig into my th!gh.
I’ve nee-ded this. I didn’t realize how badly until now, the fact that he has me in his grasp, that I’m feeling every single p@rt of me scream to life. It has me shaken to the core and…
Hisl-ips trail away from my mouth, places soft and ha-rd k!sses along the length of my jaw, then down the side of my n£¢k. I can tell he’s eager from the way he’s rushing, his stubble cutting across my skin, the way he bites me just sharp and quic-k enough. Then he’s battling himself, a low m0@n escaping him, the kind of m0@n that makes me we-t in a second. His breath becomes labored as he struggles to regain control, tries to slow down. The bites turn to li-cks, long we-t swaths of his ton-gue in an attempt to soothe his damage.
But I want to be damaged. I don’t want the poised and regal Viktor that I’ve seen lately, the one in the suit, the one who always knows the right things to say. I want a Viktor that’s raw and messy and wild. I want him to fv¢k me up before he fv¢ks me, fv¢k me up while he fv¢ks me. I want to see him lose all control and struggle to regain it back.
He gro-an s into the hollow of my n£¢k, his hands gliding down the sides of my w@!st. I buck up into him, aware of how desperate I must seem and yet I don’t care. I want him, all of him, fast and ha-rd , I just want to be free of this constant craving I have, an itch that I’m begging to be scratched.
Set me free, the thought shoots throu-gh my head like jagged lightning.
He’s trying. His hand slides between my th!ghs, his knee p@rting my legs, and I curse myself for wearing jeans, for the thick wall of fabric between my s-en-sitive flesh and his willing f!ngers.
My phone rings, the sound shooting between us like a lancer.
I ignore it. I have to. Nothing is more important than this, than having Viktor settle between my legs, than wanting to slide my hand into his jeans, feeling him pulse in my hand.
But something is.
Something that Viktor realizes.
He pu-lls away, breathing ha-rd , his eyes glazed with hunger and lvst that only turns me on more. God, I’m so fv¢king we-t I swear that I’m drowning.
“Your phone,” he manages to say, pressing the ti-ps of his f!ngersinto my cheek.
I nod. “It will go to voice mail,” I say breathlessly, my hands going behind his n£¢k, trying to bring his face back to mine, to svçkon those plushl-ips of his.
Not that I ever, ever check voice mail.
Viktor frowns and I know that he won’t relent until I answer it. He thinks it could be the kids.
And one glance at the phone tells me that it’s Pike.
I roll away from un-der Viktor and put the phone to my ear, trying not to sound like I was moments away from having S-x. “Pike?”
“Maggie we have a problem.”
Oh $h!t fv¢k.
“What?” My heart was alre-ady getting a workout, now it’s stepping it up a notch.
“April went back to Tito’s.”
I gro-an , closing my eyes. Just the other day I had tried to talk to her about why a guy like that was bad news, not to mention he could go to jail if it continued between them. She wouldn’t have any of it, not even when I started pleading with her to at least use c0nd0ms and birth control if she’s going to do it anyway. Even when I was fourteen and I got my first b©yfri£nd, my angst levels weren’t cranked that high.
“I’m going after her,” Pike says.
“Do you nee-d back-up?”
“No, I have the cops,” he says. “One of the guys who comes into the shop regularly is an officer. I told him what was happening and he said they’re all very aware of the guy. Not sure if we can prove anything but at least this way it’ll scare the both of them.”
“Yeah until April decides to be a martyr or something.”
“Anyway, I’m going over there with the officer. I nee-d you to come home and watch the rest.”
I know if I really wanted to I could bring up the fact that Rosemary and Thyme are old enough to take care of Callum and had recently volunteered. But I know I’m nee-ded. As much as I want to, I’m not going to continue to roll around on this hill with Viktor while all this other $h!t is going on.
“I’ll be right there,” I tell him. “Thank you for getting her, for doing this.”
“No problem,” he says and hangs up.
“What is it?” Viktor asks. He’s now sitting up, watching me with concern.
I sigh and adjust myself, adjust my clothes. “April. As usual. She’s back with Tito but Pike is going over there with the cops. Maybe he’ll end up in jail. Tito, that is.”
Viktor nods. “I’ll take you home.”
Something inside me sinks. Suddenly. Like my heart has been weighted down with concrete. The idea that he’s going to take me home after this, after I’d finally gotten a taste of what we could be, how good it could be, feels so…finite. He leaves so soon and it’s like every second we have together counts.
Actually I’m hating myself for spending the last two days interviewing him for some article when I could have been k!ss!nghim. fv¢king him. Being with him on so many different levels, so many ways that count. From the first moment hisl-ips met mine I knew that this was what was supposed to have happened all along. This was how we were supposed to know each other.
“Hey,” Viktor says softly, reaching over to cu-p my cheek. “There’s no cow on the ice.”
I can’t help but laugh. It’s a sad laugh because, $h!t, I can’t let this be it for us. And it’s a warm laugh because here he is, always trying to make me smile.
But after he leaves for good, I’m not sure how I’ll ever smile again.
When I wake up the next morning I struggle to remember where I am. For the first time since I ended in this wayward town, I feel like a different person. I wake up feeling like I’ve gone somewhere else entirely, not just inside my mind.
But I’m still here. Lying on the h0tel be-d. A be-d that’s made every day by Maggie McPherson. I’ve learned to go out to the lobby or into the town for a walk when she’s in the hallway with the maid cart, coming to clean the room.
It’s so damn weird, to be honest, to see her doing that role. It seems to diminish her. Not that being a housekeeper is anything to sneeze at but because it seems like such a constricting job choice for someone so dynamic. Maggie is smart and bold and strong and effortlessly funny. Here she keeps her head down. Cleans the rooms to meticulous standards.
Pretends not to know me.
That p@rt kills me. I know why she has to do it. I know she’s afraid that the h0tel will find out and have problems and fire her. I also know that it’s just something she’s doing to get by and that if she lost this job, she thinks she would lose everything.
But I don’t think she would lose anything, she would only gain.
I have a little fantasy that I keep to myself.
It doesn’t involve Maggie in her maid uniform, although that’s always a plus.
It involves me asking Maggie to come back to Stockholm with me.
To start over with her life there.
But that fantasy is as far-fetched as most are. That’s why they are fantasies and not dreams. Dreams are attainable. Fantasies are in another galaxy all together.
But in a fantasy, there are no rules and so you can imagine whatever you wish.
In mine, Maggie comes to Stockholm. With her whole family.
Everyone gets uprooted.
She lives with me in one of the palaces that I’m supposed to move into upon my return. The kids live on the other end of the property, attended by nannies and teachers and anything they nee-d.
None of them will ever have to want anything. They won’t have to struggle or worry. Their futures will be open, they’ll have all the money they nee-d. There will be no guilt, just the security of knowing they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.
And Maggie will be my queen.
Not at this moment but eventually.
Then my queen.
And she will rule (as much as a modern queen would rule), ma-king the changes that are so so-rely nee-ded. Sweden may be one of the best countries in the world to live in with the best healthcare and education and social services, but there is always better work to be done.
The fantasy is so realistic it almost borders on a dream.
Except that it’s all crazy to even think about.
Maggie and I don’t know each other enough.
We aren’t in a relationsh!p.
She would never come to Sweden for me.
I don’t think she’d go in general.
She’d never agree to pu-ll everyone out of school to move them there.
It just plain wouldn’t work for a million reasons.
So I tuck that fantasy away, knowing that one day I’ll draw upon it and pretend it happened and feel, for once, that I’m living the life that I’m supposed to, a life that I want to.
But this morning, the fantasy is in full-swing. It won’t leave.
Maybe because at last I finally k!$$£d her.
It wasn’t that I found the nerve. It’s that I couldn’t wait a second longer.
The way she held me, the way she told me she un-derstood, I felt it like I’d never felt it before. To be seen. To be heard. To have someone dig de-ep enough to try and figure out what you nee-ded to hear, what you nee-ded to feel.
What you nee-d in every cell in your b©dy.
I k!$$£d her and it was like my whole life bec@m£ condensed to that little flashpoint. Every k!ssthat c@m£ before was obliterated and every k!ssthat comes after will never measure up, so as long as it’s with someone other than her.
That k!ssundid me in ways I didn’t see coming.
And so now I’m here, I’m sleepy and I’m yearning to have her in this room with me. I know she’s out there in the halls somewhere doing her job.
But gr-abbing her and pu-lling her in here and having my way with her won’t be enough. It’s not what I really nee-d.
Always more, never less.
I get up out of be-d and sl!pon my pajama p@n-ts and robe and then head out into the hall. It’s 9 a.m. which means she’s cleaning the third floor at the moment, so I make sure the coast is clear and then head up the stairs.
I look up and down the hall until I see a cart and then I quic-kly head toward it.
There’s a chance, of course, that it’s not her cart but I peek my head into the room with the door open and I see Maggie sorting out the curtains, the sun shining throu-gh them like clouds.
With her back turned to me, I sneak inside the room and wait for her to notice, a surprise much like the one where we first met.
She turns around and then opens her mouth to yell.
Thankfully no words come out.
I quic-kly stalk over to her and gr-ab her, pu-lling her to the side of the be-d so we’re just out of the line of sight from the hallway.
“god morgon(good morning) ” I murmur to her in Swedish, one hand holding the back of her thin n£¢k like you’d handle a delicate flower stem, the other hand sli-pping down to the small of her back.
Before she can protest, I k!ssher softly on thel-ips, pu-lling back just enough to hear her protestations.
“What are you doing here, you can get me killed!” she hisses at me.
I smile, raising a brow. “Killed? Is that how it is in this country?”
She narrows her eyes at me. “Fired. If I get fired, you’re paying for me for the rest of my life.”
Little does she know that’s something I would love to do.
“I have another proposition for you,” I tell her, my eyes drifting between the depths of her brown eyes and the peach sheen of her lushl-ips.
“Another interview?” she asks dryly, her eyes flitting to the door and back, her muscles tense.
I pu-ll her over until I’m against the wall and I’m holding her to me. “Come with me to LA.”
She stares at me for a moment before her chin j£rks back. “LA? Now?”
“Tomorrow,” I explain. “Or tonight. Come with me. The car is fixed, it’ll be an easy drive, we’ll get a h0tel…”
I was hoping that last bit would pique her interest but her expression hasn’t changed.
“I can’t go to LA,” she says, shaking her head.
I ignore the sinking feeling in my che-st. “Why not?”
“Because I have a job, Viktor,” she says thumbing at the collar of her uniform. “An actual job that I nee-d in order to support everyone.”
I won’t be deterred. “Don’t you have vacation days in this country?”
“Yeah, we do, I do, but it’s so last notice.”
“Maggie,” I say gently, l!çk!ng myl-ips, “you work six days a week. No human can keep that up in the long run. So not only are you owed this vacation but you nee-d to take this vacation. It’s just a few days, regardless. Tonight maybe, Friday and Sunday. You have Saturday off, yes?”
“It’s on short notice,” she says again but I can see something in her eyes is relenting.
“But it doesn’t hurt to ask, does it?”
“But the kids. Who will take care of them?”
“If you’re suggesting they come too, well, I know I sound completely selfish Maggie, but I want you all to myself. Every single inch of you.”
My hands disappear into the soft strands of her hair and I have to hold myself back from k!ss!ngher mid-s£ntence.
“I guess I could ask my friend Annette,” she says after a moment. She saws her lower l!pbetween her teeth. It makes me fv¢king ha-rd . I want a taste. “She always says she’ll look after the house and them if I wanted to go away for a weekend.”
I raise my brows and stare at her expectantly. “So then…”
She starts tapping her foot against the ground to some invisible drum solo as she looks around the room, thinking.
I let her think. I take a step back from her, giving her space.
Finally, she shoots me a worried, yet hopeful, glance. “Do you think I should?”
I grin and gr-ab her arms, pu-lling her so she’s flat up against me. I press my hands on both sides of her face, holding her still, forcing her to look at me with those big beautiful eyes of hers.
“We only have a few days together until I leave. And until I leave, I want to spend every single second of the day with you by my side. From the moment I wake till the moment I sleep.”
I lean in and ru-b the ti-p of my nose against her, inhaling de-eply. My eyes closed.
“I’m not going back home until I know what you feel like from the inside, until I’ve tasted every sweet inch of your skin.”
She stiffens un-der my grasp and when I open my eyes, her cheeks are tinged with pink. I’ve minded my manners, I’ve stayed noble, but when it comes to taking her in the be-droom, all of that is gone. I won’t be royal. I’ll be a savage instead.
“You drive a ha-rd bargain,” she whispers and then bites her l!pcoyly when she realizes what she’s said.
I take her hand and press her palm against my d!¢k, alre-ady thick and straining to escape throu-gh the bu-tton-up fly of my pajamas. “You have no idea,” I say throu-gh a gr0@nas she grips me, cautious at first and then with an eagerness that makes her eyes shine.
“I have some idea,” she says, her words taking on this throaty, S-xy voice that str!ps away another layer of refinement, so close to unearthing the rou-gh, raw instincts inside me. “But we can’t do this here,” she says, shaking her head as if to shake some s-en-se into herself.
She re-moves her hand and takes a step back from me and I grind my teeth together, fighting the urge to gr-ab her and throw her on the be-d. I don’t fv¢king care whose room this is.
But I don’t. I control myself.
I give her space.
“Ask,” I tell her, clearing my throat. “plea-se. Now.”
She lets out a shaky breath. “Okay,” she says in a quiet voice but I can hear a tinge of excitement in it. “Let me ask Annette first,” she says, quic-kly pu-lling out her phone and scrolling throu-gh her contacts.