Annette flips him over so he’s on his side and then brings out the wastebasket from the ensuite bathroom, placing it below him while I undo his boots.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to undress all of him,” she asks, brow raised.

“Shhh,” I say to her in a hush. “Keep your voice down.”

“Not answering my question.”

I ignore her and finish taking off his boots and with a sigh she starts struggling with his leather jacket, trying to remove it. He moans something softly, his eyes still closed, head flopping against the pillow as she finally gets it off him.

She sighs, folding the jacket up in her arms and staring down at him. “He really is handsome, isn’t he?”

I don’t say anything to that. I also don’t mention he’s wearing size 15 boots. I didn’t even know that size existed but it seems to coincide with the size of his dick.

When the other boot is off, I take the giant pair and place them against the wall as Annette puts the jacket down on the chair across from the bed. My mother always used that chair as a place to throw her uniform and clothes before crawling into bed. It was the only place and time she allowed herself to be messy and free. When morning came, everything was always neatly put away.

Annette gets an impish look in her eyes and suddenly reaches across the guy, her hands going for his pants.

“What are you doing?” I whisper harshly.

She bites her lip as she reaches around underneath his ass and then triumphantly pulls out his wallet.

“Ta-da.”

She flips it open and I come over to her side to peer at it.

There isn’t much to it. A Visa debit card with no name on it, a couple of bucks in cash, and picture ID. Annette takes it out of the slot and flips it over and back. It looks brand new, the black and white picture recent. It says Korkort Sverige on top, whatever that means, and below that Andersson Johan.

“Is Andersson is first name or last name?” she whispers to me. “Or his address?”

“Maybe his name is Korkort Sverige?”

“I think that’s Russian.”

“No, Russian uses a totally different alphabet.”

“What the fuck is going on here?” Pike’s voice bursts through the room and both of us jump in surprise, the wallet flying out of Annette’s hands and onto the bed, landing right on Korkort Sverige’s broad chest.

I suck in my breath, waiting for him to wake up, but he only stirs slightly.

I turn to look at Pike who is staring at both of us incredulously, his hair mussed from sleep. “Why are you…” he takes a step toward us and his eyes go to the stranger’s legs sticking off the end of the bed. “Who the hell is that?”

“It’s a long story,” I tell him. “And keep your voice down.”

Pike looks to Annette expectantly. “What’s happening? Why are you both in here and who the hell is this guy on the bed?” He comes over to us and stares down at him. “Shit, is he dead?”

“No,” I tell him, putting my hands on his shoulders and pushing him back. “He’s very drunk and he’s sleeping it off here.”

“But who is he?”

“Korkort Sverige,” I tell him. “He’s foreign, he’s drunk, he was staying at the hotel and we saw him at the bar and it was either he stays here, or the cops put him in the drunk tank.”

He stares at me blankly. “And what was wrong with the drunk tank?”

“Look, I’m sure he’ll just wake up in the morning and be on his way.”

Pike is not convinced. I don’t blame him. I am absolutely crazy for doing this. Funny thing is, I haven’t felt this engaged about something in, well, in a long time.

“If you think I’m going to sleep a wink tonight with a stranger in the house, you are sadly mistaken,” he eventually grumbles. “I’m going to be stationed outside his door with a gun.”

I glare at him. I hate that he’s kept my parent’s guns, considering what happened to them. “It’ll be fine.”

“Well since Pike’s got a handle on this, I’m heading home,” Annette says. She puts her hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. “And I’m calling a cab. It’s probably best you stay here in case he wakes up. At least you’ll be a familiar face.”

If I am, it won’t be in a good way. “Are you sure?”

She’s already bringing out her phone and dialing as she walks past us. “I’m sure. Call me tomorrow and let me know how it goes, okay honey?” She gives Korkort one last look over her shoulder. “And good luck. I don’t approve of any of this but I supposed you have to make your own mistakes.”

When she’s left the room, I exchange a glance with Pike.

“What’s gotten into you?” he says to me.

“I honestly don’t know,” I say with a sigh. I reach over and pluck the wallet from his chest, holding it to me. If he tries anything, does anything, then at least I have proof of who he is.

Whoever he is.

Chapter Three

Viktor

Three Weeks Earlier

Stockholm, Sweden

* * *

“Your Royal Highness?”

The phrase strikes fear in my heart, prompting a rush of bitterness to flow through me like bile. I fix my eyes on Dr. Bonakov, a warning. “Please don’t call me that,” I tell him, my voice hard. “I’ve been seeing you practically my whole entire life and you’ve always called me Viktor.”

He gives me a placating smile, seeming unsure how to deal with me now, and hastily pushes his glasses further up his nose. In some ways Dr. Bonakov has been more of a father figure than my actual father, so to hear him speak to me so formally, it stings.

“You were always addressed as Your Royal Highness before,” he calmly points out.

“But not by you. That’s what you called Alex. I was always Viktor. I wish to remain Viktor to you.”

“All right, Viktor,” he concedes. He clears his throat, a sign of the lecture that’s about to follow. Maybe one reason he feels like a father figure is that he advises as much as he listens. “You know you’re supposed to contact me when things become too much. I shouldn’t have to hear it from your mother herself.”

I let out a sour laugh, adjusting myself on the couch. “One month ago my brother died. One month ago I became the heir to the throne, something you know I’ve never wanted. Things are permanently too much. Every second of every day. Do you seriously want a phone call every minute of every hour? Do you really want the agonizing play-by-play of how my life is fucking falling apart?”

He watches me carefully for a few moments, tapping his pen against his notepad. He’s seen my outbursts before but not like this. I’m not myself lately. I’m not sure I’ll ever be myself again.

Then he sighs, looks down at his paper. I relax a little now that his gaze is off of me. “I know this is a big transition for you. I know you’re grieving. Not only your brother but the loss of the life you had before. Things will take time.”

I grunt. How he can try and sum everything up so neatly is infuriating. Everyone always doles out words of apparent wisdom, catchphrases they think either encompass your whole experience or they say things that make themselves feel better.

It will take time.

You will come out stronger.

One day at a time.

He is always in our hearts.

Life isn’t a bed of roses.

Time heals all wounds.

It’s all bullshit.

“But,” he continues, “the only way that you’ll be able to get through this is to realize when you’re on the verge of losing control. When you’re drowning. When it overwhelms you, not just your new responsibilities, but the grief. The sorrow. If you don’t learn to manage it now, you’ll never be able to move forward.”

“I don’t fucking want to move forward,” I snap at him, the blood pounding hot in my head. “I want things to go back. I just want everything to go back.”

Silence fills the room. Because there’s nothing Dr. Bonakov can say. Nothing anyone can do. If I drown, I drown.

Tomorrow it will have been exactly one month since my older brother Alex died. He was only thirty-four. The public has no idea how he died. They have been fed neat little lies, something tidy enough to appease them. But I know the truth and that burden I carry, as we all carry, as loved ones who didn’t do enough to save him.

But none of us have been given enough space and time to grieve. I was never the media darling before. That was all Alex. Composed, kind, the stature of a king, it was Alex that everyone loved, that everyone wanted a piece of. I was always left more or less alone. I was a prince but he was the heir apparent, the future king. As long as I behaved myself, the people, the press, the world, took little interest in me.

All of that has changed. Been flipped on its head. My grief, my taking over his role, has caused a firestorm that is constantly trying to burn me down. Everywhere I go, everywhere I turn, people are there, eyeing me up like some exotic dessert that they want a bite of before anyone else. They want to see the sorrow in my eyes, they want to know how I will handle being the future king of Sweden. They want to see me rise to the challenge just as much as they want to see me fall.

I don’t think I can rise. I can barely get to my knees.

The doctor sighs and starts scribbling something quickly on his prescription pad. “With what happened to your brother, you know I’m wary about giving out strong medication, but I do think this will help you over the next coming while.”

He leans over and hands me the slip of paper. As usual, I can’t read his writing.

“Here,” he says as he gets up and goes over to his desk. He brings out a pill bottle and shakes two out into his hand. Then comes back over to me and places two small pills in my palm.

“Take one when you need peace,” he says. “See how it goes at first. You might not even need the prescription. But heed the warnings, please. Don’t take it with alcohol. Take it when you’re alone and needing comfort of the heart.”

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