Home > The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)

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

Prologue

Maggie

New York City

* * *

“That is the absolute last time I’m trying online dating,” Sam says to me with an exaggerated sigh as she leans back in the couches we’ve taken over in the corner of the bar.

“What happened this time?” I ask her this out of courtesy because I know she’s going to tell me anyway. Plus, Sam is a pro at online dating at this point. It doesn’t matter how many times she says she’s quitting, the next day she’s back in the proverbial saddle, swiping left and right and complaining about dick pics. I should probably note that she doesn’t exactly complain about getting them, it’s just that the dicks in said pics aren’t up to her standards.

“What didn’t happen?” she says, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. “I mean, we just met up for drinks down in the village, which is fine. Super casual, you know? And in person he was a tiny bit more attractive than his picture online.”

“Which pic, the one in his profile or his unsolicited dick pic?” I ask.

“For your information, no dick pics were sent, unsolicited or not. Anyway, so he wasn’t bad looking though I could already tell we didn’t have that easy chemistry I hoped we would. Halfway through the date, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going home with him. Then he showed me his sex playlist.”

I raise my brows. “Sex playlist?”

“Yeah. On his phone. And the music was really good.” She shrugs. “So I slept with him.”

“You’re insane.”

“I know. I know.” She shakes her head before picking up her margarita and leaning over to take a loud slurp of it. “Worst part is, he put it on shuffle and I hadn’t seen the entire list. So when he was going down on me, Never Going to Give You Up came on.”

I burst out laughing. “You were Rick-rolled during sex?”

She nods frantically. “I couldn’t come if my life depended on it! So I said I had to leave and quickly got out of there. Highlight of the night was getting a kebab on the way home. My life is a never-ending cycle of bad decisions and falafel.”

She’s kind of right about that. Sam is my closest friend here in the city, which counts for a lot since I’ve been living in New York for nearly two years now and making friends is harder than you think. Luckily we’re both in the same journalism program and we’ve bonded over hating most of our teachers and the dismal dating scene.

At least Sam is putting herself out there night after night. I won’t even look at Tinder or Huggle or any of those oddly-named apps, even though Sam has created a profile for me absolutely everywhere. I might be just twenty-two years old but I’m pretty old fashioned when it comes to dating and still have it in the romantic recesses of my heart that I can meet someone in real life, rather than online.

Of course, this has proved to be nearly impossible in this city. Don’t get me wrong–NYC is a million times better than my hometown of Tehachapi, California. The only guys in that town are ex-convicts from the state prison, and with my father being a prison guard there, there would be some definite disapproval.

But New York is just too big and chaotic to date. Everyone looks like a model, first of all, and while I’m fairly thin and not too hard on the eyes, I look like some tiny, cute, big-eyed pixie. Looks wise, I’d like to say I’m about an eight out of ten in Tehachapi, probably a six out of ten in the Midwest, but in the supermodel streets of Manhattan, I’m pretty much a Chihuahua. Woof.

Still, I’m holding out hope. Hope that one day, while I’m in a bookstore, I’ll be reaching for the last copy of the new Neil Gaiman just as someone else is and my fingers will brush his and I’ll look up and find the man of my dreams. I know that’s a terribly optimistic way to look at love, but I can’t help it. I never held out for a prince charming until I moved here, where a new beginning seems to be waiting around every corner.

Hell, I don’t even need love right now. What I really need is to get laid and I know I don’t need Prince Charming for that. We might reach for the same book in a bookstore but I’d be just as happy if he slammed me up against those bookshelves and fucked me senseless. Sam’s been getting dick left and right–dicks flying all over the place–and I’m hard up for even just one.

“You’ll find someone,” I say to Sam. “And he’ll have a better sex playlist than that guy. Here, let me buy you a drink.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she says, putting her hand on my arm and forcing me to stay seated. “You know you’re broke as fuck and this is one pricey drink.”

Also true. I got a scholarship to NYU and the journalism program, thanks to studying my ass off for years, but I could only afford to move here thanks to working my ass off for years. My family doesn’t come from money–that’s putting it mildly–and even though my parents both work, my father as a prison guard, my mother as a hotel housekeeper, they still have six kids, including me, to support.

The only reason I’m here right now is because I spent my evenings during high school working with my mom at the local La Quinta. Even now I’m working most nights and weekends as a barista at a coffee shop around the corner from the residence halls, and I’m barely scraping by.

I give Sam a grateful look, though I honestly wish I could do more. “How about I just sprinkle good blessings on you?” I reach into my purse I picked up from the thrift shop, a terrible fake of a Gucci that’s made from plastic rather than leather, and take out a small jar of gold glitter eye shadow. I dip my fingers in and before she has a chance to object, I sprinkle some on her head.

“What are you doing?” she shrieks, trying to get out of the way, but she’s laughing. Soon she’s covered in a very light dusting of gold.

“I used to do this to my sister April all the time,” I tell her, putting the shadow back. I don’t want to waste it. “She believed it.”

“And where is your sister now?”

“Well she’s only thirteen and I think if I tried this again she’d give me the evil eye and never speak to me again. Teenage angst, you know.” Actually, at this moment, all of my siblings are out with my seventeen-year-old brother Pike, the oldest after me. There’s a fair or something down in Bakersfield that they’ve made the trek to, I guess to give my parents a night of peace for once.

Knowing that my siblings are all together like that makes my heart ache, just a little. I don’t get homesick often. I mean, I’d been dreaming about leaving that town for most of my life. But every now and then it hits me for a moment, usually passing quickly. Tonight is one of those nights.

In fact, I’ve had this weird feeling in my chest for most of the evening, a sense of unease. I’m prone to worry about things like money and school and my lack of love life but this is something different, something I can’t put my finger on. I consider myself to be quite intuitive so I probably should pay attention, but I just don’t know how.

“Are you okay?” Sam asks me, staring at me inquisitively. “Why don’t I buy you a drink?”

“I’m fine,” I tell her. “Just vibed out for no real reason.”

“It’s not the company, is it?”

I grin at her. “No, not tonight.”

“Then you look like you could use a drink. I’ll be right back.”

Normally I would protest a bit but Sam comes from money and is quite generous with it. It makes me feel small sometimes that she often has to pay for me to do the things she wants to do, but that’s just my own pride. And tonight, I do think I could use a drink to settle my nerves.

I watch her as she goes to the bar, her lithe, barre-class sculpted body capturing the eyes of every guy in the room. You wouldn’t even think she’d need Tinder and all those dating apps, but most guys are too intimated to talk to her.

Then there’s me. Guys will sometimes approach me once I smile at them (I have a pretty severe case of resting bitch face otherwise), but then, once I open my mouth, I usually say something awkward or off-putting. My sense of humor can be odd and I’m not always on everyone’s frequency.

I lean back into the couch, doing that thing where I’m scoping the crowd but trying not to make eye contact with the wrong guys. And by wrong guys, I mean the ones you have no interest in, ones who take a mere meeting of the eyes to mean something a whole lot more. I don’t know why simply looking at someone means you want to have sex with them but anyway.

My phone vibrates in my purse and I fish it out.

It’s a call from April which is weirder than weird. Maybe she could sense I was talking about her?

But even as I’m about to answer it, the unease in my chest builds and twists and I know this isn’t a matter of her checking in with me and seeing how I’m doing. That’s not like her. Something is wrong.

And usually when something is wrong, Pike or my parents would call me, not her.

My heart races as I press the talk button.

“April?” I ask, plugging my other ear and turning away from the noise of the bar.

Crying. I hear crying on the other end, sobbing, a kind of crying that isn’t born of a teenager getting dumped or bullied, but of something unfathomably worse.

“April? Is this you? What’s wrong?” I ask, trying not to sound panicked.

“Maggie,” she sobs. “Oh my god, oh my god. Maggie, they’re dead!”

Time seems to fold in on itself in slow motion.

The terror flowing through me is spreading, slow sticky fingers that take over every muscle.

“Who is dead?” I cry out softly.

Oh god.

Who?

Who?

“They were murdered!” she cries, then erupts into even louder sobs. “The guy, he came for dad.”

Oh my god.

“He came for him, we weren’t there,” she goes on in hysterics. “Maggie, he shot them both, they’re dead. Mom and dad are dead.”

“I…” I don’t know what to say, what to feel. Surely this isn’t actually happening. This isn’t happening. This has to be a joke or a misunderstanding or maybe I’m dreaming? I look around me and I just see blurs and colors. I must be dreaming. “Are you…are you sure? Where is Pike?”

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