TWISTED GAMES by ANA HUANG, Book 2, Chapter No: 39, RHYS

“…REPORTS THE KING IS IN STABLE CONDITION AFTER HIS HEART attack four days ago. The palace asks the public to please respect the royal family’s privacy at this difficult time, while well-wishers have left thousands of cards and flowers outside the palace…” The news anchor’s voice droned from the TV in the corner as I stared down at the guard in front of me. “Let me be clear,” I said, my calm voice belying the fury churning inside me. “I’m going to see Princess Bridget today, one way or another. Don’t make this the hard way.” The guard drew himself up to his full height, which was still a good six inches shorter than me. “Are you threatening me?” I smiled, and he gulped. “Yes.” “Now you listen. I’m a Royal Guard—” “I don’t. Give. A. Shit.” I enunciated slowly and carefully in case he was too dumb to notice I was this close to shoving a syringe in his throat if he didn’t get out of my way. We stood outside the king’s private wing of the hospital. It’d been four days since the allegations about Bridget’s and my relationship broke and the king suffered a heart attack. Four days of not seeing her, talking to her, or knowing whether she was okay. Four days of fucking hell.
The palace had terminated my contract the same day the allegations came out, citing concerns over my ability to do my job due to my “increased media profile.” I didn’t care as much about the termination, which I’d expected, as I did not seeing Bridget before security escorted me off the grounds. She hadn’t answered my calls or texts since that day, and I needed to know she was okay before I lost my mind. Hell, I was already halfway there. “You’re not her bodyguard anymore,” the guard said. “Only family and approved staff are allowed inside. How did you get in here, anyway?” While part of me appreciated him standing his ground since he was right, I wasn’t allowed in, a much larger part was fast running out of patience. “Not your concern. What you should be concerned about is stepping aside before you have to explain to the Head of Royal Security how you ended up with a broken nose.” In truth, I’d had to disguise myself like a fucking pop star hiding from the press to get past the paparazzi camped outside the hospital. News of Bridget and me had taken a backseat to the king’s hospitalization, but my face had been splashed all over Eldorran TV, and I couldn’t risk someone spotting me. Things at the hospital were so crazy I snuck up to the VIP floor and the king’s private suite without detection. It didn’t say much about hospital or royal security, even if I could evade guards and cameras better than the average person. The guard opened his mouth, but before he could spew more bullshit, the door swung open. My heart soared for a second at the flash of blonde hair, only to crash back to earth when I saw Elin’s frown. “Mr. Larsen,” she said. “I thought I heard your voice.” She nodded at the guard. “I’ll take it from here.” Relief spread across his face, and I made a noise of disgust. I’d trained eighteen-year-old Navy recruits with more balls than him.
Elin opened the door wider, and I wasted no time in pushing past the guard and into the king’s wing. I didn’t see Bridget, but she could be in any of the half dozen rooms. The place was bigger than most people’s houses. “I assume you’re here to see Princess Bridget.” Elin crossed her arms over her chest, perfectly put together as always with her bun, suit, and heels. Not a hair out of place or a wrinkle on her clothing. I dipped my chin. “Where is she?” “The king’s room. Third door on the left.” Suspicion unfurled in my stomach. This is too easy. “Just like that?” Elin gave me a hard smile. “You’re already here, Mr. Larsen, and it’s safe to assume you won’t leave until you see her. I don’t engage in futile exercises, so please.” She gestured down the hall. “Go ahead.” My suspicion ramped up another notch, but fuck it, I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I walked to the king’s room and stopped in front of the door, my breath knotting in my throat when I saw Bridget through the small window. She sat next to her grandfather’s bed, holding his hand and looking smaller and more vulnerable than I’d ever seen her. Even from a distance, I spotted the paleness of her face and the redness of her eyes. Something grabbed my heart and twisted. Hard. I opened the door and stepped inside. “Hey, princess.” I kept my voice soft, not wanting to disturb the hushed quiet or wake up the king. Sunlight streamed through the windows on either side of the hospital bed, adding a touch of cheer to the somber mood, but there was no avoiding the beeping monitors, or the tubes stuck to Edvard’s chest. Bridget’s shoulders stiffened, and a few beats passed before she faced me. “Rhys. What are you doing here?” “I came to see you.”
Something felt off. Maybe it was the way she avoided my eyes or the tightness of her expression, but she’d gone through hell the past few days. I couldn’t expect her to throw herself into my arms with a big smile. “How’s your grandfather?” “Better. Weak, but stable.” She squeezed his hand. “They’re keeping him here a few more days, but they said he could be discharged next week.” “That’s good. Can’t be too bad if they’re letting him leave.” Bridget nodded, still avoiding my gaze, and unease rippled down my spine. “Let’s talk in another room. He just fell asleep.” She gave her grandfather’s hand another squeeze before we stepped into the hall. Elin was gone, and only the smell of antiseptic and faint beeps from the monitor on the other side of the door disturbed the air. “Here.” Bridget led me to a room two doors down. “This is where I’ve been sleeping.” My eyes swept over the space. It had a pullout couch, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. A thick blanket draped over the back of the couch, and a half-empty bottle of Coke sat on the table next to a pile of magazines. I pictured Bridget sleeping here alone, night after night, waiting to hear if her grandfather’s condition had worsened, and a needle of pain jammed into my heart. I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and hold her tight, but a strange distance stretched between us, giving me pause. She stood only a few feet away, yet it might as well be miles. “I’m sorry I haven’t answered your calls or texts,” she said, fiddling with the blanket. “It’s been a crazy couple of days. The palace is trying to figure out how the press got their hands on those photos of us, and between that and my grandfather’s hospitalization—” “I get it.” We could deal with all that later. “And you? How are you doing?”
“About as well as you’d expect.” She finally looked at me, her eyes tired and missing their usual sparkle, and the needle of pain pierced deeper. “Nik and I have been staying here overnight, but he went home to take care of some paperwork. He and Sabrina are postponing their honeymoon until Grandfather’s better.” She let out a weak laugh. “What a wedding present, huh?” Yeah, it sucked, but I didn’t give a crap about Nikolai and Sabrina. I only cared about one person in the world, and she was hurting. “Come here, princess.” I opened my arms. Bridget hesitated for a beat before she finally closed the distance between us and buried her face in my chest, her shoulders shaking. “Shh, it’s okay.” I kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair, a heaviness sinking into my bones at the sound of her soft sniffles. I’d weathered artillery fire, nighttime missions in subarctic temperatures, and more broken bones and near-fatal injuries than I could count, but Bridget crying came closer to breaking me than all those things combined. “No, it’s not. I almost killed him.” Bridget’s voice was muffled, but her pain shone through loud and clear. “He had a heart attack because of me.” I tightened my hold, her pain seeping through my skin until it became my own. “That’s not true.” “It is. You weren’t there. You don’t know…” She pulled back, her nose red and her eyes glassy. “We were having an emergency meeting about the news of…you and me. I confessed the allegations were true, and when he told me to end things with you, I refused. I was arguing with Markus about it when he collapsed.” She blinked, her lashes glittering with unshed tears. “It was me, Rhys. Don’t tell me it wasn’t my fault, because it was.” A deep fissure split my heart in half. Bridget already blamed herself for her mother’s death. To add the guilt from her grandfather’s heart attack on top of that…
“It’s not,” I said firmly. “Your grandfather has an underlying condition. Anything could’ve set it off.” “Yes, and this time it was me. He was supposed to cut back on his stress, and I gave him a year’s worth in one day.” Bridget’s laugh sounded hollow as she stepped all the way out of my embrace and wrapped her arms around her waist. “What a great granddaughter I am.” “Bridget…” I reached for her again, but she shook her head, her eyes fixed on the floor. “I can’t do this anymore.” Everything fell silent. My heartbeat, my pulse, the hum of the fridge and the ticking of the clock on the wall. Could I still be alive if my heart wasn’t beating? “Do what anymore?” My voice sounded strange in the vacuum Bridget’s words created. Lower, more guttural, like an animal ensnared in a trap of its own making. It was a stupid question. I knew the answer. We both knew. A part of me had been expecting this moment since our kiss in a dark hallway a lifetime ago, but still, I hoped. Bridget blinked, those beautiful blue eyes shimmering with heartache before they hardened, and my hope died a swift, fiery death. “This. Us.” She gestured between us. “Whatever we had. It has to end.”

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