TWISTED GAMES by ANA HUANG, Book 2, Chapter No: 41,RHYS

MY FIRST TASTE OF ALCOHOL BURNED. SO DID THE SECOND. By the time I made it through half the bottle of whiskey, however, it’d stopped burning and started numbing, which was the best I could’ve hoped for. In the two days since Bridget ended things, I’d spiraled. Hard. I hadn’t left my hotel room since I returned from the hospital–partly because I had nowhere to go and partly because I had zero interest in dealing with the paparazzi. I had enough problems without getting charged with assault. I lifted the bottle to my lips as I watched The Daily Tea. The hospital discharged Edvard yesterday, and now that the king was no longer in mortal danger, the press had dived back into breathless speculation about me and Bridget. If they only knew. The whiskey seared down my throat and pooled in my stomach. I should turn the show off because half the shit they came up with was utter crap—like their claims Bridget and I had an orgy with a certain pop star couple in the south of France—but as masochistic as it was, their video clips of her were the only way I could get my fix. I wasn’t addicted to alcohol, not yet, but I was addicted to Bridget, and now that I no longer had her, I was going through withdrawal. Clammy skin, nausea, difficulties sleeping. Oh, yeah, and a giant fucking hole the size of Alaska in my chest. That wasn’t
listed on the Addicts Anonymous website. I can’t be with a bodyguard. I’m meant to be with a duke. Days later, and the memory still cut deeper than a serrated hunting knife. Bridget hadn’t meant it. I knew that. The words were cruel, and she was anything but cruel. But they mirrored my doubts—about how I wasn’t good enough and how she deserved better—too much for them not to affect me. I hit the bottom of the bottle. I tossed it aside in disgust, hating myself for sinking so low I’d turned to alcohol and hating myself even more for leaving things the way I had with Bridget. I’d walked out on her in the heat of the moment, when the anger and hurt had overridden everything else, and I’d regretted it before I even hit the lobby. She’d done what she thought she had to, and it fucking broke my heart, but it wasn’t her fault. As if on cue, the camera cut to a shot of Bridget exiting the hospital with the king and her brother. She was elegant and polished, as always, but her smile looked empty as she waved to the press. Sad and lonely, two things I never, ever wanted her to be. My chest burned, and it wasn’t from the whiskey. At the same time, something hardened within me: determination. Bridget wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy. And it was about damn time I did something about it. I didn’t give a fuck what the law said. She wasn’t marrying Steffan. I’d visit every minister in Parliament and force them to rewrite the law if I had to. Someone knocked. “Housekeeping.” My spine turned rigid at the familiar voice. Two seconds later, I threw open the door with a scowl. “What the fuck are you doing here?” Christian arched an eyebrow. “Is that the proper way to greet your boss?”
“Fuck you.” He laughed, but the sound lacked humor. “Charming as always. Now let me in so we can clean up your mess.” I gritted my teeth and stepped aside, already regretting this day, this week, and my whole damn life. He walked in, his gaze skimming over my half-unpacked suitcase and the remains of my room service dinner on the coffee table before resting on the empty whiskey bottle. Surprise flashed across his face before he covered it up. “Well, this is sad,” he said. “You’re at the nicest hotel in Athenberg and you couldn’t spring for the filet mignon?” On the surface, Christian looked like the stereotypical charming, good-natured playboy he portrayed himself to be. Even though he was thirty-one, he could’ve passed for his mid to late twenties, and he used it to his advantage. People looked at his pretty-boy face and tailored Italian suits and underestimated him. They didn’t realize he was a wolf in expensive clothing until it was too late. “What are you doing here, Harper?” I repeated. I knew, of course. He’d chewed me out on the phone last week after the news about me and Bridget broke, but I hadn’t expected him to fly here so soon with Magda still missing. I should’ve known better, which proved just how fucked in the head I was about Bridget. I couldn’t think straight. All I could think about was where she was, who she was with, and how she was doing. It didn’t matter that she’d ripped my heart out the other day. If anyone hurt my princess in any way—physically, mentally, or emotionally—there would be hell to pay. “Take a wild guess.” Christian leaned against the counter, the picture of insouciance, but his hard gaze belied his casual pose. “Your client, Larsen. A future queen.” “They’re tabloid rumors, and she’s not my client anymore.” I need another drink.
I understood now why people turned to alcohol for comfort now. It filled a part of ourselves we’d lost, or at least it gave the illusion of doing so. “You forget. I know when you’re lying.” Christian’s voice dropped several decibels. His anger burned cold, not hot, and it was when he got quiet that people ran and ducked for cover. “Even if I didn’t, you think I didn’t look into the situation myself? What you did is a fireable offense.” “So fire me.” I had enough money saved up to tide me over for a nice long while, and the prospect of playing bodyguard to anyone but Bridget held zero appeal for me. The thought crystallized and took root. “Actually, you know what? I quit.” Christian stared at me. “Just like that.” “Just like that.” My mouth flattened into a grim line. “I fucked up, and I’m sorry. But I’m done with the bodyguard game.” He tapped his fingers on the dresser. Watching. Thinking. “I assume things with the princess are over, considering the whispers I’m hearing about her, Steffan Holstein, and an upcoming engagement.” A low growl rumbled from my throat, but he ignored it. “Why are you still here, Larsen? Living like a hermit and drinking.” His lip curled with distaste. Christian owned one of the most extensive and expensive rare alcohol collections in the U.S. He had nothing against drinking, but I assumed he took offense at the way I did it. “You don’t drink.” “Apparently, I do.” “It’s time to leave. I say this not as your boss, but as your friend. This…” He gestured around the room. “…is pathetic. Not to mention, your visa expires soon. There’s no use in dragging out the inevitable.” I was in Eldorra on a special visa thanks to my previous employment with the palace, but it expired at the end of the month now that I was no longer working for them.
“You’re not my boss anymore,” I said coldly. “I’ll leave when I want.” “Jesus Christ, what happened to you? Use your head, Larsen,” Christian snapped. “The one on your shoulders, not between your legs. Or is her royal pussy that good—” A snarl ripped out of my chest. He didn’t get the rest of his sentence out before I crossed the room in two long strides and slammed him against the wall. “Talk about her like that again, and I’ll feed you your teeth.” Christian looked unfazed even though he was two seconds away from getting his face pounded in. “It’s never bothered you before. And careful with the suit. I just got it custom made.” “You’ve done a lot for me over the years.” Danger thickened the air, so potent I could almost taste it. I’d been spoiling for a fight, and he might just give it to me. “But if you don’t watch what you say, this is the end of our friendship.” He assessed me with sharp eyes. “Well, well.” A hint of surprised amusement colored his tone. “I never thought I’d see the day. Rhys Larsen in love.” In love. I’d never been in love. Never wanted to be in love. Hell, I didn’t even know what love was. It was always something I’d heard about, not experienced, until I met a woman who cracked my ironclad defenses like no one had before. Someone who loved the rain and animals and Rocky Road ice cream on quiet nights. Someone who saw all my scars and ugliness and still found me worthy, and somehow, someway, she’d filled the cracks in a soul I never thought would be whole again. I might not know what love was, but I knew I was in love with Bridget von Ascheberg, to the point where even I—the man who was so good at denying himself anything good in life —couldn’t deny it.
The realization hit me like a bullet in the chest, and I loosened my hold on Christian. “No denial,” he observed. He shook his head. “I have nothing against love, other than the fact I find it tedious, boring, and utterly unnecessary. People in love are the most insufferable on the planet.” He glanced at a piece of lint on his suit with disdain before brushing it off. “But if that’s what you want, go for it. Just not with the princess.” “My personal life is none of your business.” His gaze turned pitying, and I wanted to punch him all over again. It was a decent summary of our fucked-up friendship. One of us wanted to kill the other at any given time. It’d been that way since we met in Tangier, where I’d saved him from a slow, torturous death at the hands of a warlord he’d pissed off. Sometimes, like now, I wished I’d left him to the warlord’s mercy. “Leave Eldorra. Now. Before things get even more out of control,” Christian said. “No matter how many detours you take, your story only has one ending. Cut it off before you’re in too deep and you can’t get out.” Too late. I was already in too deep. “Get out,” I said. “You think I’m being heartless, but I’m trying to help you. Consider it my repayment for Tangier.” “Get. Out.” “You really want to do this.” It wasn’t a question. “Let me worry about what I’m going to do.” Christian sighed. “If you insist on continuing down this road, I have something that might be of interest. I did a little digging after those heartwarming photos of you and the princess surfaced.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small envelope. “You want to look at this. Soon.” I didn’t take it. “What the hell is it?”
Never trust a Christian Harper bearing gifts. That should be everyone’s motto in life. But nothing could’ve prepared me for what he said next. “The identity of your father.” He paused. “And your brother.”

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