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Chapter 61

"I don't know how I expect people to love me when I can barely look at my reflection without cringing."


James, Mia, and I left the hospital at one in the morning. We'd decided with the rest of the group that two people would always be with Annalise to make any decisions that needed to be made and to ensure no one entered her room who wasn't supposed to. While I trusted my guards, Annalise's attacker had slipped past them and assaulted them too. Thankfully, other than a head injury, he'd spared their lives for an unknown reason.

While Mia and James showered and changed clothes, I left the palace to go to Annalise's apartment. I needed to see what happened for myself. I needed to understand what exactly this man did to her.

Arriving at the scene, police were still there, talking to potential witnesses. Upon seeing me, the lead detective approached and bowed. "Your Highness, Detective Garrison at your service. What can I do for you?"

I shook his hand. "I want to see what happened. Can you walk me through the crime scene?"

"Yes, sir. Follow me." Detective Garrison led my guards and me up the stairs to Annalise's apartment, which was blocked off with caution tape. Ordering my guards to stand watch, the detective and I stepped through the door. He brought me to Annalise's bedroom. "This is where we've determined the struggle began. Miss Stark was standing at her dresser, getting her purse ready when, somehow, she realized an intruder was in her apartment. Miss Stark grabbed her pepper spray, and when the intruder entered, shot it at him point-blank. After that, we believe she struggled with her attacker, most likely to get rid of his gun. I understand she was shot multiple times, but if her attacker could shoot her and hit her after being pepper-sprayed, then I have a strong feeling we're dealing with a professional. Miss Stark's actions probably saved her life."

Detective Garrison led me out of the bedroom to the first blood spot on the floor. "This is where we believe the first shot was fired. Miss Stark most likely fell to the ground from the impact and began crawling towards the kitchen."

We moved to the next, even larger bloodstain. I was no forensics expert, but I could tell Annalise had been dragging herself. Detective Garrison continued his explanation. "At some point, between the first shot and this bloodstain, she was shot two more times. She dragged herself to the kitchen-" we entered the aforementioned room, where Annalise's dried blood covered the tile and cabinets- "where she was shot a fourth time, most likely in the shoulder, judging by the bullet hole in the cabinet. Blinded by the pepper spray, her assailant must've thought he hit her heart and left."

I stared in mortification at the scene before me, wondering how the hell Annalise could be alive after all this. I could see her bloody handprints on the counter as if she'd tried to stand. It made me ask, "Why'd she come to the kitchen instead of going to the door?"

"We believe she was trying to reach her phone to call for help, which was charging on the kitchen counter. We've collected the phone for evidence, but you can see her handprints, they're only a few inches from where the phone was located."

"Do we have any leads?"

"None so far. My men are going over the security footage and are interviewing your guards stationed to watch Miss Stark for any possible information. Unfortunately, Miss Stark was probably the only one who had a good look at him. How is she doing?"

"In a coma from blood loss. Only one bullet lodged itself in her, and the doctors removed it. I'm sure they're going to send it to your lab for analysis. We're not sure if she's going to pull through…"

Detective Garrison sighed glumly. "I'm sorry to hear that, Your Highness. I know how much she means to you, and I'll be praying for her."

"Thank you. I appreciate it. I'll leave you and your team be, but keep me in the loop about what you find, no matter how small. If you would, look into Chuck O'Connell. I have reason to suspect he had something to do with us."

"I'll look into him." The two of us left the crime scene and went back downstairs. Thanking him for his time, I left Detective Garrison and returned to the palace. Once there, I went straight to my study, slamming the door. A red haze descended over my vision as I paced the room, reassembling the crime scene in my head. I could see Chuck O'Connell opening the front door, heading to Annalise's room with his loaded gun in hand, ready to shoot. I could see Annalise firing her pepper spray at him until it ran out, striking out at him as she tried to knock the gun from his hands. Then she attempted to escape, and he shot her in the stomach, the impact forcing her to the ground. I could see Annalise crawling towards the kitchen, being shot twice more. I could see her bleeding profusely on the carpet but refusing to give up, dragging herself to the kitchen where she desperately reached for her phone. I could see the final shot, Chuck nailing Annalise in the shoulder, ending her attempts to get help. I could see him leaving the building, stumbling out, blinded by the pepper spray, believing he'd succeeded in his mission of killing her.

Had Mia and James not arrived when they did, Mr. O'Connell would have.

Rage threatened to overwhelm me as I recounted all the times I'd met Lorraine's father. I'd let this man, this murderer, into my home. I treated him like family. I let him near the people I love. I allowed him to analyze their habits and their influences on me, so he knew exactly who he needed to get rid of. People like Everly, Annalise, and my mom- all of whom had a high degree of persuasion with me.

I snapped.

My fists slammed down on the corner table, rattling the tea tray and flower vase. My chest rose and fell heavily as I tried to reign in my fury, but it was futile. I'd never wanted death to someone as much as I wished death to Chuck O'Connell. I wanted him to pay for what he'd done to my family.

I swiped the tea tray off the table, and it flew across the room, clattering against the floor. I swept papers off my desk in one fluid, violent motion, scattering them around the room. The flower vase became my next target as I chucked it with all my might. It shattered against the wall, glass showering down at my feet, despite being twenty feet away. I picked up anything I could possibly lift off my desk, throwing everything haphazardly across the room. I felt useless, hopeless, and utterly incapable of doing anything right. I couldn't protect my family, so how the hell could I protect my country? Did I seriously convince myself that I could actually help my friends and family? Was I so foolish into thinking I could be a good king after fucking around for so many years of my life? Was I that thick-headed, thinking my life would turn around after the hell I caused for so many people? Was I stupid enough to let myself believe that I could actually make a difference in people's lives?

I was about to hurl the next item, but it ended up hovering midair after I glimpsed it. Slowly, I lowered my hand and stared at the photo. Annalise and I smiled tiredly for the camera after a red-eye flight. It was one of her earlier trips. Seeing the photo brought me back to reality, the red haze disappearing. I sank to the floor, leaning against my desk and staring at the picture, nostalgia settling in for those happier, less complicated times.

"Will? What on earth happened?" Mom's voice floated from the doorway. Upon seeing me, she crossed the threshold, carefully avoiding any debris. Sitting next to me, she asked gently, "How's Annalise?"

"Alive, for now… she had a heart attack, and she's in a coma…" I replied. "I can't do anything for her. It doesn't matter if I catch her assailant or pay her bills or anything. None of that will wake her up, and I don't know what to do. I keep messing up with her, and it seems like the harder I try to do the right thing, the more damage I do."

Mom placed her arm around my shoulders, gently pulling me to her. I rested my head on her shoulder while she said, "I've seen how taxing this last year has been on you. I didn't want to ask what was wrong because I thought you'd come to me when you were ready, but I should've. I've learned that when you don't know what to do, you do what you can do. You can find a way to catch this guy. You can pay Annalise's bills. You can protect her sister and her family. You can be there for Annalise when she wakes up. You can help her recover. You can be honest with her about everything."

"I'll stay at the palace for meetings," I decided, "and I'll be here for anything that requires me to be, but if it doesn't, I'm going to be with her. I don't want to leave her side, especially since that psycho is still on the loose."

"I'll help you in any way I can. If being there with Annalise will make you feel better, then we'll do it. I want to help you take care of yourself. I love how you want to put everyone first, but sometimes, even as royals, we have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of our people. Do you understand?"

"Yes." I scanned my trashed study. This would be hell to clean up, but someone had to do it, and there was no way I was letting the maids do it. I'd made the mess. I needed to fix it. "I'm going to pick all this up, check on Mia and James, and then go to the hospital. I'll sleep there if I have to. I'll bring my laptop and planner, and anything I need to work from there."

"I'll help you clean," mom offered.

"No, it's okay. I'll do it. I made the mess. It's my responsibility."

"Son, let me help. You need to get rest sooner rather than later, and you'll get it sooner if I help you." Mom stood up and offered her hand to me. I took it. "I'll go grab a trash bag if you start putting items back where they go."

"Okay," I said. She started walking off, but I quickly added, "Thank you, mom. I love you."

Mom smiled fondly at me. "I love you, too, Will."

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