Prologue

First Class was a dimly lit hell. Bertie sat up, shoes on, while the others slumbered around him. If he lay down, if he gave into the sick exhaustion that was claiming him, it would be over. So he stayed defiantly upright, breathing in dry flatulent air, and clung to his composure.

A flight attendant was coming towards him, making her careful way down the aisle. She met Bertie’s eye and smiled.

“Is everything OK, Your Serene Highness? Can I get you anything at all?”

He had a ridiculous urge to reach out and clutch her sleeve. I don’t want to go back. Help me. “I’d like a drink,” he said.

“Certainly. We have red and white wine, champagne, brandy…”

“Double scotch. Please.”

“Of course, Your Serene Highness. I’ll bring that to you right away.”

The scotch came, and he drank it much too quickly. It was a bad idea. The alcohol filtered through him, spreading warmth and melancholy, releasing feelings he’d been trying desperately to keep locked up. I don’t want to go back. Grief overcame him, and he buried his face in his hands and doubled over, mourning silently because his father was dead and his life was over and he would never see his lover again.

There was a discreet cough, and Bertie realised that the attendant had returned and was kneeling beside him. If he were someone else, she might have put her hand on his arm or patted his shoulder. “Your Highness,” she said, and the shortening struck him as something like an endearment. “Your Highness, I’m so sorry for your loss.”