I roll my eyes, sighing loudly. I grew up wanting to murder that damn puppet.
“Girls,” Maggie says, but she’s trying to bite back a smile, avoiding my eyes.
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “I’ve gotten a lot of that.”
“Hurdy-schmerdy bork bork!” Callum yells. “Dancing queen, smells like pee!”
Maggie shakes her head. “I swear to god,” she mutters under her breath before tucking the end of the bandage into the wrap and getting to her feet. “Okay. You’re done. I’m taking you home now.”
“Honestly, it’s fine,” I tell her, getting out of my chair. “You’ll be glad to know most Swedes have a pretty good sense of humor.” I raise my bandaged hand in her direction. “Thank you, by the way.”
She shakes her head again, her dark hair falling in her face, and waves me away dismissively. “No cow on the ice,” she says.
I grin. Something in my heart shifts, something new, something…soft. The pain I’ve been holding inside starts to melt, just an inch. But an inch is enough to take me by surprise.
“So about dinner,” I say to her. I know I’m being forward, maybe even annoying, but I’m chasing that feeling inside, that part of me that’s melting away.
“Are you staying for dinner?” Callum asks me.
“No,” Maggie says emphatically.
“Dinner?” a voice comes from behind us.
It’s Maggie’s oldest brother, or at least I assume he is. Who knows how many other people there are in this house. Again, I’m floored at the fact that she’s the legal guardian of them all, that they’re all under her care now. I know I have my own responsibilities I’m running from but at least I had the option to run. She can’t. She’s saddled with them. And so fucking young.
“Sverige…Johan,” Maggie corrects and it’s almost like she doesn’t believe my fake name any more than I do, “asked me out for dinner tonight.”
Her brother stares at me, tattooed arms folded across his chest. He looks like he can take care of himself in a fight and also looks like he’d have no problems trying to kick me out of his house. He definitely wants to.
But I’m not about to fuck up my hand again. I take a step away from him, holding my wrist to show him I’m not going to be a problem.
“Are you paying for her?” he asks me.
I blink at the question. “Pardon?”
“Are you paying for her?” he repeats.
“Of course, I am,” I tell him, not understanding why he would think otherwise. What man wouldn’t pay for a woman when he invites her on a date?
He thinks it over for a moment and then nods at Maggie. “It’s fine. You deserve to be taken out for a night. And, frankly,” he looks up to the ceiling, “I don’t think you should be here tonight with her.”
“What is she saying?” Maggie asks, wrapping her arms around herself like she’s cold. “She hates me, doesn’t she?”
He exhales, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “She hates everyone and everything. You can’t really blame her…” he glances at the other kids who are all staring at him and nodding subtly, “anyway, I know what happened. She’s just pissed that your Alexander Skarsgard over here hurt her white-trash boyfriend.” He looks to me. “By the way, if I were you, I wouldn’t stick around here for too long. I’m impressed you were able to knock Tito out, but he’s got a lot of friends in that crack house and they don’t play nice.”
I shrug. “That’s fine. I don’t play nice either.”
“So you’re really okay with looking after the kids tonight?” she asks him.
“You know we can take care of Callum if the both of you want to go out,” the dark-haired girl says. “We’re old enough.”
“One step at a time,” her older brother says. “I’m sure this won’t become a habit for Maggie.”
“Hey,” she chides him and then looks at me, clearly ready to get out of here. “Let’s go.”
We get out of the house and into the van before anything escalates and within no time she’s pulling up a block away from the hotel.
“Sorry to drop you off so far away. I just don’t want anyone at my work to see us,” she explains as she shoves the van into park. “Not that we’re doing anything wrong, I mean nothing’s happening, not in the way that they think. That they could think.”
I study her face, the flush creeping on her cheeks, the slightly flustered way she’s talking. “Define what wrong is.”
She stares at me, frowning. “I mean like, uh…”
“Do you mean like me taking you out for dinner? Or do you mean me taking you to my room afterward?”
Her pupils enlarge, making her eyes glow. She’s speechless. It’s utterly charming.
“Maybe both,” she finally says, her voice coming out in this low, breathless hush that makes me bite my lip. This isn’t the right place to get an erection but if she keeps looking so flushed and innocent, it’s going to become a problem.
“And what happens then when we do go out for dinner?” I ask her. “When I do invite you back to my room?”
Those dark eyes of her widen even more. She swallows.
I grin at her. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” I tell her, letting her off the hook as I unbuckle my belt and open the door, getting out.
“No cow on the ice,” she whispers, almost to herself.
“Not yet anyway,” I tell her. Then I clear my throat. “I’ll be by your place at seven to pick you up.”
“What? I’m picking you up. You don’t have a car that works.”
“This is a date, Miss America,” I remind her. “You’re not driving. Neither am I. I’ll call a cab for us. Simple as that.”
She nods, smiles so softly that something inside my heart shifts again. “Okay.”
“I’ll see you,” I tell her with a wink.
Then I’m closing the door and I’m walking back to my hotel room.
“Sorry, what was his name again?” Sam asks, her nose scrunching up on the screen of my phone as I talk to her through FaceTime.
I sigh and adjust myself on the bed, trying not to get too comfortable. When I’m on the phone with Sam I always shut my bedroom door to get privacy and if I’m on the bed with even a few minutes of peace, I usually pass out. There’s been many a phone call or FaceTime session where I’ve passed out mid-sentence. Luckily, Sam understands.
But I don’t think I can pass out today, not with this adrenaline running through my veins and butterflies swarming in my stomach, feelings I haven’t been able to shake ever since I dropped the Swede off at the hotel.
“His name is Johan Andersson,” I repeat.
“I don’t think I like that name.”
“Yeah, well it’s his name. I call him Mr. Sverige though.”
“Mr. Sverige? What are you doing, acting out some weird student-teacher fantasy or something.” She pauses, tilting her head in consideration. “Not that it’s weird to have that fantasy. Lord knows we had that about Mr. Strong. Remember Rodney Strong?”
We had a professor called Mr. Strong. I can’t remember his first name because we always called him Rodney since Rodney Strong was the wine we drank the most in the evenings when we’d sit crammed in my dorm room, complaining about men.
My heart pangs at remembering the good ol’ days.
“When I first saw his driver’s license, I thought his name was Swedish Driver’s License,” I explain. “Sverige means Sweden or Swedish. Anyway, you had to be there.”
“It sounds like it,” she says. “If I wasn’t so good at reading you, I would have thought the whole thing was made up.”
“First you walk in on what sounds like an impossibly tall, hunky Scandinavian god naked, then you see him at the bar, when, by the way, you never go out, then you proceed to take him home, so he can sober up. The next day he wakes up and gets in a fist fight with that loser your sister is dating, knocks him out, you fix him up and then he asks you out on a date.” She pauses to brush her hair out of her eyes. “All the while he’s exceedingly rich.”
“I never said he was exceedingly rich,” I tell her, although when I told Pike about the kind of car he had, he’d told me it was worth a hell of a lot of money. Plus, there’s that whole heir to a pharmaceutical company thing.
“I’m going to assume he is,” she says. “If you don’t have sex with him Maggie, I’m going to be so mad at you.”
“Whoa,” I say, laughing, my cheeks flaming. “Who said anything about having sex with him?”
“Oh give me a break. You want to pretend that this isn’t where it’s going?”
I shake my head, but my mouth keeps wanting to creep up into a smile. Sam is usually the first one to call me on my bullshit. Not only have I been thinking about it since I first saw him–I mean, who can blame me–but all those thoughts and feelings and urges have been put through the ringer ever since he insinuated it.
Because he did insinuate it, didn’t he?
He looked right at me with heat in his eyes and talked about taking me back to his hotel room. If that wasn’t a hint that he was planning to seduce me after dinner, I don’t know what is.
Don’t get ahead of yourself.
And yet it’s so damn hard not to.
“Wow,” Sam says. “You are a smitten kitten.”
I roll my eyes, making sure my face isn’t betraying me with any longing looks. “Oh I am not.”
“Fuck, dude. You can be a smitten kitten all you want. When was the last time you went on a date? Here, right? And when was the last time you were going gaga over someone? Never. Never, Maggie, I’ve never seen you get this look in your eyes before.”