“What if it’s him?” I ask hopefully. I hate sounding hopeful but there it is.
“But what if it is? What if I take a picture of him and then send it to you and then you’re all like, shit it is him. Then what?”
“Then don’t tell him that you know. Keep that shit to yourself. And write a fucking article and sell it to the gossip mags. Sell it to Royalty Monthly. Forget the, whatever your town is called, forget the paper there and go big. You could get a fucking ass-load of money for an article or interview with the prince of Sweden, the heir to the throne.” She pauses. “But it’s not him. K?”
I nod slowly. My brain refuses to accept it, but I’m just going to have to wait and see. I’m sure the moment I see his face I’ll realize that I’ve been mistaken.
“So forget all of that and just go have fun tonight? Get laid. Be loud. Make him go down on you and don’t you dare get Rick-Rolled. And then call me tomorrow and tell me all about it.”
I laugh softly. “I will. Bye Sam.”
I hang up the phone, watching her face disappear, and stare at my closet full of second hand clothes. Luckily men don’t notice the brand of a dress and I have a couple that look fairly new.
I sort through the rack, pull out a simple black sleeveless one with lace overlay, put it down on the bed and start getting ready for my date.
He’s not the prince, he’s not the prince, he’s not the prince, I tell myself.
What if he is?
I’m a nervous wreck.
I can’t remember the last time I was ever this nervous.
I’ve changed outfits enough times to make anyone crazy. I’ve gone from the black dress to jeans and a blousy top, to a long sundress, to black pants and a tank top and all the way back to the black dress again.
Now I’m pacing my bedroom, both trying to break in these three-inch heels I picked up in New York but never wore and trying to dispel all the nervous energy that’s been building up inside me to dangerous levels.
A knock at my door.
I pause and then run over to my window that looks out onto the street. No cab yet. I glance at the clock on my wall. It’s five to seven. He could be here at any minute.
I’m going to be sick.
“Maggie,” Pike says from the other side of the door. “What are you doing?”
“Still? He’s going to be here any minute.”
I sigh, shaking out my hands as if that will dissolve my nerves, and go over, opening the door a crack.
Pike frowns at me. “Nice makeup.”
I glare at him. “Are you being sarcastic?”
“No,” he says. “I’ve just never seen you wear it before.”
He’s right. I rarely wear makeup, certainly not the whole shebang like I’m doing right now. Apparently I’m a bit sensitive on how I look at the moment.
“Are you naked?”
“No.” I grimace, wishing my brother wouldn’t use the word naked around me.
He puts his hand on the door and shoves it open, causing me to take a step back and almost bail in these damn heels.
“Jesus, Mags,” he says with wide eyes. “Just where are you going again?”
“The Bullshed,” I tell him, my vulnerability morphing into defensiveness. “Why? What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“You just look a little dressed up, that’s all. I mean, heels. When have you ever worn heels?” He looks completely confused and flabbergasted.
“When I lived in Manhattan,” I snipe, hands on my hips. “You know in other parts of the world, people actually dress up when they go out for dinner.”
“Yeah and this ain’t those parts of the world.”
“Pike, do I look nice or not?”
“You look nice. Jesus, you’re touchy.”
Was that so hard? I snatch my purse off the bed and head out of the room.
“He’s here!” Rosemary yells from downstairs.
I practically keel over, my hand going to my stomach as I lean hunched against the doorway.
“Are you okay?” Pike asks.
I nod frantically, my eyes pinched shut. My nerves are so razor sharp it feels like I’m being sliced in half. “Bad case of nerves,” I manage to say.
God, brothers are so fucking dense. “Never mind.”
Next to my room the door to April’s room opens and she pokes her head out to see what the commotion is. Sees me, goes “Uggggh,” rolls her eyes and then slams the door shut.
“Don’t worry about her,” Pike says putting one hand on my back and shoving me out into the hall. “Don’t worry about anything.”
“You’re nervous about going on a date with this guy? He’s just a guy,” he says, ushering me toward the stairs. “A tall fucker with a funny accent who beat up Tito Jones. But still, a guy.”
Is he just a guy?
Even if he’s not the prince of Sweden, he’s definitely not “just a guy.”
My heart feels like it’s literally lodged in my throat as I walk toward the front door, sweat breaking out on my palms. Shit, what if he tries to hold my hand? I frantically start wiping my palms on my dress then take the deepest breath possible before I open the door and step outside into the fading sun.
There the cab is waiting, and I see the Swede climb out of the back seat and hold the door open for me like a true gentleman.
He’s smiling, that movie star smile with those perfect white teeth, the cocky twinkle in his eyes.
And I know in my heart of hearts that there is no wondering or questioning or dreaming anymore.
This is him.
He might still be Mr. Sverige by default but he’s not Johan Andersson at all.
He’s His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Sweden, Viktor of House Nordin.
And he just rolled up to my house in a yellow cab.
“Hey,” he says to me, gesturing to the cab with his arm. “Your chariot awaits.”
I grin at that. A nervous grin. A stupid grin.
I can’t believe this is happening.
Viktor–Viktor, god how he suits the name Viktor–isn’t as dressed up as me, but he still looks amazing. Leather jacket, a rust-colored V-neck tee that makes his blue eyes pop, dark jeans, dark boots.
Sam isn’t going to believe this.
I barely believe it myself.
A knocking sound comes from behind me and I whirl around to see Pike, Rosemary, Thyme and Callum at the large, kitchen picture window, waving and motioning me to get in the damn cab.
My eyes then trail up to April’s bedroom window.
She’s there, watching.
Gives me the finger.
I roll my eyes at her, turn around and hurry toward Viktor before anything else happens.
“You look beautiful,” he says to me as I approach him, and I’m so mesmerized by the way he’s staring at me, like he’s stripping the clothes right off me with his gaze, that my left heel wobbles and suddenly I’m pitching over like a tree, my fall to the ground inevitable.
Without even moving much, Viktor’s hand shoots out and he grabs hold of my arm with a grip so strong he could probably break my bones if he wanted to.
“Falling for me already,” he says, waiting patiently until I get my footing again.
I giggle mumble “Sorry” and “thank you” in response. Then add, “Johan!” A little too loud.
He frowns at me. He thinks I’m nuts. “I think I liked it better when you called me Mr. Swedish Driver’s License.”
I slide in the back of the cab, conscious of the fact that my dress is riding up higher and higher on my thighs as I do so. Viktor gives my legs a burning glance and then shuts the door, coming around to the other side and getting in.
“Where to?” the cab driver asks. He eyes me in the mirror, does a double take and then turns around to look at me. “Maggie McPherson?”
“Yeah,” I say cautiously.
“I forgot this is where you lived,” the cabbie says. “I’m Earl. Earl White? I used to know your father. Anyway, real sorry about what happened. Such a tragedy. You poor kids. All on your own. Man, I hope they execute the punk that murdered them, give him a taste of his own medicine.”
I nod and smile politely, trying to work down the lump in my throat. Well, that’s one way to have my nerves disappear–have someone bring up not only my parents being murdered but the monster who did it.
I don’t look at Viktor. I don’t want him to read my face.
But he does reach out and puts his hand on top of my hand.
Wraps his long, strong fingers around mine.
Gives it a comforting squeeze.
Thank god my palms aren’t sweating anymore.
“So where to?” Earl says again.
Viktor lets go and my hand now feels naked and alone without his.
I clear my throat. “The Bullshed. Please.”
“You got it,” Earl says and drives us off.
I glance at him quickly out of the corner of my eye. “What?”
“I thought you said The Bullshit,” he says, leaning back in his seat. “And I thought that was a brilliant name for a restaurant.”
His comment makes me relax, just a little. Despite who he is, he’s really good at putting me at ease. Or at least trying.
The thing is, my body was already tight and jittery around him before I figured out who he was. Just being in his presence, in the backseat of this cab with his massive frame and long legs and those large hands and that strong jaw and those eyes, those eyes that hold so much in them, hold back so many layers that keep touching the surface, I am nervous. Nervous. He is so much, larger than life, worldly, and fuck, he’s noble. Not just as a characteristic but in a literal sense.
And then there’s me, who could barely get a date in New York, who is chained to tragedy, drowning in responsibilities I’ll never live up to, stuck forever in this town and…