The look of utter focus and determination on his face is something to behold, like he’s playing against an Olympian and not me in my baggy shirt and tights.
The ball meets the racket with a satisfying thwack and then whizzes past me at the speed of light, landing right in the lines. I didn’t even have a chance.
I look back at him. “Nice shot.”
He just nods, his jaw set firmly, his brows drawn in concentration. It’s odd to see him so serious.
He serves up the ball again, and again he muscles through with a powerful swing, this time the ball nearly taking me out. I have to sidestep out of the way to save my kneecaps.
“You know you’re supposed to hit it back,” he says to me, fishing another ball out of his pocket and bouncing it up and down with such ease it makes me think he’s used to playing tennis with his eyes closed.
“You know that I’m rubbish at this game compared to you,” I tell him. “Maybe don’t try and murder me with each serve.”
“Maybe step up and try to hit it back,” he says.
I glare at him. Fine. I’ll try. But I know he’s just trying to humiliate me.
I take my stance, legs apart, butt out, and do my best to channel Serena Williams. I tense my thighs, tighten my grip on the racket, and wait, my heart beating loudly in my chest. I don’t know how but Magnus has somehow managed to turn tennis into a high adrenaline sport.
Magnus serves up the ball and once again comes down on it with a hard swing that hits the ball perfectly. It goes right for me again and this time I both try to jump out of the way and attempt to swing at it.
It doesn’t go well.
My swing comes up empty and the movement almost makes me topple over, and once again, the ball stays inside the court.
“Fuck!” I yell, tempted to ram my racket into the ground. I can see why tennis players have such anger issues. If this continues for much longer I foresee myself launching the racket at his head.
“That’s the spirit,” he says, holding up a ball. “This is the last one I have. You better make it count.”
“You’re a royal drittsekk, you know that?”
He grins proudly, though I don’t know whether it’s because I managed to speak Norwegian or that he’s actually proud of being a royal shitbag.
Either way, he’s in it to win.
The ball goes up.
The racket comes down.
And all I see is this tennis ball coming straight at me, like a neon green meteor headed right for my face.
I’m too stunned to even try to move.
The ball bops me right on my fucking nose.
The world explodes into stars and I yell, “You son of a bitch!” while my eyes pinch shut and I crumple to my knees, holding my nose with one hand, the other keeping me up off the ground.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, I tell myself even though my eyes are starting to water. Fuck, it bloody hurts!
Meanwhile I can hear Magnus leaping over the net and running toward me, throwing his racket to the ground. “Holy fuck, I am so fucking sorry!”
His hands are at my back, on my arm, and I try to wave him away but it’s hard when my whole face is on fire and I feel like I’m about to pass out.
“Let me see,” he says, placing his hand at the back of my neck and crouching beside me.
I gradually lift my head up and hear him inhale sharply.
“What?” I say, my eyes flying open. I manage to look at my hand. It’s completely covered in blood. “Ahhh!”
By the way, I don’t do well with blood.
The world starts to spin again, getting fuzzy around the edges.
“It’s okay,” he says, though there is nothing reassuring about his voice.
“It’s not okay!” I cry out. “You probably broke my nose, you asshole.”
“Drittsekk,” he corrects.
“Yeah, shitbag. Prince Shitbag.” I grab my nose again, the blood dripping onto the ground. “Oh god, I’m going to faint.”
“You’re not,” he says, grabbing my arms and trying to haul me up to my feet. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”
I’m pretty much putty at this point and when I’m up, my feet seem to disappear below me. I lean right into Magnus’s chest. His very warm, very hard, very intimidating chest.
Which I’m currently getting blood all over.
I pinch my eyes closed, trying to stay conscious.
“Ugh, sorry,” I whimper, trying to pull away.
But I swear his body is a magnet to mine and then his arms go around the small of my waist, holding me against him.
And bleeding all over him.
“I’ve got you,” he says. His tone is serious, as is his grip. “Let’s just take a moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.” He pauses. “Not through your nose, of course.”
I try and take in a deep breath. Let it out. Then another and another.
“You feel better?” he asks.
I give a slight shake of my head. Honestly, I just want to collapse against him even more.
“Okay, hold on,” he says, and then before I know what’s going on, he’s bending down and scooping me up into his arms.
I let out a yelp, one arm going around his shoulder to hold on, the other still holding on to my nose, as if it’s stopping anything.
He carries me out of the court and into the house, and luckily I don’t think any of the help see us. They’d probably freak out and place a phone call to the Queen or something. Who knew tennis could go so wrong?
“Jane!” I yell for her once we’re inside, still in Magnus’s arms. “Jane!”
“She went for a walk,” Ottar says, coming around the corner. “What—” He stops dead when he sees us. “Oh, helvete. What on earth happened here?” He looks at Magnus accusingly.
“Tennis happened,” Magnus says. “Can you grab the first aid kit? I’m sure it’s somewhere.”
“Of course, sir,” he says and then scurries off.
“You can put me down now,” I tell Magnus.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “You might hurt yourself again.”
“Me hurt myself? You’re the one who treated me like target practice.”
The corner of his lips curve into a smile and it’s only now that I’m realizing how close my face is to his. I’ve never noticed the streaks of green in his mahogany eyes before, how long and dark his lashes are, the low arch of his brows. Good lord, he’s stunning.
But the feeling doesn’t last very long.
Because blood is pouring off my nose at very close range to this stunning man.
Stunning man? It’s only Magnus, I have to remind myself.
“Is it just your nose that hurts or do you think your brain was affected?” he asks after a moment.
“The way you’re looking at me,” he says slowly, the pink of his tongue appearing between his lips.
“How am I looking at you?”
Wait, I don’t want to know.
“Like you might actually like me.”
I can’t help but smile. But smiling brings a sharp jolt of pain to my nose.
“Uuugh,” I moan, shutting my eyes to him, to everything. Jeez, I admire the guy in my head and his ego somehow already knows and is running with it.
“I’ve got the kit!” Ottar says, and I hear his footsteps against the wood floors as he runs over, out of breath. “And towels for the mess. I’ll put them down on the couch.”
Magnus takes me over to one of the couches and gently lowers me down on it, then gets down on his knees beside it so he’s at my level.
“Ottar I need a wet warm washcloth, stat!” he barks.
“Yes, sir!” Ottar says and runs off again.
Meanwhile Magnus is smiling to himself.
“What?” I ask.
“I just enjoy ordering him around so much.”
I roll my eyes. “Always have to be in charge, huh?”
“Something like that,” he says, placing his hand over mine and trying to pry it away. “Let me see your nose.”
Gingerly, I let him take my hand away and he leans in closer, inspecting it.
“How is it?”
“Oh it’s just awful,” he says and I have no idea if he’s pulling my leg or not.
My eyes widen at that as Ottar sticks his hand in front of us, a wet cloth dangling from his fingers. Magnus snatches it up and very gently proceeds to dab the cloth on my face.
“Let me know if it hurts,” he says.
It does hurt. Every dab makes my eyes sting, sends lightning bolts of pain into my brain. But I don’t say anything because I know it needs to be done.
And honestly, I think I like him doting on me like this. He’s surprisingly gentle and I watch him as he concentrates, dark brows furrowed together, biting his lower lip. There’s a strange tenderness and intimacy to this whole thing.
I think Ottar picks up on it too because he says, “Do you need anything else, sir?”
“I’ve got it from here, thank you.”
Ottar walks off and Magnus does a final wipe down the side of my nose. I keep my attention off the cloth which I know is soaked with my blood. Then again, so are both of us.
“There,” he says softly, tilting his head back and forth as he looks me over.
“Does it look broken?” I ask him. I would hate to have a broken nose. It already has a crooked bump in the middle of it as it is, though Jane is fairly insistent that it’s all in my head.
“It’s a bit swollen and it’s going to leave a nasty bruise, maybe even two black eyes,” he says. “Good thing you’re not going anywhere.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about that,” he says, reaching up and brushing a strand of hair off my face. My skin erupts with shivers from the rough feel of his fingers, the curious way he’s gazing at me.
It leaves me momentarily tongue-tied and confused. This is a side of him I haven’t seen yet and I’m not sure I like how it makes me feel.