Home > The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)(12)

The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)(12)
Author: Karina Halle

“No worries. I guess I felt guilty for seeing you, uh, vulnerable and stuff,” I tell him as I bring the van onto the road, not comfortable with all this sincerity.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch a small smile on his mouth. “I didn’t mind at all.”

Nor should you, I think to myself, trying not to smile in return. “Anyway, so what are you doing here in ol’ Tehachapi? It’s not exactly the forefront of culture and civilization.”

He licks his lips, just enough that I see the tip of his pink tongue, then turns his attention out the window. “I was just passing through when my car broke down on the highway. About thirty minutes east of here. Middle of the desert. That was a day.”

“What’s wrong with it? You know my brother works as a mechanic, he could help you out. You know, if you need it.”

“We’ll see. I’ve been trying to fix it myself for the last few days,” he says with a shrug. “I think I need a new carburetor.”

“You can fix cars too?”

“What? I don’t look like I can?”

Well, no. Not with his elegant mannerisms, the way he holds himself, the fit of his clothes. It looks like he pays people to do everything for him and yet there’s not an arrogant thing about him. A bit of cockiness from the way he bites his lip, a confidence that comes in knowing he looks like a god, but arrogance, no.

I end up shrugging. “I don’t know, I don’t know a thing about cars to be honest.”

“Well I do,” he says, almost defensively. “Been working on cars ever since I was a child, helping, uh, my father’s friends with them. The problem with this car is it’s an old car, a mustang, 1965. Those parts take time, yes. Might be here for a bit longer.”

Is it crazy that I’m relieved that he’s staying in this town for longer? It is crazy.

“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be? Where were you headed?”

“Los Angeles,” he says. “And no, I have nowhere I need to be. I’m…on vacation. For another week. Then I fly out of Los Angeles and back to Stockholm.”

“Stockholm? So you’re Swedish!” I knew it.

“Is that a surprise, Miss America?” he says, adjusting his seat to give his long legs more room. “You’ve been calling me Mr. Sweden this whole time.”

“Huh?”

“Korkort Sverige,” he says.

“Isn’t that your name?”

He breaks into a grin, a movie star smile that shows off perfect white teeth, making him look simultaneously younger and even more handsome. My body is reacting to this faster than my brain can, my breath catching in my throat, my heart thumps harder in my chest.

“Sverige means Sweden in Swedish,” he says. “Korkort means driver’s license. I’m afraid you’ve been calling me Mr. Swedish driver’s license.”

I burst out laughing. “You’re kidding me.”

“I’m not,” he says. “I quite enjoy it.”

“So what is your name?”

“It’s…,” he pauses, “Johan. Johan Andersson.”

Just like it said on his license, I just thought that was where he lived or something. He’s also pronouncing the “J” like a “Y.”

“Well don’t I look like the horse’s ass,” I remark.

He frowns quizzically. “You have a very nice ass. Not at all like a horse.”

I’m laughing again. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

“I would never joke about a nice ass,” he says, straight-faced though his eyes have a mischievous slant. “Miss America.”

“You can stop calling me that now.”

“Let me think about it. What is your real name?”

“Maggie. Maggie McPherson.”

“Is that so?”

He extends his hand to me. I stare at it in surprise for a moment before I take my hand off the wheel and give him mine. My hand is so damn tiny in his and when he envelopes it with his strong, warm fingers, it practically disappears. “It’s an honor to meet you, Maggie McPherson.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Johan Andersson. Though I must admit, I got used to calling you Korkort Sverige.”

“You can call me anything you want,” he says.

And, oh, dear god, is he flirting with me? Maybe. I feel like he’s holding onto my hand for longer than he maybe should, even though I also want him to never let go.

As if he senses this, he lets go of my hand and brings it back to his lap, looking almost chagrined as he stares out the window at the town as it passes us by.

I’m about to ask what kind of business he’s in when a text on my phone beeps in. I quickly glance at it. It’s Pike. Says: Still no sign of her.

Meaning April.

“What is it?” Sverige–sorry, Johan–says, watching me.

My jaw feels like it’s been clamped together. I wiggle it open and try to give him a smile. “My sister. April. She’s fourteen and she didn’t come home last night.”

“Fuck,” he swears, his accent seeming to thicken as he does so. “That can’t be good.”

“She’s done this before,” I tell him, just so he doesn’t suggest we go to the police or something. “Once she was at a girlfriend’s house after partying all night, or so she says. I’ve always thought differently though.”

He looks at me expectantly. “Does she have a boyfriend?”

I nod. “Yes,” I say grimly. “And he’s the biggest douchebag on the planet. In fact, he lives just over there.” I nod up ahead at a long dusty road that leads into the hills.

I was planning on dropping off the Swede and then cruising past the dickhead’s house on the way back home, hoping to find April but suddenly I’ve flipped on my indicator and I’m making a turn.

This is either going to be a good idea or a very, very bad one.

Chapter Five

Maggie

“Are we paying him a visit?” the Swede asks, brows raised as I bring the van on the bumpy road that might lead toward April.

I should feel bad that I’m not only delaying dropping off this guy but now I’m somehow involving him in my problems, but I guess I just feel safer with him in the van. April’s supposed boyfriend, a guy that everyone calls Tito, isn’t a tall guy, but he’s big and he’s vicious. He’s one 40 oz. away from getting a face tattoo.

“I just want to see if she’s there,” I tell him. “Won’t take a second.”

A few beats pass, and I can tell he’s mulling something over. Finally, he asks, his voice lower, “What do your parents think about all of this?”

I stiffen. This question. This fucking question.

And of course, he means no harm by it. No one ever does.

And yet this question always rips me apart at the seams.

“They’re dead,” I tell him bluntly. No use softening the blow. The more you soften it, the more they’ll treat you with kid gloves, like you’re some fragile snowflake moments from melting. Sometimes I am, but not today.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says.

And that’s all he says.

His voice carries weight and gravity to it, that shows he understands and if he doesn’t understand, he at least cares enough to try. But the simplicity of his response is freeing. I don’t have to explain a thing.

We drive in silence for a few minutes, my brain jumping from one thing to the next. What I’m going to do when I find the house, if I’m going to get out and knock on the door, if I’m just going to park outside and wait and see. What I’ll say to April? Will I be quiet and stern, dripping with the disappointment that my father was so good at doling out? Or will I yell and scream, like my mother might have when she lost her temper?

Then it’s focusing on him, this gorgeous specimen of a man who is in my car and filling the space with his quiet energy and his inquisitive eyes and his strong, capable presence. I shouldn’t feel this comfortable with someone I don’t really know, and yet I am.

Or maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. I’m not exactly relaxed by him. My pulse is racing, my cheeks feel hot, my skin is dancing like electricity is flowing through the air. There’s tension between us, maybe something that exists only in my head, but it exists all the same. I haven’t felt a push-pull with anyone in…well, ever. Not like this.

You’re a sad, sad girl, I tell myself. This guy is not only passing through, on vacation, but he’s way out of your league and way too good for you.

Fuck. The truth hurts.

For a moment there I forgot who I was.

I slow the car down in front of the house without even realizing I’m doing it.

Tito’s house is blue, faded from the sun, two stories high and nestled in a crop of dead pines. Five junk cars and an old station wagon litter the driveway, along with piles of garbage bags. Broken glass twinkles in the overgrown weeds that flank the gravel path to the house.

“This is it?” the Swede whispers as I park the car across the street. I can’t bring myself to think of him as Johan, somehow it doesn’t fit. “Doesn’t seem like the right place to raise children.”

I give him a sour smile. “He’s nineteen. Lives here with a bunch of other losers.”

“Isn’t that illegal? Your sister is fourteen, yes?”

“Yeah. It’s illegal if…I don’t want to think about it.” I sigh, closing my eyes for a moment because there is a well of emotions inside me that are bubbling up and I know I’m about to unload on him. I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t. This guy just wants to go back to the hotel, back to his car, back to his country.

And yet…

“Honestly, I just don’t know what to do anymore,” I tell him, shaking my head and then it all spills out. “And I feel like so much of it is my fault. The moment I was done high school and I saved up enough to leave this shithole, I was out of here. I just left, and I didn’t look back. For those years I was in New York…I was in New York, by the way, studying at NYU, I just kind of forgot where I came from. I was a bad sister. A bad daughter.”

   
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