“LOVE LIKE THIS creates a world of emotions and turmoil, describing superbly the mind of a young lady (Keira) and her struggles to balance her social life and her career. Sophie Love is a natural storyteller. LOVE LIKE THIS is very well written and edited, and I highly recommend it to the permanent library of all readers that appreciate a romance that can be savored during a weekend.” --Books and Movie Reviews (Roberto Mattos) LOVE LIKE YOURS (The Romance Chronicles—Book #5) is book #5 in a new, sweet romance series by #1 bestselling author Sophie Love. The series begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1), a free download! Keira Swanson, 28, finds herself spending a magical Christmas with new her new boyfriend and his family in Sweden. How will their relationship end? Keira returns to New York to discover, to her shock, that she has started a new trend in dating that is sweeping across the country—“Scandinavian romance”—and to find herself becoming a celebrity. Even more confusing, her sister gets engaged, and gives Keira constant advice. Overwhelmed, Keira takes solace when Christiano calls, and surprises herself when she agrees to take a week off and meet him on neutral ground: in Greece. Her magazine is thrilled, and they want this to be her new assignment: can love work the second time around, in a different time and place, if you give it one more chance? Greece is spectacular, filled with sun, ocean, ruins and romance. It is one of the most beautiful places she has ever been. But nothing can prepare Keira for her encounter with Cristiano—and the surprise that follows on its heels. A wholesome romantic comedy that is as profound as it is funny, LOVE LIKE YOURS is book #5 in a dazzling new romance series that will make you laugh, cry, and will keep you turning pages late into the night—and will make you fall in love with romance all over again. Book #6 will be published soon! “Sophie Love's ability to impart magic to her readers is exquisitely wrought in powerfully evocative phrases and descriptions….[This is] the perfect romance or beach read, with a difference: its enthusiasm and beautiful descriptions offer an unexpected attention to the complexity of not just evolving love, but evolving psyches. It's a delightful recommendation for romance readers looking for a touch more complexity from their romance reads.” --Midwest Book Review (Diane Donovan re: For Now and Forever)
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L O V E L I K E Y O U R S
(THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 5)
S O P H I E L O V E
#1 bestselling author Sophie Love is author of the romantic comedy series, THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR, which includes eight books, and which begins with FOR NOW AND FOREVER (THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR—BOOK 1).
Sophie Love is also the author of the debut romantic comedy series, THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES, which includes 5 books (and counting), and which begins with LOVE LIKE THIS (THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES—BOOK 1).
Sophie would love to hear from you, so please visit www.sophieloveauthor.com to email her, to join the mailing list, to receive free ebooks, to hear the latest news, and to stay in touch!
Copyright © 2018 by Sophie Love. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright vvita, used under license from Shutterstock.com.
BOOKS BY SOPHIE LOVE
THE INN AT SUNSET HARBOR
FOR NOW AND FOREVER (Book #1)
FOREVER AND FOR ALWAYS (Book #2)
FOREVER, WITH YOU (Book #3)
IF ONLY FOREVER (Book #4)
FOREVER AND A DAY (Book #5)
FOREVER, PLUS ONE (Book #6)
FOR YOU, FOREVER (Book #7)
CHRISTMAS FOREVER (Book #8)
THE ROMANCE CHRONICLES
LOVE LIKE THIS (Book #1)
LOVE LIKE THAT (Book #2)
LOVE LIKE OURS (Book #3)
LOVE LIKE THEIRS (Book #4)
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
Keira sniffed. Ham. She could definitely smell ham.
She opened her eyes, taking a moment to adjust to the bright daylight bouncing off the powder blue walls. Milo’s bedroom. She smiled to herself.
Another waft of cooking food caught her nostrils. Yolanta and Nils, Milo’s parents, were probably preparing Christmas dishes down in the kitchen. Her mouth flooded with saliva in response.
Keira rolled over and looked at Milo’s sleeping form. The last few days in Sweden with him had been wonderful. Magical. The snow had come, covering the mountain cottages in a thick blanket of white, and they’d spent the days hiking, ice fishing, and skating on the frozen lake. It had felt dreamlike to Keira, as if she were the heroine in a fantasy film. The beautiful scenery was made better when the evening drew in and the Northern Lights started to undulate in the sky.
Keira wished it didn’t have to end. But she knew she couldn’t stay in Sweden forever. Tomorrow she had a flight booked home to New York City. It made her sad to think about leaving this place, leaving Milo and his family. The whole experience had been refreshing for her. Rejuvenating.
The relationship, too, had felt like the most welcome relief from the stress of her last romantic endeavors. It was the first time Keira had really felt able to live in the moment, knowing that neither she nor Milo had any expectations, no unrealistic, overambitious plans for a future together (as she’d had with Shane), no marriage pressures (as she’d had with Cristiano). She realized this was the first time her thoughts of leaving weren’t gut-wrenching. They were merely sad, like the whole world and her whole heart were not dependent on the outcome of this relationship.
Just then, Milo woke up. He looked over at her and smiled. “Happy Christmas.”
Keira leaned down and kissed him softly. “Happy Christmas.”
Milo lay back against the pillow, his eyelids fluttering several times, as though he wasn’t yet fully awake.
“I smell ham,” he said sleepily.
Keira giggled. “Me too. I’m guessing your parents are in the kitchen.”
“Of course,” he said, yawning. “Swedish Christmas is a time for excess. They’ll be cooking all day.”
“We should help them,” Keira suggested.
Milo shook his head. His eyes were shut again. He clearly wasn’t ready to be fully awake yet.
Keira gazed at his face, so handsome and serene. She was going to miss this, the closeness, the easiness of it all. Never before had things felt so right between her and a man, so devoid of friction or fraught with insecurity.
Milo opened a single eye. “What are you looking at?” he asked with a smirk.
Keira sighed. “Just your gorgeous face.”
He frowned and reached out to gently touch her arm. “Why so melancholy?” He smiled softly, reassuringly. “No one is allowed to be sad on Christmas.”
Keira laughed but felt her stomach twist. “You know why,” she said in an exhalation.
Milo pushed himself up onto his elbows, the covers sliding down to reveal his honed torso. “You’re thinking about tomorrow,” he stated. “About leaving. And about the future. About what comes next.”
She nodded, her gaze falling to the bed sheets.
Milo reached for her, wrapping his arms about her and pulling her into his warm chest.
“It’s going to be okay,” he told her. “We can’t predict the future, but whatever happens, we will be okay. Every relationship, romantic or otherwise, teaches you something. About love, friendship, the human psyche, yourself. No moment is wasted if you allow yourself to be fully immersed in it. And you’ve done that. You spent Christmas in a foreign country away from your family for the first time in your life. The future, path, it’s nothing to worry about. You’ve got this.”
Keira felt him press a kiss into the crown of her head. His positive approach to life and relationships was reassuring, and she was glad he hadn’t said anything overblown like her exes would have. There was no pretense, no promise, just now.
She committed to immersing herself in the day, just as Milo had suggested.
“Come on,” she said, moving from his warm, strong arms. “Let’s see what your folks are cooking up. I want to learn some more crazy Swedish recipes.”
Milo chuckled. “Homemade liver pâté? Really think you’re ready?”
Keira grinned and flexed her muscles. “I was born ready!”
Down in the kitchen, they found Milo’s parents, Nils and Yolanta, and his sister, Regina, all buzzing around in an organizing frenzy. Unlike at her own home, the Nilson family seemed to love being busy. Had this been her mom’s kitchen, with Mallory and Bryn inside, there’d be at least one spilled pan on the floor, one dry, overcooked ham smoldering in the oven, and a discarded dish towel starting to burn on the stove’s open flame.
“Good morning!” Nils exclaimed, in his bouncy, lilting Swedish accent.
“Are you here to help cook?” Regina asked. Of all the family, she was the least chill, Keira thought. She seemed to enjoy reveling in stress and bossing everyone around, whereas her parents were far more lighthearted about it all.
“Oh, Regina, leave them alone,” Yolanta said. “Keira’s our guest, must I remind you. And besides, we only have her for one more day. There’s no way she’s lifting a finger.”
Keira smiled at the sweet comment, but she felt her melancholy growing. Yolanta had brought up the fact that they were nearing the end of the countdown, that her time here was soon over.
“Milo still needs to help,” Regina said.
“I’d love to, dear sister,” he joked, slinging an arm around her. “What can I do to help?”
“You could start on the liver pâté,” she said, gesturing him to a chopping board set up on one of the counters. Beside it sat a lump of terrifying-looking meat. Keira felt her stomach churn.
Milo turned and wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Told you so.”
The family settled into their cooking, and Keira’s attempts to join in were constantly thwarted. In the end, she busied herself setting the table for breakfast, making it exceptionally neat. She adjusted the gaudy reindeer print tablecloth and laid out the elaborate silver candlesticks and Santa figurines. Then she moved on to tidying the room and straightening all the pictures. They’d previously spent a joyful evening decorating the whole house in Christmas-themed art—strange images depicting winter woodland nymphs—and she’d been assured this was a traditional Swedish thing to do.
From helping decorate their tall, densely branched tree with Swedish flags, tinsel, colored baubles, and electric lights, Christmas time in Sweden, Keira had learned, was a fun, lively, and often bizarre affair. But it wasn’t all strange. There was the usual excess of good food—the classic glazed ham served alongside more Swedish delicacies such as egg and anchovy mixture, herring (pickled, patéd, and in salad form), rye bread, potatoes, meatballs, beetroot salad, liver pâté, and a fish dish called lutfisk. And though the daylight hours were short, the skies had been blue, the sun shining, and the snow underfoot glistening and bright. When the long, dark evenings drew in, Yolanta lit the candles and their warming glow was comforting. Fresh hyacinths were ever present, filling the home with their powerful scent.
Just then, Keira heard clattering from behind and turned to see the family entering, their arms laden with dishes and trays which they began to place on the table. The excess of food for Christmas breakfast was even more mouth-watering than the last few days had been. Keira licked her lips in anticipation.
Everyone sat and began dishing out the food. Keira filled her plate with breads and cheeses, and gratefully accepted a cup of exceptionally strong, fresh brewed coffee.
“Do you know what your next assignment is going to be, Keira?” Yolanta asked, as she passed over a bowl of sliced tomatoes.
Keira took it and began heaping slices onto her plate. “Not yet,” she said. Then she confessed, “I technically haven’t finished the one I’m working on yet.”
“You’ve not?” Nils asked.
Keira shook her head. She didn’t like to think of the work still to be done hanging over her. But things with Viatorum, the magazine she wrote for, had become somewhat tense, and the ending they demanded was not the one she’d delivered. She was still negotiating with them how much freedom she deserved with her own work. But she also knew that she was pushing it all out, wanting to savor the moment instead of worrying about her job. That savoring would come to an abrupt end on her return to New York City.
“I hope next time you go somewhere warm,” Nils commented. “You should negotiate the Bahamas. Or New Zealand. It’s a beautiful place.”
Keira smiled, recalling how well traveled Milo’s father was. The complete opposite of his son, in fact. Milo had confessed to rarely leaving his home country due to a fear of flying and bouts of terrible homesickness.
“We need to toast,” Yolanta said suddenly, holding up her coffee mug. “To Christmas!”
Laughing, Keira raised her own mug, clinking it in turn with each of the family members and wishing them each a Merry Christmas as she did so.
As she looked around the table at the family, Keira felt a swell of love for them all. She really had loved the time she’d spent with them and would cherish it forever. It wasn’t every day that she got the opportunity to meet such a warm, friendly, caring family and have them open their arms and heart to her over the Christmas season. She was going to miss them desperately after leaving Sweden.
“Can we open presents now?” Regina asked as soon as the plates were empty.
Nils chuckled. “She is still a seven-year-old at heart. At least we get her to sit through breakfast these days. Back then we used to have to negotiate with her to let us sleep in beyond five a.m.!”
Yolanta laughed. “Let’s go sit around the tree.”
Everyone stood, leaving the table mess for later, and went into the living room.
“I can’t wait to give Keira her gift,” Yolanta said as they went. “It’s extra special.”
Keira felt touched to know Milo’s family had gone to so much effort for her. Before she’d agreed to stay for Christmas, they’d given her gifts to take back to New York and she’d been overwhelmed with gratitude enough. But when it turned out she was staying, the gifts had multiplied beneath the tree, almost to a level that embarrassed Keira. She didn’t feel like she deserved so much kindness. Compared to Christmases at home, she felt thoroughly spoiled.
“I have something special for Keira too,” Milo said.
She blushed. Out the corner of her mouth, she muttered, “You know I haven’t had time to buy anything.”
Milo laughed. “We know. No one minds. You don’t give gifts expecting them in return. That defeats the point of gifts.”
“I know,” Keira said, “but I feel so guilty. Everyone’s been absurdly accommodating.”
“Stop worrying.” Milo chuckled. “Your presence is our present!”
Keira rolled her eyes at his cheesy line, but she did feel a little better.
They entered the living room and all took their seats. Nils positioned himself on the floor, preparing to hand the gifts out. He picked up the first, which was wrapped in gorgeous sparkly silver paper.
“This is for Keira,” he said, reading the snowflake-shaped tag. “It’s from Yolanta.”
He passed it first to Yolanta, who then passed it on to Keira, clearly in some kind of family ritual. Keira took the large rectangular box, still feeling residual guilt about having nothing to give in return.
Carefully, so as not to rip the gorgeous paper, Keira peeled back the tape and unwrapped her gift. The box contained within it was white with a Swedish brand name written across it that Keira couldn’t read. But the rest of the family all made a noise that seemed to suggest they knew exactly what was inside.
Keira lifted the lid and folded back the white tissue paper inside. To her shock and delight, inside was a full snow suit. Keira pulled it out, holding it up, and laughing along with the rest of them. So far, she’d been borrowing a spare suit of Yolanta’s that was far too big for her, not to mention bright red. This one was dark, sleekly designed, and the appropriate size.
“Amazing,” Keira said. “This looks so comfortable. I’m going to get so much use out of it.”
But she felt her chest hitch then, as it dawned on her that she potentially was not. Her days in Sweden were almost over.
“For when you next visit,” Yolanta reassured her, as if intuitively picking up on the subtle change in Keira’s mood.
“Thank you,” Keira said with deep gratitude.
From the tree, Nils had handed a gift to Milo, via Regina, and he opened up a new watch.
“Thanks, sis,” he said, admiring it on his wrist.
“The next gift,” Nils continued from his place on the floor, surrounded by pine needles, “is for… Keira. From Milo.”
He handed the flat, rectangular gift to Milo, was passed it on to Keira.
Keira raised an eyebrow. She had no clue what it might be.
She began to unwrap it, realizing as she did that it was some kind of painting. She pulled the rest of the paper off hurriedly and spun the rectangle around so it was facing the right way. Then she gasped at what she saw. The landscape painting depicted the scene of a frozen lake, with dogs sledding over it. It was beautiful, and so incredibly thoughtful.
“That’s the same lake we went ice fishing on,” Milo explained. “It’s painted by a famous Swedish painter. I thought it would help you remember Sweden.”
Keira felt herself well up, so touched by the gesture. She threw her arms around Milo. “It’s wonderful!” she exclaimed, pressing kisses onto his cheek.
Nils continued his present sharing, handing one to Yolanta for Regina, and another to Regina to hand straight back to him.
“What I really wanted to get you,” Milo said in Keira’s ear as his family busied themselves with their gifts, “was an actual dog sled ride.”
“Sadly, we didn’t have enough time,” he continued. “So I got you this instead.”
He pulled something out from behind him. Keira gasped from the shock of there being yet another gift for her, and for the fact it had not gone through the official Nilson family channels.
“A secret gift?” she said, in a joke conspiratorial voice.
Milo nodded. “Open it,” he said eagerly.
Beyond touched, Keira carefully removed the paper. She was holding a small black rectangular box, and already recognized the packaging as jewelry. She snapped it open and gasped. Inside was a necklace of white gold and pale sapphire.
“Oh, Milo, it’s gorgeous,” she said, breathless.
She reached in and pulled the necklace up to her neck, laying the delicate thing across her collarbones.
“Let me,” he offered.
She turned, swiping her hair over one shoulder, and Milo fastened the latch. His fingers felt warm against her skin, making her tingle all over.
“Even though we will be hundreds of miles apart,” he whispered in her ear, “you now have something from me, and Sweden, that can be with you always.”
Keira turned to him, beyond touched. “I’ll treasure it,” she said, gazing into his eyes. “Thank you for making this the best Christmas ever.”
“No, thank you,” Milo said with deep meaning.
Then he laughed and pulled her into his arms as the family continued their present opening around them.
The rest of the day was a busy and joyous affair, though it was with a pang of relief that Keira found herself on the porch late at night, with the entirety of Milo’s family in bed, and just Milo for company. As much as she adored his family, having a few more precious moments just the two of them felt necessary.
They sat side by side, silently sharing a bottle of warming spirits, overlooking the mountains for what would be, for Keira, the last time. How sad that their first moment alone all day would also be their last moment alone for an undetermined time.
The North Star was shining brightly above them, and thanks to the thickness of the snow, it appeared as if all the cottages dotted around the mountains were nestled into it. At the edge of the forest Keira saw the dark fir trees, looking majestic in their most natural habitat of deep, deep snow.
Milo reached for Keira’s hand then. She looked over at him, the sight of his face just as breathtakingly beautiful as the scene she’d just torn her eyes from. She felt his warm fingers squeezing hers.
“I never thought I could fall in love with someone so quickly,” he said, in his usual open way. “Honestly, I thought the whole love at first sight thing was a myth. That people were confusing love and lust.”
Keira blushed. She had certainly been guilty of that. But she’d also, in her journey of self-discovery, accepted that lust at first sight was just as valid an experience as its cousin love. Not every relationship was meant to last, but that wasn’t a reason in itself to turn your back on the opportunities life presented you with.
“You’ve proved that wrong,” Milo continued. “It is real. It has happened to me.”
She smiled at him tenderly, and nodded in agreement. Not to mean that he’d changed her mind about falling in love—she knew very well that she’d fallen in love very easily in the past—but in agreement with his assessment that love at first sight was indeed real.
The thought reminded her, suddenly, that even though she felt like Milo was the one, in this moment, experience had taught that that could easily be proven to be wrong. And that thought leapfrogged her to another one. For the first time, Keira was actually looking forward to going home, to being independent in her new apartment. As much as she had loved being in Sweden and being with Milo, she knew this moment in her life needed to come to an end.
Just then, Keira realized Milo was looking at her expectantly. She’d been silent for too long. He’d confessed his love for her and all she’d done was nod!
“What are you thinking?” he asked, his expression a little crestfallen.
“Honestly, I’m thinking about tomorrow,” she admitted. “About the fact I’m leaving.”
He exhaled. “I thought you might be.”
She squeezed his fingers, which were still entwined with hers. “I’m sorry if that disappoints you.”
“No,” Milo said rather quickly, looking intently into her eyes. “I would never try and make you feel guilty for leaving, or for wanting to. I know this must end too. It’s just that it’s been such a magical experience. You’ve taught me so much about love, about myself.”
Keira leaned in and kissed him tenderly. “I feel the exact same way.”
A shrill, unwanted alarm woke Keira the next morning. She pulled her pillow over her head, trying to ignore it, but soon felt Milo gently shaking her elbow. Slowly, she inched the pillow from her face and peeped out. Dawn had hardly broken. Milo smiled down at her, but there was sorrow in his eyes.
“It’s time,” he said.
With a groan of resignation, Keira fully removed the pillow and sat up. She discovered that Milo was dressed. Beside her on the bedside table was a tray of coffee and breakfast.
“You made me this?” she asked, touched.
“I didn’t want you going hungry on the plane,” he said with a shy shrug.
Keira reached for him, stroking his stubbled cheek. She kissed him tenderly. “Thank you,” she said with deep affection.
The pang of grief she’d been nurturing since yesterday returned. She felt knots of emotion in her stomach as the realization sunk in that today really was the end for them. Quickly, she shoved off the duvet, not wanting to break down in front of Milo, and busied herself by collecting strewn clothes off the floor.
“Keira,” she heard Milo say in a kind, cautious tone.
“What?” she replied, not looking at him, trying to keep her voice steady.
Keira grabbed some toiletries from the chest and hurriedly slung them into her case. “I have to pack.”
“You don’t need to rush,” he said. His voice was measured as usual, which was at complete odds with how Keira herself felt. “There’s time to sit and drink coffee.”
“I’d prefer to get this done first,” Keira replied, hearing the strain in her voice.
From behind, she heard Milo stand. He came over and took her by the shoulders. She tensed, not feeling able to handle any kindness in her emotionally vulnerable state. But it was too late. Just the sensation of him behind her made her facade crack. Tears began to trickle from her eyes.
She turned and folded into Milo’s embrace. They stood that way for a long time, as Keira let the pent-up emotion out. To her surprise, just allowing herself to be vulnerable and let out the tears seemed enough to lessen their power. She quickly collected herself, much quicker than she usually would, and felt significantly better.
“Coffee?” she said, moving from Milo’s embrace.
He nodded, and they sat together on his bed, sharing their last coffee together. The tears on Keira cheeks dried.
“I’m not looking forward to saying goodbye to the family,” she confessed between sips. “I mean, you all feel like my family now. I’m going to be a blubbering idiot.”
Milo’s lips quirked. “It’ll be fine. It’s not like it’s forever. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.”
Keira stayed silent, her mind mulling things over. She wasn’t sure yet what she wanted from this, or how their story would progress, whether there even was a story for the two of them.
Milo must have noticed her hesitation.
“But we don’t have to talk about that now,” he said, his gaze drifting away.
They finished their coffee and breakfast, and then Keira washed and dressed in preparation for the long flight ahead. Usually she dreaded journeys, but she’d become so used to it now it hardly fazed her. How quickly she’d grown accustomed to her new jet-setting lifestyle. And, she remembered with a little spark of excitement, she had a new apartment waiting for her in New York City; her first real step toward complete independence.
With her bags fully packed, she and Milo headed downstairs. The family was gathered in the kitchen, all mid-breakfast themselves. Keira knew they’d made the effort to wake up early just to say goodbye, and was touched by the gesture.
Regina was the first to stand. She came over and hugged Keira tightly, her usual stern expression greatly softened.
“I’m going to miss having another woman about the place,” she said. “It was nice having a sister for a week.”
“I’m just the other end of the phone,” Keira reminded her.
Nils took Regina’s place, towering above Keira with his six-foot-something frame. He patted her shoulder firmly.
“You are welcome back anytime,” he said. “Anytime at all.”
“Thank you,” Keira replied.
Then he pulled her into an awkward half-embrace. Keira felt like a child enveloped in his large arms.
She moved from the embrace and turned her attention to Yolanta. She’d grown closest to Milo’s mother during the vacation, and it would be the hardest to be parted from her out of the three of them.
Yolanta cupped Keira’s face in a very motherly gesture.
“Beautiful, talented girl,” she said. “You’ll be back to see us, won’t you?”
Keira blushed. “I will.”
Yolanta nodded, satisfied, then the two hugged tightly.
“We’d better go,” Milo said from behind.
Keira disengaged from Yolanta’s arms and looked back over her shoulder at him, standing by the door with all her luggage at his feet. Then she glanced back at the family.
“I guess this is it,” she said, with a heavy sigh. “I’ll miss you. Thank you for your hospitality. It’s been the best Christmas I’ve ever had. I’ll cherish these memories forever.”
“It’s been a delight to have you,” Nils said.
“Come back anytime,” Regina added.
“We’ll see you soon,” Yolanta said, emphasizing the final word.
Keira nodded. Then she turned away from them and joined Milo, collecting one of her bags from the pile. Milo opened the door and a cold blast of Swedish winter air rushed at her, making her shiver. Milo headed out into the chilly day, heading for the car. Keira swallowed the lump in her throat as she waved behind at the family one last time.
“Goodbye!” everyone said in unison.
Then Keira followed after Milo, shutting the door gently behind her. She stepped down the snowy garden path, drinking in the sight of the mountains one last time, trying to take a picture for her memory. She never wanted to forget this view, this place, or this family. She wanted every detail seared into her mind.
She added her bag to the trunk, then got in the passenger side of Milo’s little car. He gunned it to life.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Ready,” she replied with a nod of finality.
As he pulled away, she looked back over her shoulder, taking one last photograph with her mind.
Just as the house disappeared from sight, Keira heard her cell phone ping. She fished it from her purse and saw that she’d received a text from Elliot. She frowned. It wasn’t like Elliot to text her; he usually kept everything between them quite formal.
She opened the text and read it.
Merry Christmas, Keira! Hope you had your happy ending…
She smiled, touched that Elliot would send her a personal message. But then she scrolled down and read the rest:
Just a reminder that the deadline for your article is tomorrow. You’ve already had one extension, so this is final.
She groaned. Elliot knew when her plane was leaving today and yet he’d chosen to contact her now, through the most direct and personal means he could, rather than an email like usual. He was trying to take what little time she had left with Milo away from her. She turned her phone off and slung it back in her purse.
“Everything okay?” Milo asked.
“Yes,” Keira said with a breezy smile.
But really, she felt reality come back to her in a sudden flash. Her fantasy trip was over. It was time to get back to the real world.
Keira and Milo stood side by side, hand in hand, in front of the gate for her flight. The board gate number flashed up onto the screen, just as a voice came over the PA:
“This is a boarding call for flight Swedish Air one forty-five from Sweden to New York. Please could all passengers make their way to gate ten.”
Keira turned to Milo. “That’s me,” she said.
He nodded. His expression was more morose than ever as he leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
“Good luck with everything, Keira,” he said.
“That sounds so final,” she murmured in reply.
“Sorry,” Milo replied. “I’ve been getting vibes off you all morning, that once you leave, it will be over.”
Keira raised her eyebrows. For straight-talking Milo to be guided by her vibes seemed a bit out of character. Except, he wasn’t wrong.
“It’s a practical thing,” she said. “You know that, right? You don’t want to fly or leave Sweden, and I don’t want to move away from New York. It’s just how it is. I don’t mean to be so cold about it.”
“No, it’s okay,” Milo said with a nod. “You know how much I appreciate honesty. It’s just a shame. We’ve had a lot of fun together.”
“I don’t mean to make it sound like we’ll never talk again,” Keira said, offering a tentative smile. “We can still be friends.”
Milo’s troubled expression lessened somewhat. “Okay. Yes. I’d like that.”
“Good,” Keira replied with a relieved sigh. She couldn’t bear the thought of him being completely gone from her life, even if she did understand they had to romantically untangle themselves.
She offered her arms for a hug, and Milo took up the offer. They held each other for a long time. It was only the voice coming over the PA a second time asking passengers to board that made them break apart.
“I’d better go,” Keira said. She gazed deeply into his eyes. “Goodbye, Milo.”
He held on to her hand, lingering, drawing out the time. “I know this is a strange thing to say…but thank you. I feel very lucky to have met you.”
Keira smiled. “I feel the same.”
As her hand fell from Milo’s, Keira turned and walked away. When she reached the gate and handed her boarding pass and passport over to the man, she looked back one last time. Milo was still standing there where she’d left him. She waved, feeling a sad pang in her chest. He waved back.
“There you go, Miss Swanson,” the man at the desk replied, handing her back her documents.
“Thank you,” she said, taking them.
She didn’t look back again.
Keira found her seat on the plane. Though she felt somewhat sad about ending things with Milo, she also felt energized. Her whole experience in Sweden had felt like preparation for her newfound independence.
She looked around at the other people on the plane. On the seats to her left were a couple kissing, and a little further ahead was a family with kids bouncing around as the parents tried to get them into their seats. For the first time, Keira didn’t feel envious. Instead, she felt a newfound freedom and solace in her independence. Her journey was different from all of these other people’s, and she wouldn’t want it any other way.
Feeling emboldened, Keira took her laptop from her hand luggage and began to work on her article. She used a different approach than she had in her past articles, writing about the freedom of no attachments.
From now on, when I do love, I will love the Scandinavian way.
The next morning, Keira woke with backache. She blinked and looked around, disoriented. It took her a long time to work out where she was. Not Milo’s, nor her room at her mom’s, but her brand new apartment. Unfortunately, the only thing she currently had inside of it was a mattress. She didn’t even have a bed frame; hence, the backache.
Keira managed to heave herself out of bed. The only clothes in the new apartment were the ones in her case. Luckily, Yolanta had insisted on washing all her stuff for her during the Christmas vacation, so at the very least she had clean clothes to wear. She chose her most work-like outfit from the selection of wool skirts and comfortable jeans, then headed out onto the streets of New York City.
The moment her shoes hit the sidewalk, she felt a surge inside her at being home. Even the smell of pollution comforted her, despite being in complete contrast to the crisp, clean mountain air she’d been breathing in Sweden.
She went to a coffee truck at the side of the road, joining the queue of bleary-eyed workers glued to their phones.
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