An excerpt from 'This Christmas in Stockholm'

An excerpt from my Swedish-set novella 'This Christmas, in Stockholm'...

Outside the streets are bustling with people, but it’s Christmas, this place was never going to be quiet at this time of year.
I make my way along the narrow streets and alleyways of the Old Town, glancing up every now and again at the decorations and lights, the sound of music and chatter flooding out of the bars and restaurants I walk past. I’m looking for a quiet one, somewhere I can grab some food and a couple of beers without feeling too self-conscious that I’m on my own.
“Are you lost?”
I swing around at the sound of a heavily accented voice coming from behind me. “No, I’m…”
The man who’s suddenly materialised in front of me is tall with dark-blond hair, a stubbled jawline and the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Even in the darkness they shine like ice-blue diamonds from his ridiculously handsome face.
“I’m just looking for somewhere to grab dinner and a few drinks.”
He smiles at me, and I find myself looking away, it’s like I’m back in High School, all nervous and shy because the hottest guy in class is talking to me.
“You’re here alone?”
I turn back to face him, once more looking up into those ice-blue eyes. “Are you hitting on me?”
His mouth twists up into a slight smirk. “Would it be a bad thing if I were?”
“Your timing could be better.”
He frowns, but this man is a stranger, I have no idea who he is. I’m not explaining anything to him, least of all my personal circumstances.
“I know a little restaurant, just along the street there. It hasn’t been open long, but the food’s great, and so is the atmosphere. It’s fast becoming a very popular place to eat here in the Old Town.”
“Thanks. I’ll check it out.”
I turn to walk away, digging my hands into my pockets as a gust of cold air suddenly whips up around me.
His voice stops me in my tracks, and I slowly turn back around, cocking my head to one side as I look at him.
“Want me to show you where it is?”
As much as I’m loving that Swedish accent of his, I’m not looking for company, even company as handsome as him. “No, thank you. I’m fine. I’ll find it.” I turn to leave, again.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
I stop, sigh quietly, and turn back around. “Yes, I have. I’ve just answered it.”
“The one about you being here alone. You didn’t answer that question.”
“I’m here alone. There. Are we done now?”
“Is there a reason why you’re so defensive? Someone as beautiful as you, you shouldn’t be so cold.”
I narrow my eyes and fix him with a look that, hopefully, tells him I’m not up for a conversation. With anyone. “I just need a drink, okay? And thanks for the restaurant recommendation. That was very kind of you.”
I start to walk away, striding along the narrow alleyway, the cold breeze freezing my exposed skin as I look for this intimate bar and restaurant Mr. Sweden told me I should try.
“It’s this one.”
I stop and spin around again. “Are you stalking me?”
“You look sad.”
“I think you’re mistaking that for mildly irritated.”
“Let me buy you dinner.”
“Look, I’m not sure whether this is something you do on a regular basis, you know, pick up random women and harass them…”
“I’m not harassing you.”
“You are, actually.”
He smiles again, and I don’t know whether to feel annoyed or amused. He isn’t coming across as threatening, but this is a first for me. Being approached like this, by a total stranger. A hot, handsome stranger…
“Okay. Sorry.”
“I can buy my own dinner.”
“Do you speak a lot of Swedish?”
I frown and back up against the wall, folding my arms in what is very much meant as a defensive action. “Not really.”
“Because, this restaurant, they don’t speak a lot of English.”
“I’ll manage.”
“It’d be easier if I was there.”
“I don’t need a translator.”
“What do you need, huh?”
“Right now? A large beer, and for you to leave me alone.”
“You really want me to go?” He arches an eyebrow, but it isn’t working. Not on me.
“I really want you to go.”
“You see, the thing is, I’m kind of hungry too, so…”
I shrug, I’m tired, I’m not playing this ridiculous game anymore. “Whatever.” I briefly wonder whether I should keep looking for another restaurant, but it’s getting late, and I really need some food, and that beer, so I head inside, even though I know he’s following me. But I’m pleased to notice that, once inside, he keeps his distance. He hangs around at the bar, talking to a couple of people he obviously knows while I’m seated at a quiet table in the corner of the restaurant. I even manage to order my own beer, in Swedish. When I say I know the basics, I mean the important stuff.
Looking around me, I see he isn’t wrong about this place. It’s a small, very intimate space with an extremely calming atmosphere. There’s a corner bar at one end of the room, and the restaurant itself is dimly-lit and made up of only around twenty or so tables, of which I got one of the last available ones, close to a roaring open fire. And the smell of the food that’s coming out of the kitchen, it’s incredible! As is the aroma of mulled wine and spices. I’d almost forgotten it was Christmas. This is reminding me. Well, that and the huge Christmas tree at the other end of the bar, it’s pretty hard to miss that.
I look up from the menu, I can’t really make head nor tail of it anyway, it’s all in Swedish. Dinner’s going to be guess work on my part, but I’m not one to shirk a challenge. I glance over at the bar again, but he’s gone now. My irritating stranger. And I’m not sure whether I feel relieved or disappointed. But I didn’t come here for company, right? I came here to get my head together. To think...

Copyright © Michelle Betham 2018

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