Sarah did Hans one better and found a couple of bags for all our boxes. I’m pretty sure Hans added a tip to the check when he paid with his card, but I left one on the table, too. When we left I took one of the bags so Hans would have a free arm for me to be on. I don’t think he’d expected that.
To be honest, I hadn’t either.
I let him walk me to the car and get the door for me and put our bags in the back. Hans didn’t seem remotely put out that I’d cut our dinner date short. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. ‘Relieved’ seemed appropriate, but once I got in the car I was mostly just confused and tired and a little anxious.
The drive home was as uneventful as the drive to the restaurant had been. I closed my eyes and employed Megan’s breathing technique again. It helped a little – or maybe I was just being distracted by the smell of all the food in the back seat. My stomach seemed a bit more settled for having had that one potato wedge. Maybe I had just been hungry. I definitely was now.
It got awkward again when Hans walked me to my door. I had pointed out in the restaurant that this wasn’t a work date, and he had pretty much admitted I was right. So: should I let him kiss me goodnight? Did he even want to? I kept glancing at him over my shoulder while I fumbled with my keys. Did I want him to? On the hand couldn’t count for my first, but a goodnight kiss on the doorstep to my apartment probably would.
When I got my door unlocked I turned around to face Hans. He stood there, patiently. That’s when it really clicked. He’d put me in control of where our relationship went, and he’d meant it. He was waiting patiently for me to decide what to do: what I wanted to do, and what I wanted him to do about it.
I’ve never been kissed. I mean, not on the lips. Megan had sort of tried last year, but she’d been drunk and sugar crashed and would have been trying to kiss anyone who’d been there. So even if she hadn’t missed I don’t think that would’ve counted. But I’ve never had someone who was sober try to kiss me, and I’ve never tried to kiss anyone, either – whether they were sober or not. I’ve always been too afraid of where it would lead. And what it would mean. Mom had always warned me that I would never get anywhere in life if I acted like one of those girls. That I’d end up old and alone and wretched.
I envied Megan that it didn’t bother her to say what she wanted or pursue it. And frankly, of the two of us, I was the one who was always alone and wretched. But I liked it that way. Didn’t I?
Would it be so bad if I wanted just one goodnight kiss?
What else would Hans do if I said I did?
Except… he’d already said he wouldn’t read hints into anything. Or rather: he wouldn’t act on them if he did. And he’d said he wouldn’t push, or escalate. If I said I wanted a goodnight kiss – just one! – he’d stop at one single kiss. Right?
Hans was still waiting patiently while I struggled with myself, and that’s what really decided it. His assertion that he was interested in me was crazy but if it was false he would’ve just dumped me at my door and gone off to find someone less troublesome. It didn’t make any sense, but I was used to dealing with things that were crazy and didn’t make sense. After all, I professed to live in a world where vampires ran little independent publishing houses and Canadian slave traders abducted young women to use as bait for the chupacabracorn. I was crazy and didn’t make sense.
I opened the door to my apartment and went inside. I held it open for Hans. “The table is in the kitchen,” I told him, and pointed. “There are plates in the cupboard over the sink, and silverware in the drawer at the end of the counter.”
I wanted a kiss. But after the way I’d ruined dinner I didn’t deserve one. I would be taking terrible advantage of Hans’ easygoing decency if I just demanded one on my doorstep and sent him on his way, and I’d deserve one even less. I couldn’t fix what I’d already done, but… I hadn’t had a chance in hell of getting through dinner without incident, before. But I’m not good with new things or new places. So the way I figured it, maybe I had a chance in my home. Right?
Besides: I wanted a kiss, but I didn’t want it out here in the open where the whole world could just look over and see me totally flub it.
Hans smiled at me. If he found my invitation strange, he didn’t show it. He just ducked into the apartment and took our bags to the kitchen. I closed the door behind him. Then, because I’m me, I locked it.
I was a little bit shaky as I turned the last bolt. I mean, I couldn’t handle locking myself in with a small furry predator, and here I was trapping myself with a man I barely knew who out-massed me by, like, a hundred times. How the hell was that better than a cat?
I took a deep breath and turned around. Hans had put the food out on the counter and checked my cupboards for dishes. I watched him place two settings and shivered. Sure, we were in my apartment and whatever happened next would be private, but I didn’t really think that would make things easier. Hans was still sexy as hell and I was still neurotically shy.
I tried to think of what I would do if I were Megan, and that was no help. If I were Megan I wouldn’t be out of my league, and Hans and I would have actually had dinner at the restaurant, and inviting him into my home would have been the start of hot, passionate, marathon sexcapades.
But okay, if I were just more like Megan, I would be more forward. There was no denying that I thought Hans was sexy as only a Viking of a man can be. And he’d admitted to being into me, for God knows what reason. So… I should… Aw, hell, this was one of those times when it would have been great to know how to drop hints that a sane person could be expected to pick up on. But I didn’t, and Hans had said he was going to disregard any I might try to send, anyway, so I was pretty much stuck with the direct approach.
I joined Hans in the kitchen. If I was going to do this, I resolved, I was going to go all out. After all, we were safely in the privacy of my own home. If necessary I could deny the hell out of everything, later. Hans handed me a plate and I put it down on the counter behind myself.
“Okay,” I said. “First things first: what happens in private stays private. Alright?” I could not deal with it if I was worrying about becoming office gossip.
Hans nodded amicably. “I am not one to kiss and tell,” he assured me.
“Right,” I said. “Good. Uh… about that: I’m going to want a goodnight kiss.”
Hans nodded obligingly.
“But I’ve never been kissed and I’m going to be a nervous wreck if I’m thinking about it all night,” I added.
Hans nodded again. I bit my lip. Hans watched.
“So kiss me already,” I shouted in exasperation.
Hans grinned and stepped forward. For one terrifying instant I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. And then I found out.
He slipped an arm around my waist. One large hand filled the small of my back and pulled me closer. My hands ended up trapped against his chest – and oh my God, his muscles were like warm granite. His other hand stroked my cheek; he caught my chin and tilted my lips up toward his. I was trapped and helpless and he was leaning down over me.
I think I was less aware of his lips than I was of his arms around me. The hand that had caressed my face slipped back and cupped my head – I couldn’t even pull away. My heart was racing.
When I finally started paying attention to the kiss, it was almost over. Hans’ lips pressed firmly against mine. They were softer than I expected, and his stubble scratched my chin, but otherwise it was… vanilla? Megan has told me about some of her kisses – which have involved parted lips and exploring tongues and occasional biting. Hans’ kiss didn’t involve any of those… but maybe he was taking things slow for my sake. Smart man. Vanilla was almost too much.
After Hans broke our kiss he stepped back and let me go – reluctantly, I thought. Not that his hands seemed to linger, but the kiss had. I thought. Okay! So I had no idea: my sense of time seemed to have been scrambled somewhere along the way. Bite me.
I giggled. I couldn’t help it. I was so giddy… I braced myself with one hand on the counter because I felt like falling over. Hans had stopped after just one kiss. That was… I felt kind of like I’d just kicked death in the knucklebones and gotten away with it. I laughed again and tried really hard to pull myself together. I’m pretty sure I sounded like a psychopath.
“That was… wow,” I said.
Hans smiled at me. I wasn’t sure if he was more amused or more self-satisfied, but for the moment I didn’t even care.
I groped behind myself until I found the plate Hans had given me. “So… um… dinner?” I asked.
“That sounds splendid,” Hans agreed.
And so we ate.