Her Swedish Billionaire's Baby

By: Cher Etan

Chapter 1

Samara climbed out of the car she’d hitched in and thanked the driver, slinging her backpack over her shoulder and hoisting her duffle bag. UCLA. She was really here.

She checked her cell phone to see if there were any messages from Dad or Alison. Nothing.

So many students. They were everywhere. She’d never been around so many people at once; Dad avoided crowds. You never knew who might recognize you and call the cops, who or what might be lurking there, what weapons they might have on them. It made Samara nervous by proxy, eyeing passers-by, looking for sidelong glances, furtive behavior, the favoring of the side on which was kept a concealed weapon, but nothing looked amiss. It was just like being in high school with Alison; everyone was just a little older and hopefully more mature.

She followed the stream of people gathering at the registration tables, and she set down her stuff when she got to the front of the line. A matronly woman smiled kindly as she looked over her acceptance letter and other information, which had her real name on it for just about the first time in her life. That was how she’d done this college thing from the beginning: not the way Dad or some other hustler would do it, but her own way. She would be going her own way from here on out. She had to. Dad had made it all too clear there was no going back.

The matronly lady seemed satisfied as she looked over her papers, not saying anything about how bent and dirty they were, but then she frowned, concerned. “Oh, I don’t see a dorm assignment on here.”

“Oh, I, uh ... already got an apartment here in town, so I’ll be staying there.”

“Oh ....” She looked her up and down with an expression she couldn’t place at first. She chuckled softly, shocked, when she did. It was worry. This nice lady she didn’t even know was worried for her. Why? What was the worst that could happen to her here? She wouldn’t find a good place to sleep or get much to eat for a while? It was so strange ... and so sweet. “All right,” she finally said, as if something about her discouraged further questions. Then she looked around behind her. “Aren’t your parents here?” she asked anxiously.

Samara shook her head, taken aback. She was used to dodging questions, but not this kind. Usually she was trying to escape serious trouble, not trying to save someone’s feelings. “Um ... yeah. Yeah. They’re right outside, waiting for me. So many people in here, you know ... they don’t like crowds.”

She felt a distant vicarious joy, seeing the relief flood her face. “Oh, good,” she gushed, like she felt a million times better. “Well, I won’t keep you away from them any longer. Here you go. If you take this, you can go get your photo ID taken, and then you’ll be all set!”

“Great, thanks,” she said, took it, and wandered away, glancing back at her a couple times. If this were a town they were living in for a few weeks or months, she was the kind of person she’d befriend. Dad and Alison didn’t seem to believe in making friends, so she never let on that she did this, but Samara had found her friends came in very handy, when she needed a place to crash, when she couldn’t stand one more second around Dad or Alison, when she ran away again, even for a night. There was never any harm in befriending these people; they skipped town before they could find out too much about the Khaleds.

Samara always tried to say goodbye, though sometimes Dad whisked them away before she had a chance to. Samara had learned to always write down their phone number early so that in case this happened, she could sneak a final call to explain they’d moved away and leave them feeling okay about their friendship, or at least like they hadn’t been played by her. She was still in touch with some of those people, e-mailing them whenever she got the chance from one of her secret webmail accounts her family didn’t know about. Fortunately, neither Dad nor Alison was too good with computers. If any of Samara’s friends lived in UCLA, she could probably have imposed on them for a place to stay before she found her own digs, but none of them did. The Khaleds had never spent much time in California, which was another reason why this was the perfect college for Samara.

If this were her old life, she’d have befriended her, but this wasn’t her old life, and already she could tell none of the old rules applied.

After getting the photo for her student ID taken (also the first ID she’d ever had with her real name on it), the first order of business was to find a place to stay for the night and some food. The hippie who drove her the rest of the way here had shared what she had, but it wasn’t much. Without conscious effort, Samara cased the cafeteria and every other campus building for what she needed. Wandering into the cafeteria, pretending to be lost, she quickly determined it would be nothing to break in after hours and take whatever she needed. This was a huge relief; she’d been afraid getting food would be a problem, but they spoon-fed these college kids practically like they were babies.

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