Freja is insistent on carrying Clara’s big backpack this time around and I don’t want another fuss on my hands so I let her, even though it dwarfs her tiny frame. We visit the farm animals which the girls are all taken with, especially the sheep and tiny pigs, and then I grab a bag of apples and some root vegetables for Karla since the Danes are so crazy for them and incorporate them into every dish (along with rugbrød, which is a tasty dark rye bread that I can never pronounce right).
We’re settled down at a picnic table and eating late lunch of open-faced sandwiches (no meat, naturally) when a couple walks past and sits down at the table across from us. They both seem to be about my age, late twenties, and unlike some of the other folk here, they don’t pay us any attention at all. In fact, they’re so completely smitten with each other, I’m not even sure they realize where they are.
Freja is watching them with a scrunched-up nose that gets more and more exaggerated as the couple continues with their smooching and pet names, while Clara eyes them curiously.
Then Clara looks at me, lips pursed in thought.
“What?” I ask her. “Do you want that mustard paste of yours?”
“Yes,” she says, holding out her hand.
“Yes, please,” I tell her, rummaging through my bag and handing it to her.
“Yes, please and thank you,” she says, taking the paste and squirting some onto her bread and then kindly does the same on Freja’s. “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”
The lettuce nearly falls out of my mouth. “What?”
“You don’t have a boyfriend,” she repeats. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be an insult but it sure feels like one.
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re always with us.”
That’s true. “I could have a boyfriend.” That I’d meet during my hour or two of free time in the evenings. Lord knows I’ve actually not had a Sunday off yet. I’m supposed to but as Amelie had hinted at, something always comes up.
“But you don’t. Why is that? No boyfriend. No husband.”
“Jeez, Clara,” I tell her, frowning as I munch on my pickle. “Haven’t you ever heard of an independent woman before?”
“No I have not,” she says earnestly. “But the nanny before you, she had a boyfriend. We saw him once. He had candy in his pockets but he was old.”
“Well, I have mustard in my purse, so there. And I’m sure everyone is old compared to you.”
“I’m not old,” Freja says.
“Everyone else, Freja,” I say.
“Did you ever have a boyfriend?” Clara is really pushing the subject. If my mother were still around, I’d say she sounded like her.
“Yeah, did you kiss him?” Freja asks in a low voice, as if she’s daring me to say yes.
“I had a boyfriend in France,” I tell them. “And yes, I kissed him.” Freja looks disgusted. “I kissed him a lot,” I add, for effect. She nearly turns green.
“What was his name?” Clara asks. “Was he nice?”
“His name was Luc and he was very nice,” I tell her. Very French, too. He wasn’t my only boyfriend, either. I’ve had a few but none of them were anything special, just guys to have fun with. When you’re living in certain places for only a year or two, you don’t form any kind of commitments with people. And that’s the way I like it.
“What about in Australia?”
I swallow, staring down at the remains of my sandwich. I decide lying would be easier. “No. No boyfriends. I waited until I was old enough for boys, I waited until I moved to Europe.”
Clara thinks that over, has a bite of her sandwich, then says, “Maybe you’ll get married. One day. To a prince.”
“Or a king,” Freja says excitedly. “Oh, maybe you’ll get married to Papa!”
I’m in the middle of drinking sparkling apple juice when she says this and I completely spit it out in a spray across the table, narrowly missing the girls.
“Wow, that was cool,” Clara says, wiping away some of my juice spit from the table. “You’re like a statue in a juice fountain.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, frantically grabbing a napkin and wiping my mouth and hand and the table. I’m still trying not to laugh at what Freja proposed.
“Believe me,” I say when I’ve composed myself, “I am not marrying your papa. I’m not marrying anyone. I’m very happy just being me, with you girls.”
“But if you married him, you wouldn’t have to move and you could be with us always.”
“Freja,” Clara says sharply, glaring at her. “Papa isn’t going to marry anyone. Ever. Okay? Mama is our mother, no one else is and no one else will be.”
Oh boy. Now, I have no idea what Aksel’s personal life is and I’m going to assume that if he was wildly in love with his wife, he won’t be moving on from her anytime soon. But if the day does come that he starts to date someone and eventually marry her, well, let’s just hope Clara has some time to come to terms with it.
I wonder what kind of woman Aksel would date. Even though he’s so grumpy and cold and exacting, there might be a side of him I never get to see. Well, there is a side of him that I do see, when he’s with his girls. That’s when the ice melts and he becomes something else.
“I’m done,” Freja says, pushing back her plate. “Can I go look at the pigs?”
I sigh, not ready to get up. “Sure.”
“I’ll go with her. You stay here,” Clara says quickly as she gets out of her seat.
I glance over at the section with the pigs and animals, just beyond the kissing couple. “Okay, but hold her hand and come right back and stay where I can see you.”
“Yes, Miss Aurora,” they chime in unison.
I watch as they go over to the pigpen, but as soon as the kissing couple starts distracting me with their tonsil hockey, I avert my eyes, lest it looks like I’m being a perv, just glancing every now and then as the girls are now chatting up a farmer.
My thoughts go back to Aksel.
What kind of woman would Aksel even be interested in? Obviously, she would have to have royal blood. I believe Helena did in some way or another. She would have to be as beautiful as she was, too. In her pictures she looks a bit like a modern Grace Kelly. Sleek blonde hair, sparkling eyes, elegant swan-like neck, slim limbs that looked good in any clothing. In the news clips I’ve seen, she moved like a dancer and was always so charming and witty.
I can see why he fell for her. Whoever he ends up with will have to be just like her, or better, if that’s even possible. Basically, she’ll have to be the opposite of me. I’m not selling myself short, it’s just a fact. I know my limitations.
Why are you even entertaining this thought? You and Aksel? Your boss? A bloody king?
I rub my forehead, trying to get sense into my head. Perhaps this day has messed me up more than I thought. All Freja had to say was that I should marry her father—a man that detests me above all else—and suddenly my thoughts are becoming warped. How ridiculous. Not just the whole boss and king part, but that it’s Aksel.
I sigh, grabbing my messenger bag and getting up. “Come on girls,” I call over to them as they’re still talking excitedly with the farmer. I start gathering up our plates and throw them in the trash bin just as they saunter over to me with big smiles on their faces.
“We should go home now,” Clara says in a tone I can’t quite place. “Right now.”
“Fine with me,” I tell them. I could sleep for weeks.
We approach the car, them trailing behind me, and I say to them in a low voice, “Let’s not tell your father what happened today. I think it would only worry him.”
“We won’t,” they both say at the same time, though they sound distracted.
I feel bad that I’m asking them to keep something secret from their father but honestly the last thing I need right now is for Aksel to lose his mind. Unless something pops up online or in the tabloids—and I pray it doesn’t—it’s best if all three of us just move on.
My nanny life doesn’t need any extra complications.
I must have looked like a wreck the moment we got back to the palace because Maja took one look at me and told me I could have the rest of the night off. I didn’t even have to eat dinner with them if I didn’t want to—instead I could have Henrik drive me wherever I wanted to go in the city.
But while all of that sounded nice, and I’d been itching to get away from the palace for a night and have some me time, to act like a twentysomething, maybe even flirt with a hot Danish guy since the girls reminded me of my lack of love life, I was so tired that I went straight up to my room and didn’t come down for the rest of the night, not even for food.
I mean, I have a small fridge now in my bedroom where I have some yogurt and craft beer, and I’ve got my kettle for instant coffee and tea, so I’m all set. I could hermit up in this place for eternity if need be.
I probably fell asleep pretty early because when a strange noise pulls me out of my dreams, I open my eyes to see that the lights in my room are on.
I stare at the ceiling, blinking and listening.
There it is again.
It’s like … a squealing. Not one of the girls, I don’t think. Maybe it’s Johan, sleepwalking. I’ve already had the privilege of running into his scary ass in the middle of the night.
I sit up slowly and strain my ears, trying to pick it up again. A quick glance at my phone tells me it’s only 11:30 p.m.
Then I hear the squeal again, followed by giggles and a mini stampede of bare feet against the wood floors.
This can’t be good.
I get up, slip on a robe, and cautiously open my door, peering out into the hall. I manage to see Clara’s hair flying behind her as she runs into their room and shuts the door.