She nods, frowning. “Maybe you’re right. But I think you feel that more than I do. Then again, I think any adult probably feels that way. Adulthood is a cage, the restrictions are slowly layered through the years, like bars. Family, jobs, spouses, children, expectations. It all adds up. It all changes us to become people that society wants us to be.”

“Look at us, examining the human condition on a fine Saturday morning.”

She lets out a soft laugh, then her expression fades. She says, “I really should be here for you more often.” Her voice is quiet.

I glance at her. “I should say the same about you.”

She waves at me dismissively. “No. We’re good. Really. Anya loves England and she gets to ride horses all day. She’s living the dream.”

“And you?”

“Me? I get to watch her live the dream,” she says brightly. “Isn’t that what every parent wants?”

I can’t disagree with her. “That’s most likely why I have a pet pig now. My girls are living the dream.”

She laughs. “I can see that.” She then looks me up and down with a discerning gaze. “You’ve looked better, though.”

My brows shoot up. “Ouch.”

“You’re too thin,” she says, poking me in the side.

I move my torso out of the way. “Thin? I’ll have you know I work out in the gym every morning for an hour.”

Stella only grins. “Better make it two hours then.”

“You’re a brat.”

“I’m just teasing. It’s what Mother would say to you. You need to eat more meat.”

“Right. Well the children are vegetarian now so I think we can blame them—and Aurora—for that.”

“It sounds like she’s made some positive changes.”

“The girls love her,” I admit. “And they’re happy. I can’t ask for much more than that.”

I’m surprised at the words coming out of my mouth. Three weeks ago, I doubt I would have said the same thing. I’m not even sure what changed.

“Vegetarians, pigs,” Stella remarks. “It sounds like your new nanny is turning this palace upside down.”

“Tell me about it.”

More like turning my life upside down.

Funny how I’m getting used to it.

Chapter 10

Aksel

Legoland is a Danish institution and a mecca for kids young and old from all around the world who love those irritating blocks of plastic that feel like murder when you step on them.

We haven’t been here since the girls were quite young and when we did go it was always more for publicity than for them. Helena was very conscious about being seen with them often, otherwise she said people would say she was a bad mother. So, when we went, we went during public hours, with a whole entourage of security with us. Helena always said that this would make us look more down to earth but there was no way the kids properly enjoyed it when they were being hounded and photographed all day long.

That was the thing about Helena. She only wanted the public to see us as down-to-earth—making sure they went to a public school, taking the kids to the park with “zero makeup” on, doing things for charity, but inside the walls of our palace, she was obsessed with our position, our status, our blood. She would sometimes drill that into the girls’ heads, which is probably why Clara can be a little snobby sometimes. She was always taught she was better than everyone.

It’s one reason why I thought Aurora could take them to Tivoli and have the security agents in the background. Give the kids a chance to be kids. Let them actually feel what it’s like to be “common,” for lack of a better word.

Didn’t quite work out as I’d thought.

This time, however, we’re taking no chances. Screw looking down to earth. We’re the royal family and I want my daughters to have an amazing time—in private. The park is closed to the public for two days, open only for us, and we’re even staying at the new Lego Castle Hotel next door which won’t officially be open until next year.

Darling Freja had been crying during the entire drive to Legoland, missing her Snarf Snarf whom Maja is stuck with back at the palace, but those tears dried up pretty fast once she saw where we were staying. Walking into the hotel is like walking into a castle … albeit one made out of Lego. It’s a bizarre, gaudy combination of medieval wooden accents and iron, then plastic stone walls and tapestries featuring Lego knights.

The room I got for us was, naturally, “The Princess Room,” with Stella and Anya staying at another Princess Room across the hall. Beside us, Aurora has a whole room to herself. She insisted on staying in a wizard themed one. Our royal guards are staying in a dragon room down the hall.

I wish we’d gotten dragons or wizards because this room is a bit … much. I’m currently perched in a velvet pink chair in the corner of the main bedroom, wishing I had something to drink. I can feel the blank smiling face of the Lego princess on the wall staring at me, perhaps judging me. We had basically been in the park since the moment we arrived, going on ride after ride, and we have another day of it tomorrow, but even so, it wouldn’t hurt to unwind with a glass of something.

At the other end of the room is a separate alcove with two bunk beds where the girls are currently fighting against sleep. Aurora has promised to tell them a story about Snarf Snarf and though I can’t see them from where I am, I can hear her every word.

“And then, sneaky little Snarf Snarf decided to hide behind the curtain until everyone in the house was asleep.” Aurora talks with such animation, her accent really coming alive. It’s become endearing to me now, like music. “It was only then that he dared show himself. Luckily, his little pink body was completely done up in camouflage gear, so no one would see him anyway. Armed with only an axe, he went to steal the King’s magical crown.”

What the hell kind of a story is this?

“Only the magical crown was no longer in the case. Do we know what happened to it?” She pauses, and there’s silence. The girls must have fallen asleep.

I hear her kiss them and then whisper, “Goodnight, little princesses.”

And then I’m hit, no, sideswiped by a feeling I’ve never had before, that I can’t even begin to process. All I know is that my throat is growing choked and my heart is twisting and turning into a million pieces, something warm and hot and beautiful spilling out inside me.

I can’t breathe. I’m hostage to it, to this moment.

Fucking shit, this is terrifying.

Then I hear Aurora walking down the short hall that connects this room to that one and she pauses by the wall, giving me a quick smile as she brushes her hair behind her ear.

“I guess you heard all that,” she says softly, still smiling, still … glowing. How have I never noticed how she glows like that before?

You’ve noticed. You’ve always noticed.

I clear my throat, trying to compose myself. She’s right that when you wear a crown, you wear a mask. I can’t let mine slip one inch.

“So how does the story end?” I manage to say, my words coming out thick.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. It ends differently every time.”

“You make it up as you go?”

“Yup,” she says, then looks around the room. “Boy, am I sure glad I got the Wizard room. I have magic wands and spell books and you have, uh” —she gestures to above the bed— “a fake stained glass window of a creepy Lego princess. And so much pink.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m not afraid of pink,” I tell her.

She snorts. “Right. That would explain why I’ve only seen you in dark colors.”

“I could do a pink tie one day,” I say, getting defensive.

“You don’t even wear ties,” she says. “I doubt you know how to put one on.”

She’s teasing me, hands behind her back, leaning against the wall while a piece of hair falls in her face again. She’s almost coquettish. Or maybe she’s always this way and that’s why it gets under my skin so badly.

Because I don’t need to feel anything right now. I shouldn’t be feeling anything at this moment but wanting to be alone.

“Well, I better go back to my room,” she says, as if picking up on my thoughts. “Rest up for another big day. As much as I love rides, if the girls make me go on that Pirate Ship again, I’m going to be sick.”

“You don’t have any scotch, do you? Or aquavit?” I suddenly blurt out.

What am I doing?

She raises her brows. “Really?”

I shrug half-heartedly. “You seem like you would.”

“I’m more of a beer or wine gal,” she says. “What about Stella?”

“She’s sleeping. She’s always gone to bed early.”

“I can get it from the front desk,” she says helpfully.

“This hotel is barely even open. They’re not going to have anything.”

She slowly shakes her head at me, like I’m not getting something. “You, sir, are the bloody King of this entire country. You just closed down Legoland. I’m pretty sure that if you want the booze, you’re going to get the booze. Now sit tight, Your Majesty, and I’ll be right back.”

She turns and walks down the hall to the door, and I call out to her. “You know I love it when you call me that.” I can tell she’s hesitating, mulling over what I said. Maybe I caught her off-guard. Maybe she’s trying to think of some smart comeback.

The door clicks shut.

Curiously, I get up and go check on the girls in their room. They’re both sleeping soundly, cuddled up with plush Lego dragons and horses. The same feeling that hit me earlier comes back, slowly this time, curling around me like smoke.

Complicated as ever.

I’ve taken so much from my daughters. It was my actions that night that killed my wife. It was because of me that they suffer from their grief, that they’ll grow up like this, without a mother.

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