“You should tell her,” she says, and it’s like she doesn’t even hear me. “She might just feel the same way.”

I don’t let her words in. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Even if she thinks she sees something between us, she of all people should know that I can never ever act on it. Helena was a saint, loved around the world. For me to start up with my children’s nanny would be a scandal neither I or this family would ever live down. I could never do that to them. I could never let what I feel for her become anything at all.

I can’t even say anything to Stella. All my protests fall on deaf ears. I just turn and head into the kitchen.

“I’m just looking out for you, Brother,” I hear her call softly after me. “You deserve to be happy.”

But she should know how much that’s not true.

I can’t stop thinking about what Stella said. Specifically, the “she might just feel the same way.”

But I certainly can’t take her advice and just tell Aurora.

First of all, I’m not even sure what I’d say because I don’t know what I feel, just that I feel it. Second of all, I’m her boss. Aurora trusts me. When I first hired her, I’d spoken to her contact at the placement agency in Paris and asked her why Aurora had left her previous jobs. Apparently at her last one, the father was a complete bastard. Sleazy, inappropriate, manipulative. The last thing I would ever want is for Aurora to think that about me, and if I do as Stella suggests, that’s exactly what she’s going to think.

No, I can’t break Aurora’s trust. I can’t act on whatever impulses I have, no matter how feverish they are. I wouldn’t ever put her in a position where she might give in to me out of duty.

But the thought alone makes me hard. The idea of her giving in to me.

That I could finally do all the dirty, wild things I’ve been dreaming of doing to her.

That I could finally unleash everything I’ve tried so hard to bury.

Then there’s the fact that she’d actually never do anything out of duty. There would be no “giving in” to me. If she didn’t want me, she’d be the first to vocalize it with no fear. That woman has a backbone made of steel.

“Sir,” Nicklas calls to me from the doorway to my office.

I look up from my paperwork, the endless paperwork of being a king. I really had no idea when I was younger that this would make up the bulk of my days. The reality of a monarchy can be tedious at times.

“I placed a call at the hospital for you,” he says. “They said she’s having a good day if you wanted to visit.”

The other day when I was talking to Stella I was reminded that I hadn’t seen my mother in a while. I had wanted to go while Stella was still here on holiday, so that we could do it together, but she and Anya have already returned back to England.

“Thank you, Nicklas,” I tell him. At least he makes the hard calls for me, but it’s not like he could go in my place. Not that I’d want someone like him to deal with my mother.

He nods, emotionless as ever, and I call to him before he leaves. “Do you know where Aurora is?”

“I believe she’s with the girls in the backyard. Playing in the snow and that sort of thing.” He says thing like it’s something distasteful.

“And is Maja here?”

“She’s with them as well.” Poor Maja. One of the reasons why we even got a nanny was so she didn’t have to be with them all the time, but she and Aurora get along so well, it’s like she’s an honorary nanny, just as the girls call Aurora an honorary goddess.

To me, of course, she’s a full-fledged goddess.

I get out of my chair and walk around the desk. “Thank you. Make sure there’s a car that can take us in a half hour. Find Johan.”

“A car for you and Maja,” he says, following me as I stride out into the hall.

“For me and Aurora.”

“Her? Why?”

The tone of his voice makes me stop in my tracks. It’s almost accusatory.

“Maja was just with her sister the other day,” I explain carefully as I look over at him. And it’s true. While I don’t see my mother that often, Maja visits her once a week.

He gives me an odd look. “It’s rather strange to bring your nanny, don’t you think? You’re bringing the girls, too?”

“It’s not really any of your business what I do, is it?” I tell him, unable to hide the sneer in my voice.

“It kind of is, sir,” he says. “It’s my job. It’s why you employ me. Isn’t it?”

We both well know why he’s employed here. It’s because I have no choice.

“Aurora has a way with people,” I tell him, and that’s all I’ll say. “Maja can look after the girls here.” I start off down the hall again.

“I saw what you gave her for Christmas,” he says.

Once again, I stop. Slowly turn around to face him. “Excuse me?”

“The vase that’s worth over a quarter of a million euros,” he says. “I was wondering why you didn’t have me procure it for you.”

Because I didn’t want him to even touch anything that Aurora might have in her possession.

“How did you see it?” I slowly walk toward him. Nicklas was away at Christmas, and the next morning Aurora had stashed it safely in her room.

“It was in her room,” he says simply.

My breath halts. “And why were you in her room?”

He smirks. “I just was.”

I explode. In a flash I’m at his throat, shoving him back into the wall, hard enough to shake the paintings. “Why the fuck were you in her room?” I growl, my forearm pressed against his windpipe.

He gives me no reaction, even as I’m cutting off his air. In fact, I think he might like this. Like the fact that I’m losing my temper over her.

And just like that, I realize that I’ve betrayed myself. He tricked me into reacting, and for a moment everything I tried so hard to restrain came loose.

I immediately step back and away from him, and he drops to the floor, bent over, holding his throat.

“You know that’s her room and it’s private,” I snap at him. “You have no right to be in there just as she has no right to do the same to you.” For fuck’s sake. Why was he in there? The one time I went in there and Aurora knew, she was hurt and disgusted at the invasion of privacy. Now I’m disgusted on her behalf, especially as I know what a snake Nicklas is.

“Lesson learned,” he says, coughing as he straightens up. “I was merely looking for her, that’s all. Her door was open. I spotted it.” His eyes narrow thoughtfully. “I think you may have overreacted there.”

I don’t say anything to that. There’s nothing else to say. It takes everything I have not to spit in his face. Some days I can go on pretending that Nicklas is someone else. Other days it’s a stark reminder of what happened.

It’s torture, is what it is.

And he wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I deserved it.

The irony is, if he wasn’t here, well, things would be a whole lot worse.

I can’t fire him and he knows it.

“Stay the fuck away from her,” I tell him, walking away. “Stay away from all of my staff.”

I go down the stairs, leaving him on the upper floor. My head is pounding with rage, my heart racing in sharp thumps against my chest. I’m in a rotten, foul mood now, which is probably not the best time to pay my ailing mother a visit, but I can’t stay here either.

I slip on my winter coat and head into the backyard where the girls are making snowmen with Maja and Aurora. There’s even a little snow pig, which normally would warm my heart but now there’s nothing but shards of glass inside it.

“Hej Papa!” Clara says, waving at me beside the snow pig. “Come see our Sner Sner!”

I nod. “Very nice.”

“You could also say, very ice,” Freja speaks up, proud of herself for that pun.

I glance at Aurora, her nose and cheeks pink from the cold, contrasting with her pale skin. She looks like a snow goddess. “Aurora, come with me.” I look to Maja. “Can you watch the girls for a few hours?”

“Of course,” Maja says, looking at me oddly.

Aurora looks to Maja in surprise who merely shrugs and gives her the nod to follow me.

We head toward the side gate that leads to the parking area.

“What’s going on?” she asks, following me through the gate.

“We’re getting out of here.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know yet. We’ll see.” I wave at Johan who pulls the car over to us.

“Do I need anything?” She looks down at her puffy coat. “I don’t have my phone or purse.”

“You have me, you don’t need anything else.”

I motion for Johan to stay in the car, then I open the back door for her, gesturing for her to get in.

I can tell she’s confused by this all, but honestly, so am I.

“Where to, sir?” Johan asks.

“I don’t know. Just drive somewhere. Outside of the city.”

Johan nods, frowning at me in the rearview mirror. “Should I get a guard for you?”

I shake my head. “We won’t go where there’s people. Just drive.”

I sit back in my seat and I don’t let out a sigh of relief until we’re pulling out of the palace.

Meanwhile, Aurora is staring at me, worried. “What just happened?”

“I don’t know,” I say quietly. “Don’t ask any more questions.”

“So you’re being mysterious and rude,” she says dryly. “Classic Aksel.”

I glance at her. She’s staring out the window watching the snow-covered streets pass us by. It’s the day after New Year’s Day and everyone is back at work. The streets are busy. There should be something comforting about that but all it does is add to my stress, knowing that all these people look to me as their king. No one should look to me for anything.

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