Thankfully the flight is very short, and I was back at the palace by noon.

“How was your trip, sir?” Nicklas asks me as soon as I step inside, stomping the snow off my boots.

I side-eye him. “It was good.”

Nicklas is smarting a little. Normally he goes with me when I travel but because this was just a social visit to Sweden, I decided against it. When he was with Helena, he went absolutely everywhere, social visit or not, but that’s because he was fucking her. And if he dares to ever press the issue, that’s exactly what I’ll tell him.

To be honest, I didn’t feel all that comfortable leaving him in the palace. After I discovered he had gone into Aurora’s room that one time, my guard around him has been up, much higher than usual. Every single day I berate myself for keeping him in this house and every single day I come to the same conclusion; That I have no choice.

That said, I made sure Maja was here the whole time I was gone, and I know Aurora doesn’t like Nicklas and avoids him at all costs. Hopefully this wasn’t an issue.

A high-pitched squeal comes from upstairs, followed by the sound of stampeding feet. You’d think a palace would have better soundproofing, but I guess my royal relatives never had to worry about pigs on the loose.

I brush past Nicklas, nearly hip-checking him out of the way, and head up the stairs.

“Papa!” Clara yells excitedly, holding up a tennis ball. She’s at one end of the hall with Freja and Aurora, Snarf Snarf running around in circles.

“We’re teaching him how to play fetch,” Freja says and both girls start running toward me. The pig follows them, ears flapping as he runs, shaking the floor. Aurora had warned me that “teacup” pigs rarely stay “teacup” sized and now Snarf Snarf is the size of a cocker spaniel and about five times as heavy.

I crouch down and hold my arms out and the girls run right into them. I lift them up, smiling at their joyous faces and my heart starts to bleed. My love for them is unshakeable, indescribable, and to see how happy they’ve become makes all that we’ve gone through worth it.

“What am I going to do when you’re too big to lift up?” I ask them, kissing Freja on her nose, which she immediately scrunches, and then Clara on her cheek.

“We’ll use a ladder,” Clara says, wrapping her hands around my neck and grinning at me. “Or Aurora can lift us up.”

Aurora is slowly walking toward me, a slight downward cast to her face, a shy smile on her lips. I don’t always see her so demure. Usually she’s yelling at me for one reason or another. But now it’s apparent how everything has changed between us.

I can’t help but smile at her, unable to rein it in.

Just the fact that I don’t have to pretend with her anymore makes my smile stretch wider, my heart in my chest buoyant and light and warm.

Though she’s at the end of the hall, distance doesn’t matter anymore. I’m able to look into her deep brown doe eyes and know that she’s mine. I’m a king with a palace full of treasures and yet she is my greatest possession.

I put the girls back down on the ground and they go running after Snarf Snarf, throwing the ball past Aurora and scrambling after it.

While they go, she comes over to me and gives me a small, hopeful smile.

“Hi,” she says.

“Hi,” I say back, still grinning. It takes every ounce of restraint to stop myself from kissing her right here, to not take her hand, to not touch her. We’ve gone from holding ourselves back for months to giving in wildly then back to being in control. It doesn’t feel right but it’s all we have to work with.

She feels this too because she steps forward and then back, as if she’s not sure where she stands. She clasps her hands together at her waist and asks, “How was your trip?”

“It was fine. Would have been better if you were there.”

“Me? With a stuffy bunch of royals? I don’t think so.”

“They aren’t so bad.”

“Are they anything like you?”

“Hey,” I admonish her, poking her in the side. “Be nice to your boss.”

She giggles and moves out of the way. “Why should I start now?”

Good lord. Her eyes are getting that devious glint to them and she’s starting to gnaw on her lip. I want to do the same, suck it between my teeth for a moment before holding her face between my hands and kissing her until she’s breathless.

My cock is already hard, straining against my fly, not caring that we’re in public, that my children are at the other end of the hall. What an inconsiderate dick.

Her tongue touches the tip of her teeth and she smiles, her brows raised. “Careful, Your Majesty,” she whispers.

And that’s when I realize how fucking hard this is going to be. For some reason I thought that this would be the easy part, where we didn’t have to pretend with each other anymore. It’s only easy when we’re behind closed doors—it’s the rest of the day that’s painful.

It doesn’t help that she’s wearing her uniform. I mean, she always wears it but now the sight of her in that miniskirt is painful, knowing what her smooth and shapely legs feel like under my grip.

I reach out and tug at her waistband. “I fucking hate this skirt,” I practically growl. “Since day one.”

She grins at me. “Oh, I know. Why do you think I made it my uniform?”

“Aurora!” Clara yells. “Come play.”

I hold Aurora’s eyes for a moment before she breaks the gaze and says to Clara, “I’ll be right there.”

“So today,” I tell her.

“Today?” She looks back to me.

“What’s your availability like?”

“Oh, I see. Well, it’s Sunday and it’s supposed to be my day off,” she tells me. “But my boss is a jerk and pretty much keeps me as his prisoner in this place.”

“He sounds awful.”

“He can be,” she muses. “He can be pretty sweet too.”

“Sweet? I don’t know about that.” I fold my arms.

“Maybe sweet is the wrong word. What’s the opposite of being an asshole?”

“You keep talking about your employer that way, you might end up getting punished.”

She bats her lashes at me. “A little spanking never hurt anyone. Remember?”

For helvede. She’s a firecracker. How did I expect any less from her?

“Aurora!” Clara shrieks.

“I’m coming!” she yells and turns to walk away.

I reach out and grab her hand instinctively. Sometimes I had done it before but now it means something different.

“You don’t need to work. It’s your day off. Let Maja take care of them.”

“Maja went to church this morning and I think she’s having brunch with a group of ladies for someone’s birthday, that’s why I said I’d work,” Aurora explains. “It’s not a problem. I’ll just…see you later.”

Later. When the hell is later? Why isn’t later now?

But I’m more than appreciative for Aurora’s devotion to the girls, and so I let them play fetch with Snarf Snarf and head to my room to unpack and get my head on straight.

I don’t get alone time with her for the rest of the day. It isn’t until about an hour before dinner that I pass by her in the hall as I’m heading to my office and she’s coming out of her room.

“Hey,” I whisper to her, grabbing her arm and pulling her into an alcove.

“What are you doing?” she whispers fearfully as I press her back against the wall.

“Everyone is downstairs,” I tell her, my lips going to her neck, licking up toward her ear. I take her lobe between my teeth and tug.

Like I suspected, she moans, breathless, grabbing the back of my head.

“I couldn’t wait any longer,” I manage to say, as my hands cup her full breasts, my mouth trailing to hers. She opens her lips to mine like an offering and my tongue plunges inside, snaking beside hers. I’m so fucking hard and I won’t last long. I’ve wanted this too much.

I run my other hand up her thighs, bunching her skirt up around her hips, my fingers sliding across her underwear. I push it aside and drag my fingers along her fold, feeling how wet she is. “God, I fucking love this skirt,” I gasp into her mouth as I start to unbuckle my belt.

“I thought you hated this skirt.”

“We have a complicated relationship.” I reach down and grab the backs of her thighs, pulling her up until her legs wrap around my waist. I pull out my cock and position it against her, doing everything I can to take this slow, while taking a moment to drag my knuckle, then my finger, over her shiny cunt.

“Fuck me,” she whispers, her voice ragged and dripping with want and she’s saying exactly what I’m thinking. I quickly withdraw my fingers, rubbing them along my lips briefly, savoring her taste, as I hold my shaft, rigid and heavy in my hand and angle it into her. I try to go slow, rubbing my head around her soft opening, getting my tip wet before pushing in just a few inches.

But a few inches are enough to make my jaw clench, and I’m trying so hard to keep myself in control. She’s hot and slippery, even here, and tight as a fucking fist. I want to slam myself inside of her, bury myself balls deep. It takes all of me to try and keep on breathing, my fingers digging into her sides, wanting to be as gentle and quiet with her as I possibly can, considering the wall behind her, how tight her legs are around me.

On the rug in her bedroom was one thing, but here, in this hidden corner of the hallway, this is something else. I hope I have what it takes to bide my time and enjoy every second, but since I’m already struggling to keep it together, I doubt I’ll last long. And, I suppose, for the sake of our privacy, I should be quick.

But she’s coming first.

She’s going to come first and she’s going to come hard.

I want her to bite back her screams.

“Fuck, you feel like heaven,” I tell her, my voice guttural as I push in deeper, watching as my dick disappears into her, her resistance deliciously tight. “You’re drenching me, my goddess.”