“It’s hardly called hiding when you leave a note.”

“Whatever.”

“Don’t whatever me. Never whatever me.”

“Oh, sorry, whatever, Your Majesty.” I add under my breath, “Fucking opposite of majestic right now.”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

He grabs my arm. “It’s not nothing,” he says and beyond his frown and the sharp intensity of his eyes, I see the fear. “And nothing is whatever between us, do you understand? That’s not how we talk, that’s not how we work. We don’t just roll our eyes and ignore shit. We deal with shit. And that’s why I’m in your fucking bedroom right now because I couldn’t go to sleep with this weight in my heart.”

Oh. Damn.

I didn’t know it was like that.

His words almost have a calming effect on me. “Well what are you so worried about?” I manage to say.

“You,” he whispers, closing the gap between us and cradling my face in his hands. “I worry about you. I worry about losing you.”

“Why would you think that? I’m all yours, Aksel.”

“How do I know? How do I know you’re not after something else?”

I think anyone else might be insulted, but I know what Helena did to him, I know how distrustful of intentions he can be. I place my hands on top of his hands and gaze up at him with all the truth that I can muster, hoping he can read in my eyes before he hears it from my lips.

Falling for Aksel was a step off into the unknown, a leap off the highest cliff, with clouds obscuring the view below. You don’t know what lies below you, you don’t know how far you’ll fall or if you’ll even land at all. You don’t know anything because no one knows anything.

And it doesn’t even matter. Life is nothing without risk.

I closed my eyes, took that leap, and fell in love.

I’m still falling.

“Jeg elsker dig,” I tell him, willing my voice not to shake. “I love you.”

I said it in English after I said it in Danish, just in case he didn’t understand me and yet he’s still staring at me like I spoke a foreign language. His brows come together, almost in pain, his mouth dropping open slightly.

His hands press harder onto my face and I start biting my lip, unsure what’s going to happen next. That’s the problem with the leap when you can’t see the bottom. You don’t know where you’re going to end up.

Or if someone will catch you in the end.

I open my mouth, unsure of what else to say, maybe to explain myself.

But his lips press flush with mine and there’s a breathless gasp.

He pulls away just enough, his forehead pressed against mine, gazing wildly into my eyes. “Did you mean that?”

I nod, swallowing hard because I’m getting choked up and I can’t say much more without babbling. “I meant it. I meant it. I love you. I’ve loved you for a long time, it’s just taken this long to find the courage to tell you. And I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know that I love you.”

“You love me,” he whispers, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth slightly on his feet. “You love me. I am home.”

Tears spring to my eyes. “Home?”

He nods, just an inch, brow forever furrowed. “I’ve waited forty years for my heart to have a home,” he says softly. “I’ve waited for you.”

Sweet Jesus.

Is this man for real?

My heart is so damn full, I don’t think my chest can contain it anymore.

If that isn’t the most raw, honest thing that anyone has ever said, I don’t know what is.

And more than that, I relate. I know. I know what it’s like to search for something, not knowing what it is, feeling restless and unrooted and wondering if you’ll ever find your place in the world.

I’ve found my place. It’s in his arms.

My place in this world is with him.

He kisses me again and it’s like everything dissolves into stars.

Then he pulls back and grins. “You do know I love you, right?”

I smile right back. “Well, now I do.”

He lets out a soft laugh. “I love you.” He kisses my nose. “Jeg elsker dig.” My cheek. The corner of my mouth. “I love you, Aurora, and there’s no escaping it anymore.”

“You tried to escape?”

He shakes his head, kisses my temple. “It was hopeless. I thought I could get you out of my system. But you’re in my system. You’re in my blood, in my veins. I feel you with every pulse and every heartbeat that I have. I feel you, always”

This man, this man.

How can I be this lucky?

How can we be this lucky to find each other?

All these souls in all this world and I end up at his door.

I pull back slightly to look him in the eye. “You keep talking like that and you’re going to get it.”

He pauses, cocks a brow playfully. “Get what, exactly?”

“Anything you want,” I tell him.

“Oh really,” he muses, then his expression turns serious. “First I want you to promise me that you’re not looking for someone else.”

Bloody hell, this again?

Gently, I tease, “Are you jealous?”

“Jealous? Of some other man taking you away from me? Fearful is more like it,” he says. “But jealous works too. I’m not above admitting it. I love you and I can’t share you with anyone else. I won’t.” His voice cracks just a little which makes me think this is a little more than just plain old jealousy or insecurity. “You belong to me. I belong to you.”

It makes me wonder about Helena. About some of the things Henrik alluded to, that perhaps she had someone else, that she wasn’t faithful.

Shit, if that was the case, Aksel really got handed the shit end of the stick.

“Aksel,” I tell him, running my hands around to the small of his back. “If your heart has a home, mine does too. We can make a home together.”

He seems appeased by that, the creases in his brow smoothing.

“You really are a goddess,” he murmurs, kissing me again.

“And yet, I’m at your beck and call,” I say against his mouth. “You tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

That got his attention, like I knew it would.

He cranes his neck back to get a better look at me, dubious. “There you go again.”

“Tell me what you want,” I say again, teasing him. I take a step back out of his grasp, biting my lip coquettishly. “Perhaps you think I need another spanking.”

“Where on earth did you come from?” he says breathlessly.

“Australia.” I grin at him and start to undo the drawstring to his pajama pants. “So what will it be, sir?”

Now I have him.

A sly, hungry smile graces his lips.

“Get on your knees and call me Your Majesty.”

That I can do.

Chapter 19

Aksel

April

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

I look over at Aurora who is holding onto the railing and leaning over, looking positively green.

“Hang in there,” I tell her. “If you keep going below like that, you’ll only make it worse. Stay up on deck with me.”

“But it’s cold and wet up here,” she says. “And it’s warm and dry downstairs.”

Her words are punctuated by a slap of water to her face as the hull dips against a whitecap.

It’s the first sailing trip of the year, which means it’s late April and the waters around the Øresund Strait are rough thanks to the winds and the endless traffic of schooners, ferries and cruise ships that ply the waters nonstop.

We’re heading down away from the city and toward the Baltic Sea where we’re going to find anchorage for the night.

My sailboat is the same one that I race, locally made and sixty-feet long and recognizable to most of the Danish public, yet everyone gives me wide berth as I tack the boat back and forth down the strait. Of course, I’m also closely followed by a motorboat that contains my royal attendants and I also have my driver, Johan, on board with us, just in case.

Johan actually loves sailing, so he doesn’t mind taking over the wheel from time to time. Right now he’s down below with Clara and Freja who are on their iPads playing games. They’re used to sailing too.

But for Aurora, it’s her first time on a sailboat and I don’t think she’s handling it all that well. I felt a little wary to begin with when I invited her to come, but the girls were insistent that she do the trip.

I’m glad she’s here, even if it means we get no privacy together for the next twenty-four hours. We’ve come into a habit with each other that we at least spend half the night in each other’s beds, even if it means we have to do a secret walk of shame at four in the morning back to our own room.

I really wish it wasn’t this way. She seems okay with the sneaking around, but it gets under my skin like nothing else. I don’t want to have to hide her. I’m proud of her. I want the world to see what I see in her, what everyone else sees in her. She’s charming and genuine, kind and smart, unfiltered and compassionate, part book nerd, part goddess, and all mine. She’s a goofball with big eyes and a big heart and every single morning I get up wondering how I can make her happy, over and over again.

Suffice to say, I’m failing at the moment.

“Come over here,” I tell her, holding out my arm.

“I might chunder on you,” she says.

“I don’t know what chunder means, and therefore, I don’t care. Now, come here. That’s a royal order.”

That manages to get a weak smirk out of her. I’ll take what I can get.

“Remember when you said you would never abuse your power.” She unwraps her hands from around the railing and stumbles toward me, leaning on the ropes and winches until she’s at the wheel.

I put my arms around her, hugging her from behind. “Put your hands on the wheel.”

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