I give her a look. “You watch yourself, kid.”

She looks around and then gently puts her head on my shoulder.

“You probably shouldn’t do that,” I say softly, taking another puff of the cigar. “The guard on the other boat might see.”

But then I put my arm around her anyway and hold her close to me.

I’m just comforting the nanny.

There’s nothing to see here.

And yet there’s everything.

Chapter 20

Aurora

June

It’s June 5th.

A date that used to have no meaning to me whatsoever, except that in France it was around the time that the tourists started to descend in droves and the weather was getting cracking hot.

But here, in Denmark, it’s their day.

As in their constitution day.

Denmark Day does have a nice ring to it, but they call it Grundlovsdag, which doesn’t have a nice ring to it.

Anyway, it’s a big ass deal to the Danes and as such it’s even a bigger deal to the royal family. I woke up at the crack of dawn this morning to get Clara and Freja dressed into their traditional Danish costumes.

“Why do I have to wear this?” Clara complains as I pull her hair back into a braid, pinning it to her head before trying to attach a white bonnet/veil type thing.

“You love dresses,” I remind her.

“Yes, but this one is scratchy and hot,” she says, picking at the dark patterned skirt. She’s also wearing a full white blouse, red vest, and sash.

The kicker is, so am I.

“Hey, I’m wearing it too and you don’t hear me complaining.” I give her a big smile in the mirror we’re standing in front of. Of course, I am complaining in my head, because it’s June now and Copenhagen is going through a heat wave and this costume really is hot and itchy.

But when Aksel suggested it might be cute for me to spend the day in traditional gear, I went along with it. Because as much as I love keeping Aksel on his toes, I also like to please him, and I thought this might make me feel like an honorary Dane, not just an honorary goddess.

There’s also a ball tonight. Most of the public don’t celebrate that hard since some don’t even get the whole day off, but for Aksel and his family traditions, there’s a royal ball that they always put on in the palace.

I’m excited. I’m excited because I’m invited. Being the girls’ nanny means that I’ve missed out on countless occasions and events that Aksel and the others have attended but for this one, the girls are expected to be there, and so I will be there by default.

Of course, I want nothing more than to be there as Aksel’s date. We’ve been sneaking around forever and as thrilling as it is to keep up this secret affair with him, it’s starting to wear on me a bit. It’s just so fucking hard to have my heart belong to his and his heart belong to mine and yet we’re unable to show the world. Unable to act on it.

I don’t even want to make an announcement about it, I don’t want to open my life—and the girl’s lives—up to that kind of scrutiny, but the truth is, when I see him at dinner, I want to be able to sit next to him. When we drink brandy in the living room, I want to be able to sit at his feet, his hand in my hair. When we pass each other in the halls, I want him to put his arm around me.

I want his kisses, his touch, his utterly romantic words all the time, not just in the dark when we see each other. It’s just not fair that he makes my whole world go around and yet I get so little of that world. I want all of him, all the time, and it’s a bloody impossible thing to wish for.

“Okay,” I say to Clara, putting the last pin in place. “All done.”

Clara frowns at her reflection. “I look dumb.”

I grab her shoulders and pull her back into me, kissing the top of her head. “You look as cute as a button.”

“A button? Buttons aren’t cute.”

“It’s an expression.”

“The English have so many strange ones,” she comments thoughtfully.

I laugh and look over at Freja, only to see her fancy hairdo has been completely undone, her hair loose around her shoulders. She grins at me, showing off her new missing tooth.

“What happened to your hair?” I cry out. “That took me forever.”

“It’s pretty now,” she says and keeps grinning, sticking her tongue through the empty space in her tooth.

Freja has really come out of her shell in the last nine months and some ways I wish I could shove her back in that shell since having two precocious and mischievous girls is a lot to handle.

I wave at her to come over. “Come on, let’s try this again.”

An hour later, I have both girls ready and we head out to the festivities in the square just in front of the palace.

It’s packed. People are everywhere, there’s a marching band, the guards are doing their thing, people are waving Danish flags, everyone is drinking coffee and eating sticky buns.

Maja waves me over from the area at the front of the palace. The place for King Aksel is empty, but I’m sure he’ll make a late appearance.

“Sorry I’m a bit late,” I tell her, leading the girls over. “We had some hair mishaps.”

I expected Maja to give me a bit of a tsk tsking since she’s so good at that but instead she’s biting back a smile. “What on earth,” she says, laughing quietly. “What are you wearing?”

“What?” I say and then I notice that she’s wearing a simple pant suit and that no one in the crowd is wearing this costume either.

Oh my god.

“Where did you get that?” she manages to say, pulling at my red sash, her eyes sparkling with humor.

“From a costume store in town. I had Henrik go get it. Was that wrong? Aksel told me to do it.”

“Well, I’m afraid Aksel was having a little fun with you,” she says, and I swear she winks at me. “The bright side is that none of the papers can accuse you of not trying to fit in.”

Ah, fuck.

So I sit down with the girls on either side of me and I know, I know, that there are a million photos being taken of me right now. It doesn’t matter. I raise my chin high.

Then Aksel comes out from the doors, striding toward the microphone in front of us.

He looks so sinfully handsome that it takes my breath away.

His perpetually tanned skin against his navy-blue suit, perfectly tailored of course, and white shirt. His hair is a little longer now, shining in the bright sunshine and swooped to one side.

He passes by us and gives us a little nod and then his eyes meet mine. Then they trail down my blouse, sash, skirt, and back up to the white bonnet pinned to my head.

And he laughs.

The bastard laughs.

In front of everyone.

Dick.

Then he quickly covers it up and turns to the crowd, clearing his throat, before he greets them all.

My Danish at this point is good enough that I understand most of the speech and it totally helps that over the last few days, I’ve been sneaking into his room to go over the speech with him, helping him practice. He talks about the country’s pride and prosperity, he talks about freedom and traditions and culture, he talks about families and today’s youth.

All in all, it’s a stirring speech, and he’s just as magnetic with the crowd as he was with me in practice, and the crowd seems to be just as in love with him as I am.

“You’ve done such a good job with him,” Maja whispers to me, briefly placing her hand on mine.

I’m surprised at her affection. “He’s the one who wrote the speech.”

“Not just with that,” she says. “With everything. This is not the same King that gave a speech last year. This is a different man. This is a man who sits on a throne and inspires a country. This is who he was always meant to be.”

I swallow hard. “I guess it takes time to come into your own.”

“It does,” she says softly, giving my hand a squeeze. “But let’s not pretend he hasn’t had the help.”

I stare at her, wondering if she could possibly know what’s going on between us. We’ve been so careful with each other, even though Maja is as sharp as a tack.

But if she does know, then it obviously doesn’t bother her.

She’s probably just thanking you for your nanny duties, don’t get carried away.

So I don’t.

When the ceremony and speeches with Aksel, the Prime Minister, and some local celebrity (which, sadly, wasn’t Viggo Mortensen) ends, everyone goes their separate ways to prepare for the ball.

My job, as usual, is to watch the girls and keep them out of trouble.

My job is also to sequester Snarf Snarf into a guest bathroom on the third floor, just to keep him out of people’s way. It’s not an easy job since the bigger the pig gets, the more aversion he has to stairs, and I practically have to carry the giant beast all the way up.

Point is, I’m a mess and I’m a wreck and suddenly going to bed early seems like a better alternative to going to this royal ball.

“Girls,” I call out to them. I’m collapsed in what feels like a bottomless beanbag chair in their room, while they sit on the floor, Clara reading a story to Freja in Danish. “You don’t really want to go to this party, do you?”

“Yes we do, we go every year,” Clara says and without skipping a beat, goes back to reading out loud.

“I don’t even have anything to wear.”

“Why don’t you wear what you wore earlier,” Freja says, snickering. “Papa thought you looked funny.”

I groan. He did. That was his plan all along. And I still haven’t had a moment alone with him to kick him in the shins.

But the truth is, I don’t have anything to wear. For some reason I thought I would be wearing a costume to the ball and now that I know that’s not happening, I’m left with my own clothes and I’ve got nothing except miniskirts.

I sigh and text Henrik, who is probably super busy right now driving food and party supplies back and forth, but I do it anyway. Since I can’t leave the girls, and I’m not about to take them into a clothing store, I ask if Henrik can pick up a dress during one of his errands. I tell him my size and tell him I don’t want anything too clingy around my stomach because I don’t want to show off the little belly I’ve gained thanks to endless potatoes and rye bread. Really, I just want him to pick something that will fit in with the ball. He’ll know better than I do.

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