Suddenly she falls silent, her mouth clamped shut, eyes wide as she stares at me. “You…you want to marry me?” she whispers.

I fight the urge to roll my eyes. “Yes. I figured that was apparent when I asked you to be the mother of my children.”

“You didn’t propose…”

“Propose?” I cry out. “How could I propose when I can’t even get you to admit to the world we’re together. If I got down on one knee here and asked you to be my wife, would you have said yes?”

She grows silent again. I suppose most proposals don’t involve a lot of yelling. I wasn’t even planning on it while we were here, though I did have a ring picked out just in case.

The more she doesn’t say anything though, the more I hope she never does.

I’m not sure if I could take it.

I’m not sure if—

“I wouldn’t have said yes,” she says quietly. “I’m sorry.”

And that’s when the walls collapse in on me.

I can’t even breathe. There’s concrete in my chest. “What?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think we can be together. Not now, not after this. Not ever.”

This pain is brutal. Sharp, swift, slicing me up from gut to mouth. I’m bleeding heartache right here. I lean against the dresser behind me, trying to hold on.

“Why?” I manage to say, my voice breaking, everything breaking.

I am not a man anymore, I am just shell.

A fragile, breakable shell.

“Why?” she repeats and that’s when I see the tears stream down her face. “Because we can never work. This just proves it.”

“But we work better than anything!”

“When it’s just the two of us,” she cries out softly. “But it’s not just the two of us. You’re a king and you have a country and more importantly, your daughters. I can’t even stay your nanny after this. I’m a criminal in everyone’s eyes. Your daughters are going to be hurt by this and if I stay, they’ll be hurt even more. I love you to death, Aksel, but I won’t jeopardize them in order to be with you. And you know that’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.”

She’s talking bullshit. I know why she’s saying it but she’s already going into it ready to give up, ready to roll over. That’s not how I do things.

“Listen,” I tell her, trying to keep my voice from rising. “I love you. I love my daughters. And you don’t get to tell me how I feel about anything, nor do you get to tell me what’s important and what’s not. I’m aware that I am a fucking king and I have a country. But I make the calls in my life, no one else.”

I lean over and grab her by the shoulders, forcing her to look me in the eyes. “The girls will understand,” I tell her. “They don’t read the tabloids anyway, not at their age, but we can certainly explain to them in our own words what happened to you. That’s what we should be doing at this stage of their lives anyway. We should be giving them the heads up about things that might get printed.”

“What about everyone else?”

“Everyone else? Maja? She’s my aunt and she’s your friend. I doubt your past has any role in her life or the way she thinks about you. Same goes for Stella. The people closest to me aren’t the types to be easily swayed. They’re human. They get it. They’ve all made mistakes.”

“But the people.”

“The people are the people and they can think what they want. I’ll issue a statement, we both will, and if they want to go on with it then they can. Look, the people, the press, they all ran with a million stories about me, about Helena, about my parents and about their parents. That’s the price you pay being a royal. But I’m not going to let you go and walk out of my fucking life just so they won’t say anything bad about us. Fuck it. Fuck them.”

“I’ll just feel so guilty.”

“And I feel guilty too. About so many things. I have been drowning in my guilt over Helena for the last two years and I’ve felt like I didn’t deserve love and I certainly didn’t deserve you. But you, you had a way of making me better. Your love, your kindness, your devotion helped heal me and I couldn’t have done that on my own.” I pause, studying her face, hoping I’m getting through to her. “We’re all just broken children covering our guilt with adult clothing. We make peace with our guilt or we don’t but either way, we keep moving on. The only question is, will you move on with me?”

She averts her eyes, a single tear rolling down her cheek and in that one tear I feel my heart going with it. There’s nothing in my chest but a hollow and empty space.

“Please,” I say, breath ragged, trying to breathe through the void. “Please, Aurora, move on with me. Be with me. I—I can’t do this without you.” I press my hand to her chest. “I have a home in your heart and a love that won’t stop bleeding. I need you in my life, you are my life, you are my sun that I’ve waited too many winters for.”

I watch her swallow, the pain around my chest is closing in, tighter and tighter, and I wonder if in the end, I’ll just collapse, if it’s possible to hurt this much.

She looks at me.

And in that look, I see that sun. I see her light. I see it breaking through the clouds and the darkness that almost took her away from me.

“I love you,” I tell her again, hands going to her cheeks, cradling her face as the tear rolls over my finger. “I love you. Tell me you love me. Tell me we can move on together. Tell me I’m yours, now and forever.”

She blinks and more tears spill. She wraps her hands over my forearms. “I love you,” she says. “I love you and I’m scared. I’m so scared. I don’t want to be the person that I was.”

“You aren’t.”

“I don’t want to lose you.”

“You won’t.”

“I don’t want the kids to be hurt.”

“They won’t be.”

“I want to deserve you.”

“You do.”

She closes her eyes and I let go of her face, pulling her into an embrace. She wraps her arms around me, holding me tight, crying into my neck.

I put my hand at the back of her head, holding her. Letting her know that her fears have no place here.

We’ll deal with the tabloids. We’ll deal with her past. We’ll deal with everything.

None of it matters so as long as I have my queen.

The flight back from St. Croix is long. Even on a private jet, I don’t like being up in the air and I especially don’t like it when I feel like my country is imploding on itself from too much gossip.

But that’s exactly what’s happening.

After Aurora’s past came out in the limelight early in the morning, several other tabloids started running with it until it was plastered all across the world. I spent the morning packing and dealing with the PR nightmare of the century, fielding calls from my staff and even the Prime Minister, telling everyone I would have a press conference at the palace tomorrow.

But since there is no wi-fi on this jet, I can’t answer people or check my emails and it’s probably for the best.

Clara and Freja are sitting in the row across from us, busy on their iPad games, while Aurora sits beside me. We’re holding hands, which doesn’t seem to invoke a reaction from the girls, but it does seem to get it from the royal attendants at the back of the plane. I saw a few raised brows as they passed our seat heading toward the lavatory but of course they wouldn’t dare say anything.

“You know what?” Aurora says as she leans in to me, her voice low. “I was thinking about all the stuff they’re saying about me…”

“Please, don’t think too much about it. It’s all trash.”

“Yeah, it’s trashy. But there are some details that are printed that don’t really jive. Meaning, it’s easy to dig up my mug shot once you know my old name and it’s easy to find out more about Dan. But there were some personal details in the British tabloid that they shouldn’t have been able to get.”

I frown. “What do you mean? You mean your mother talked?”

She shakes her head, rubbing her lips together as she thinks it over. “No. Not that. They quote an anonymous source, but I feel like my mother would have come right out and said who she was. That’s if she even knows who I am now. I haven’t seen or heard from her in ten years.”

“So who would it be? Amelie?”

“No, not her. I don’t let people get that close to me.”

“Tell me about it.”

She nudges me in the side. “This is serious. The tabloids reported on not just facts, but feelings. My guilt over the past, my desire to become someone new. Being homeless, living under a bridge in Brisbane. No one ever knew that. I only told those things to my diary.”

My chin jerks back in surprise. “You have a diary?”

“Yes,” she hisses. “You’ve seen it.”

“I haven’t.”

“Yes, remember when you went through it at the start of my job? Bloody snoop.”

“The thing with all the nanny notes in it? That was a notebook.”

“That was also my diary. Why did you think I was so upset?”

“Because that’s the way you are?”

She grumbles. “No, Aksel. You happened to just see the notes I made about the handbook. If you kept reading more, you would have seen my thoughts and feelings. I don’t write it in every day, just when I’m feeling down or blue or angry or have a weird dream. I write about the past a lot, in order to put it behind me. What?” She’s staring at me because I’m frowning like crazy.

“Nicklas,” I spit out. I look at her with wide eyes. “It was Nicklas. He stole your diary.”

She looks disgusted. “What makes you think it was him?”