He stops in front of me and stares down at me like I’m some strange creature he’s stumbled across on his morning walk. His eyes lock on mine and I feel my breath being stolen, as if his glacial blue irises are steeped in Norse magic.

Then his lips curl into what can only be considered a sneer.

“No, not her. She won’t do at all,” he says in crisp English. Before I can even process what’s happening, he’s abruptly turning around and striding past Maja. “Who else do you have? Bring me someone else.”

My mouth drops, cheeks going red, and Maja glances at me warily before turning to him as he leaves the room. “Sir?”

“Someone else,” I hear him snap at her as he heads down the hall.

Maja slowly faces me again, offering a deeply sympathetic look. “I’m so sorry to have brought you all this way for nothing, Miss Aurora.” She sighs and then straightens her back. “I’ll give you a few moments to compose yourself before I take you back to the airport.”

And then she’s gone too, and I’m alone in this room which feels a million degrees colder, while my skin is on fire, and my heart is beating so fast I need to sit down.

I flop back onto the seat. This is beyond feeling small. This is about feeling worthless.

I feel like whatever creature I was to King Aksel, it was something that needed to be stepped on and scraped off the bottom of his shoe.

Chapter 2

Aksel

“No,” I tell Maja, my voice booming. “No. No. No. Absolutely not.”

“But Aksel,” she says. “She’s one of the best candidates.”

I shake my head, my hands clasped behind my back as I stare out the window down at the gardens. I hate this. I hate that I have to pick out a nanny, a substitute mother for my children. It shouldn’t be this way.

It’s your fault it’s this way.

I can’t seem to get through an hour of the day without reminding myself of that.

I clear my throat. “What about the one you brought from Germany? The one with the mole between her eyes and the, uh, ear hair.”

Maja scoffs. “Aksel. The children were terrified of her. They called her a witch.”

“Terror is good for children.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying. Both Clara and Freja seem to absolutely adore Miss Aurora.”

“She’s Australian.”

“So?”

“You said she was French.”

“I didn’t. I said she was in France and has been an au pair and a nanny there for seven years.”

“I don’t like her.”

“You barely met her,” Maja goes on. “You took one look at her and dismissed her. Rather rudely, I might say,” she adds under her breath.

“I heard that.”

“Well, it’s what your mother would tell you.”

“As if she was Miss Sunshine.”

“Aksel.” She admonishes me in a hush.

I turn around to face her. “She’s not dead. I can speak freely of her. And if she were all there upstairs, she would be the first to agree with my assessment.”

She sighs and rubs her weathered hand across her brow. Both my Aunt Maja and my mother were raised to be proper and rigid and eternally elitist. Maja has a heart of gold underneath her frosty façade and my mother very much does not. I know I shouldn’t speak ill of her considering she’s permanently hospitalized and heavily medicated, but it is the way she taught me.

“Then give me a good reason why you’re saying no.”

“I’m your King. I don’t need a reason.”

She narrows her eyes. Unfortunately, this kind of talk doesn’t ever work on her like it works on the rest of the nation.

“I have to tell her something,” she says.

“Then tell her I don’t like her face.”

Her eyes bug out. “My god. What’s wrong with you? I can’t say that.”

I shrug. “It’s the truth.”

“Have you gone mad? Blind? That woman out there is quite beautiful.”

“I know. That’s the problem.”

Or, it will be a problem. I don’t need any distractions in my life and I certainly don’t need a repeat of whatever twist I got in my chest when I looked into her big brown eyes. It hurt like hell.

“Aksel, I haven’t seen you look twice at a woman ever since…”

“This is not about me,” I tell her hastily. “A woman like that, young, attractive, she won’t last long. Some man will sweep her off her feet if they haven’t already and she’ll leave us.”

“I do believe she’s single.”

“Right. Which makes this worse. Find someone who is more…”

I raise my brows, expecting her to fill in the blanks without me having to say it.

“You want to hire someone less attractive, is that it?”

“I just don’t want to hire her.”

“That’s discrimination.”

I let out a dry laugh. “What isn’t these days? Listen, I’ve made up my mind. A nanny like that is probably flighty and unreliable, and she’s just going to up and leave and we’re going to start this process all over again.”

“But sir, she—”

I sit down at my desk and busy myself with papers, waving her away with my hand. “Send her back to the airport and on her merry way. That’s final.”

I hear Maja sigh. “Yes, Your Majesty.”

The door closes behind her.

Finally, space to breathe.

I put my head down on the desk and close my eyes, letting my thoughts run rampant for a minute before I rein them in.

That was bizarre, to say the least, and I have no idea what came over me out there. I took one look at the Australian and it was like something pierced my heart. In a terrible way.

There was nothing familiar about her. In fact, everything about her seemed wholly unique, from the paleness of her skin against her mahogany hair to the pouting curve of her lips to those eyes. Damn those eyes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any so big and brown before, like she was a fucking cartoon. They completely caught me off-guard.

I don’t like being caught off my guard.

My guard is up for a reason.

And as a result, she has to go.

I have to say, I do feel better after making that decision. I abhor complications and especially when it involves feelings. There is no place for them in my position—you’d think I would have learned that enough while growing up. I certainly learned that with Helena. And after she died, I might as well be branded with it. Feelings don’t just complicate things, they kill.

God, how they kill.

Luckily my phone rings, distracting me from my thoughts. It’s a call from one of Helena’s various charities. That was her real passion in life, not me, and her charity work did come from a very genuine place. She was often called the next Princess Diana—funny how that turned into a prophecy—for her generous nature toward the people, toward animals, and it was never a stretch. As twisted as our relationship was and how damn cruel she could be at times, the public only sees her in a radiant light. No matter what, I’ll never tamper with her reputation.

There’s a knock at my door.

“Come in,” I say, wondering who it is now.

Maja pokes her head in.

“Tell me you have another nanny candidate with you,” I say gruffly.

“I have your children,” she says, pushing the door wider so that Clara and Freja appear. “And they’d like to have a word with you.”

Even if I’m in a mood, my girls always bring a softness to my heart, a smile to my face.

“Girls,” I say to them. “What do you have to say?” I quickly glance up at Maja. “Don’t you have someone to accompany back to the airport?”

Maja just nods and closes the door, leaving me with Clara and Freja.

Both of whom look upset.

“Come over here. What happened?” I ask.

Clara takes Freja’s hand and leads her over to the side of my desk. Though just a year older than Freja, she’s always been the bossy one and the sweet girl has really stepped up ever since the accident, taking her sister under her wing.

“Freja won’t stop crying,” Clara says, putting her sister on the spot.

I peer at Freja and her red nose and watery eyes. She won’t meet my eye, won’t say anything either. I can’t stand to see either one upset and sometimes I feel like being a father is akin to constantly having your heart broken.

“What is it?” I ask Freja, leaning in close. “Why are you crying?”

She doesn’t say anything, just bites her lip. Freja is quiet and emotional so I’m used to having to wring things out of her. Clara, on the other hand, is loud and bossy and really doesn’t seem to be affected by anything. Sometimes I worry about that, but then again, when am I not worrying about them?

I put my hand on her warm cheek. “Freja? Tell me.”

“It’s the nanny,” Clara says, as if it was obvious.

I look at her sharply. “The one who was just here? What about her?”

All the more reason I was smart to get rid of her.

“You sent her away,” Clara says crossly.

“You mean the one from earlier, with the accent and…” Those eyes.

“The Goddess,” Clara clarifies.

“What?” Now I’m confused.

“She’s a goddess,” she repeats, lifting her chin. So much defiance. “We’re goddesses too. She taught us all about them. Not just our boring ones but the Greek ones. I’m a child of the sun god, Helios.”

Pretty sure that’s not true, I want to point out. Now she’s filling their heads with false information? I shake my head, sitting back up. “Why would she be talking to you about that? Wait. It doesn’t matter. She’s gone.”

Freja bursts into tears.

“Oh, sweetheart,” I say to her, putting my hands on her shoulders. “Did she scare you with that accent of hers and tales of gods?”

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