Finally he looks up at me, and it takes a lot of willpower to meet his eyes and not look away. Have I turned to stone yet?
I nod. That’s it. Just a bit. I mean, I know I’m almost fluent but I have a feeling if I admit to that he’s going to start testing me.
“And I take it you don’t speak Danish?”
I shake my head. “No, sir. Never thought I would need to.”
He seems to consider that for a moment, wiggling his lower jaw slightly, then looks back to the resume. My stomach flutters with relief at the break in his gaze. Fuck, this man is intense.
“And so what made you apply for this position?” he asks, voice sounding a bit tired now. He leans back in his chair, casual yet alert, finger tapping along the edge of his armrest as he stares at me.
“The placement agency thought I would be a good match.”
“I’m not too interested in what they think. They never seem to know their clients. Can you tell me why you think you’re a good match?”
A million things go through my head at once. I could tell him that I’ve done this job for various rich and important families, that I have great references, that I’m up for the challenge, that I’m smart and independent and hardworking. I could tell him a million things.
And yet the only thing that comes out of my mouth is, “Because I know what it’s like to lose a parent at a young age.”
He blinks at me. I can’t tell if he’s caught off-guard by my comment or not.
I go on, pleased that my voice is remaining steady. Not that it shouldn’t but when I get nervous I can never predict how my body will react. “I know what the girls need right now.”
“And what is that?”
“Love,” I say, and now when I swallow, my throat feels thick. “They need discipline and guidance, but they also need compassion, kindness, stability, and above all, they need love.”
He frowns, his jaw getting that tense tremor to it. I don’t know why I thought telling him this would soften him up, but then again, I didn’t really think about it at all.
“And so you think it’s that easy,” he says.
“I never said it would be easy.” I try not to narrow my eyes at him, try not raise my voice. “But since it won’t be easy for any nanny, it might as well be someone who understands. Who doesn’t quit when it gets tough.”
“But you have quit before,” he says, eyes drifting briefly to the resume and back to me, brows raised in challenge. “All these families, you haven’t stayed on for more than a few years.”
I ignore that. “I understood this was a year-long placement.”
“It is,” he says. He gets out of his chair with grace, putting his hands behind his back as he strolls over to the side of the desk, closer to me.
I can’t help but take a step back.
He stops, his head tilted to the side, chin up, observing me. “But who is to say you won’t quit before a year is up? This job is hard, and it’s not like any other nanny position you’ve had. We are a royal family, we’re on another…level, which means you have to rise to that level.” He sighs, almost sounding bored. “Frankly, I stand by what I originally said.”
“I don’t think you’re fit for the job.”
I try not to flinch. “Then why am I here?”
Another quirk of his brow, his mouth firm for a moment. “Because of my daughters. They like you. And when it comes to them, it usually doesn’t matter how I think.”
“What makes you think I can’t handle it? You don’t even know me. You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
He looks me up and down, completely unimpressed, and yet I can feel every icy drag of his gaze over my skin. “I know that you’re uneducated. That you’re full of false confidence and silly bravado. And that you have no idea how to behave in front of a king.”
I straighten my shoulders, finding my backbone. “You’re right. I never went to university and sometimes it may seem like I have confidence when I shouldn’t. But let me get one thing straight. I respect that you’re doing this for your daughters and I respect your crown and title. But I won’t be talked down to like I’m some lesser being, the gum beneath your shoe. If you want me to treat you with respect, you have to offer that same respect to me. I don’t care who you are.”
My heart is pounding so loud in my ears at this point that I can barely realize what I just said. Holy shit, I think I totally just blew this whole job.
King Aksel’s hands unfold from behind his back and he moves in front of me, to sit on the edge of his desk. His long fingers wrap around the edge, tapping, his jaw muscles tense. Yet there’s no anger in his eyes, not that I can tell anyway. Just a cool curiosity.
“Did you talk to all your past employers this way?” he eventually asks.
“I would have if they were as rude as you.”
Both of his brows shoot up and I’m prepared for him to start shouting to his secret service and have me dragged off to the guillotines.
Instead, he gives me a tight smile. “I’ll be paying your salary. That doesn’t mean I have to like you.”
“And I’ll be earning that salary. That doesn’t mean I have to like you, either.”
“So then, Aurora, tell me why you still want this job since you’d be working for such a rude man as me? Surely there are other jobs that are easier and that pay well? I see that you used to work for CEOs of wineries and software companies. Why not go back to them?”
This is a good question. Why am I here? Why put up with this when it’s already put a bad taste in my mouth?
“Do you want the truth?” I ask him.
“Are you even capable of lying?”
“Because, now I feel like I have something to prove.” I pause, aware that our gaze is locked together. “I’m sure you can imagine what that’s like. People telling you that you can’t do something, that you’re unfit for it, that you’re not ready for it. For me, it just makes me want to rise to the occasion and do everything I can to prove them wrong. Plus, I really like Clara and Freja.”
He looks away first and I feel like I’ve won some sort of victory, even though I’ve been anything but cold and indifferent.
“Why do I have the feeling you’re about to make my life harder, not easier,” he says, almost to himself.
“Does this mean I have the job?”
He taps his fingers along the desk and stares off into the distance, lost in thought. Then he nods. “Yes.” He glances at me. “But please don’t make me regret this. I’m doing this for them. I do everything I can for them. They will always come first, do you understand?”
I nod, feeling hope and excitement prickle through me. “I do.”
He exhales and then stands up. “There will be many forms to fill out. A background check done by police.” I try not to stiffen at that. “Health checks. Special insurance. You’ll have to sign confidentiality agreements, take an oath to uphold the royal house, take defensive driving lessons and escape tactics in the event of kidnapping.” He holds out his hand. “But for now, this should make it official.”
I breathe in deeply through my nose and give him a small smile as I place my hand in his. His grip is warm and very firm. I do my best to give a confident shake right back at him. “I accept.” I pause. “Your Majesty.”
He doesn’t smile at that but gives my hand a quick squeeze before dropping it. He walks back around the desk. “You start tomorrow, by the way.”
“Tomorrow!” I exclaim. “On a Saturday? I can’t start tomorrow.”
“Why not?” He looks annoyed again.
“Because this job interview was so last minute and I didn’t assume I’d get it. I still have to pack everything up in Paris and—”
He sits back down and starts going through the rest of the papers on his desk, setting my resume aside. “Then go and pack everything up. You’ve been jumping around France for seven years, I’m pretty sure everything you possess can fit in a suitcase.”
He’s right but screw him for being so presumptuous.
“And since you’re in-between jobs,” he continues, “I’m betting you’ve been staying at a short-term rental or Air B&B, and whatever it is, I assure you any money you lose will be properly compensated by us.” He glances up at me, forehead wrinkled. “Maja will handle all the logistics, don’t worry.”
I know I’m currently in an Air B&B that I’ve already paid the rest of the month for, and I don’t have anyone to say goodbye to except for Amelie, but this weekend will be my last weekend of freedom before everything in my life changes. I need to hold on to that.
I swear I see him roll his eyes. “Fine,” he says, as if he can hear my thoughts. “Be here Sunday night then. That will give us enough time to sign everything and then you can start Monday by taking Clara to school.”
“Deal,” I manage to say. Then I stand there for a moment, wondering if there’s something else I should say or that we need to discuss.
He slowly glances up at me, and after a furtive look, says dismissively, “You may go.”
I nod. “See you Sunday night.”
“You may want to brush up on your royal protocol while you’re at it,” he calls after me as I head to the door. “Picking up some basic Danish phrases won’t hurt either.”
“Yes sir,” I say to him before opening the heavy door and stepping out into the hall.
Maja is standing there patiently, hands folded in front of her, a slight wince to her expression. “And how did it go?” she asks carefully.
I attempt to play it cool with a shrug before I break out into a grin. “I got the job!”
Her smile is small but it’s good enough. “That’s wonderful. He wasn’t too hard on you?”