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“I’ll take the girls upstairs,” Maja says, and for a moment I feel like she’s trying to leave me alone with King Aksel. Then she adds, “I’ll be sure to print out the schedule for you. After dinner, you get some private time of your own. It’s very important to reflect on the day and recharge, at least in the beginning.”

Right. Why do I feel like the “reflecting” thing is akin to sitting in the corner and thinking about what I’ve done, AKA turning the children into vegetarians? I watch as they leave the dining room and figure I should probably head out into the streets of Copenhagen to see the city and get my bearings before it gets too dark. Or maybe just go upstairs, read the nanny handbook, and get my room properly organized.

“Where did they go?” Aksel says from behind me, and I whirl around to see him standing there and eating cranberry apple pie from a plate in his hand, leaning against the doorframe. Again, I’m struck by how casual this seems. He keeps vacillating between being an all-powerful king and a regular guy. One that eats pie for dinner.

“She’s taking them upstairs. Apparently, I get private time right now.”

He doesn’t say anything to that, just calmly forks a piece of pie into his mouth and chews, his eyes never leaving my face.

I swallow, feeling extra awkward. “So, uh, I think I’ll go to my room and get myself organized.”

He nods and I turn to leave, not wanting to get trapped in his vibe, when he says, “Perhaps you should think of having a uniform.”

I stop and look at him over my shoulder. “A uniform?”

“Yes,” he says, his eyes dropping to my legs again and back up. “I’ll have Maja give you some money—we’ll cover the expense. I know the nannies from Norwood wear a uniform, you know, the book you’re reading.” His voice drops as he spears his pie again. “And hopefully learning from.”

I ignore that last remark. “What sort of uniform?”

“Something … tasteful. At least so there’s consistency. We do have a reputation to uphold here at the palace and a nanny in uniform would help.”

I try not to narrow my eyes at him. I know what he’s saying. That I look tawdry in my short skirt. If he were anyone else I would have told him about my stuck zipper and that I was wearing the skirt by mistake. But he’s King Asshole and now? Now I’m going to do the opposite.

“Of course,” I say, a wicked smile spreading across my face. “Something consistent. Got it.”

I know he doesn’t quite trust my expression, nor should he. But I walk away, calling out to him, “Good night, Your Majesty,” before I disappear from his view, leaving him alone with his pie.

Chapter 6

Aksel

That short fucking skirt.

It’s been a week since the nanny’s first day on the job, when she wore that ridiculously short black skirt, and I absolutely hate the fact that I still can’t get the image of her in it out of my head. It should have helped that the skirt in question was paired with the kind of coarse, itchy sweater my father used to wear, but it didn’t.

Now I think she’s trying to kill me.

In fact, I know she is. That woman has spite coming out of her pores. When I saw her the next day after her shopping spree on Copenhagen’s Strøget, she proudly showed me her array of solid-colored miniskirts and patterned blouses. “The skirt and the top may change color,” she’d said with a bright smile, “but the overall look will be consistent.”

And of course I couldn’t quite come out and tell her that her legs were distracting. So now, I’m just trying to deal with it the best way I can. By completely avoiding her.

“And how was the Prime Minister?” Nicklas asks from the front seat where he sits beside Johan, my driver. I’d just come out of the weekly meeting I have with the prime minister, and while there’s been nothing new or substantial about our meetings lately, Nicklas always has to know. I’ve brought it up a few times that some things are none of his business, especially when he meddles too much, but he always plays up the part of being the dutiful assistant, always trying to help.

I don’t buy it for a second. But there’s nothing I can really do about it. Keep your enemies close is something I’ve taken to heart. It’s something I’ll have to take to my grave.

“Same old,” I tell him, hoping I sound dismissive enough.

“And so how is the nanny working out?” he asks after a pause.

I glance up, and he’s eyeing me in the mirror. I swear he’s smirking.

“She’s fine.” And that’s all I want to say on that subject.

More silence. Then, “I can see why you chose her.”

I look at him sharply. “How do you mean?”

He raises his pale brows in overblown innocence. “All I mean is, she’s a breath of fresh air.”

I grunt in response and go back to flipping through the newspaper, even though I read all these headlines this morning. She’s fresh air all right, the kind that seeps in through the cracks and into your bones until you’ve caught a damn cold.

“The girls seem to be livelier with her here,” he says, and then he catches himself because he has no fucking business ever commenting on the girls. It’s the one thing he’s not allowed to discuss with me.

I eye him sharply until he looks away, his attention back to the window.

He’s not wrong, of course. The girls do seem happier. It’s only been a week but I’ve been checking in on them when I can, together and individually, and both Clara and Freja are all smiles, always talking excitedly about what Aurora taught them that day or what game they played. Some of that sadness I’ve seen in their eyes has been pushed aside for now. I’m sure time will tell if this is just a matter of the nanny being shiny and new or if this is something positive that will last, but for now I’ll take what I can get. Anything to let the tragedy of losing their mother take a back seat, to let them be kids again.

Maja, too, seems pleased with the progress, if not a little vague about it all. I have a feeling there are some things she’s not telling me and I gladly file those away under things I don’t want to know. But overall she says she’s happy with her, even if Aurora is a little green when it comes to being a royal nanny.

Where Maja sees green, however, I see defiance. There’s something about her that gets under my skin in ways I can’t articulate. Maybe it’s her effortlessly cheery disposition or the way she antagonizes me at every chance. Okay, perhaps antagonize is a strong word. Tease might be better. Or aggravate. Annoy. In all my years of growing up heir to the throne of Denmark and then King, I’ve never had anyone talk to me the way that she does, not even my own children when they’re acting out. It’s like she’s testing me to see how far she can take it, the fact that I’m only the person who pays her salary, nothing more.

Which, I hate to admit, irks me. The last thing I want to be is pompous and arrogant but there is a certain level of respect that she’s not giving me. The few times I’ve voiced this to Maja, she’s just given me a wry little smile of sorts, either because it’s all in my head or because I deserve it.

Perhaps it’s both.

When I get back to the palace, everything is silent and calm. Eerily calm. I call out and hear nothing. I go to the third floor and peek in the girl’s room but it’s empty. I knock on Aurora’s door but there’s no answer.

I open it anyway. I actually haven’t been in here since she moved in and I’m surprised to see how clean and well-organized it is. There’s something about Aurora that makes me think she’ll just make a mess of her surroundings, and that chaos follows her everywhere. Maybe it’s because when she wears her long brown hair down it seems to have a wild life of its own. Maybe it’s the mischievous glint in her dark eyes or the fact I rarely see her serious. Her smile is something else, charming, wide and uninhibited, and she must be told often how disarming it is, so that’s why she uses it like a weapon.

Thankfully, it doesn’t work on me.

I walk over to her desk and am surprised to see the Norwood handbook open with passages highlighted. Beside it is a notebook where she’s scribbled down to-do lists and made points from chapters from the book, as if this is homework for school.

I have to say I’m impressed. I didn’t think she was taking this position as seriously as she should, but perhaps the only thing she doesn’t take seriously is me. I flip through the rest of the handbook and see she’s highlighted almost every page she’s read, with more notes made in the margins.

I then go through some of her notebook, wondering what else she might have written down. I can’t say that snooping is a habit of mine, and I certainly don’t think I’m allowed to go through her stuff just because I’m her boss but I can’t help but be a little more curious about her now.

Only there doesn’t seem to be anything else but notes on how to be a better nanny. I don’t know if I was expecting a whole dear diary session entitled “Why I Hate Aksel” or something to that like.

Laughter takes my focus away from the books, reminding me that I probably shouldn’t be in here, and I cautiously step toward the window and peek outside. Her room faces the back and the triangle of a yard below. It’s mostly grass with a small playhouse in the corner, a trampoline, outdoor seating, and a large privacy hedge and security fence along one side, keeping it protected from the street.

Aurora and the girls are sitting at a small wooden table in the middle of the yard, all three of them too big for the plastic chairs that I bought for them when they were younger. That hasn’t stopped them from having what looks like a tea party of sorts, with stuffed animals having joined the fun. The girls and Aurora are all dressed up in fancy hats and cloaks, and even Karla, who is carrying out a tray of cookies, has been forced to wear a unicorn horn on her head.

I can’t help but smile at the sight and something in my chest pinches. It’s the kind of joy that hurts, just a bit. That feeling of warmth on your skin after a long, cold, dark winter. I can’t remember the last time I saw them playing like this and I know that no nanny—hell, not even Helena—ever indulged them in this way. Just let them be little girls having a tea party.

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