“Can you marry a…a commoner?” April asks.

“We can. Things aren’t as stuffy as it used to be.”

A tiny smile flits across April’s face which she immediately tries to hide with a drink. “Well then I hope she says yes.” Then she frowns as a guilty expression comes over her. “I think I should tell you something.”

“What?” This can’t be good.

“You wrote Maggie those letters, right?”

Uh oh.

“Yes. My very personal love letters.”

“Oh, I didn’t read them,” she says quickly and I think I believe her. “But I started going to the mail box and hiding them before she could get them.”

I shake my head. I had a feeling but I hadn’t wanted to say anything.

“Just like The Notebook,” I mutter.

“I’m really sorry,” she says. “I was just angry and jealous and I don’t know, I guess I also didn’t trust you.”

“But you do now?”

“I do now.”

“Do you think Maggie will say yes?”

“She’s an idiot if she doesn’t.”

I laugh and then lift my bottle. “Here’s to that then.”

“Here’s to that.” She lifts her class and clinks it against mine.

I catch another hint of a smile which she quickly buries with a frown but having April’s blessing in all this is a big step in the right direction.

I just hope that Maggie and I can survive whatever happens between now and Christmas Eve.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Maggie

Hounded.

The word never had much meaning to me until I was hounded. Until I was the fox running through the woods, frantically trying to find a place to hide, a place to stay alive, while packs of hounds chased my tail, threatening to rip me to shreds.

How cruel it is to the fox.

How cruel it is to us.

When Viktor first asked me to come with him to Sweden and bring the kids, he warned me that it could get ugly. That the paparazzi might follow me. That there might be pictures and articles and rumors. He said there would be a media frenzy, much like the ones I’d seen in the news when Prince Harry or Prince William got engaged.

At the time it didn’t matter. It seemed like a worthy trade-off to be with him. And honestly I just didn’t think it would be that bad. This is the Prince of Sweden and outside of his own country, I didn’t think he mattered. And then there was me. I couldn’t matter at all. What could people say about me?

Well it turns out, a lot. It turns out everything.

I went into this relationship, into this journey, willing to sacrifice a lot in order to have Viktor. He was worth quitting my job over, he was worth uprooting the kids, even if for a vacation. He was worth giving it a shot because who knows where it might lead.

He is still worth all of that.

Viktor is still my rock.

And while we’ve been hounded every single time we leave the house, he’s there by my side. He doesn’t leave us alone. He’s the protector of my family as much as I am and I love him all the more for it.

I’m also protected by Nick and a score of special agents, all who know my safety and the safety of my brothers and sisters are of utmost priority. They no longer follow us everywhere, they are with us everywhere. They’re walking in front, blocking the cameras, they’re pushing photographers out of the way, they’re making sure that no one touches us.

But it doesn’t stop the photos. It doesn’t stop them from digging into my once very private life. It doesn’t stop them from making shit up either. I mean, after all the shit I’ve gone through, the obstacles and the heartache and the sorrow and yes, the god damn tragedy, you would think they wouldn’t need to make up a thing. This shit writes itself.

And yet there are articles saying I used to be a stripper. Or a prostitute even. I’ve read that I faked my grades to get my NYU scholarship. I’ve read in one British tabloid that I murdered my parents to collect on their insurance.

I’ve read a multitude of horrible things and though none of them are true, they each kill me in thinking that others might believe it. Hell, even the truth kills me, all my dirty laundry is spread out for the world to see.

It’s been nearly two weeks since the news broke and the kids got here and we’ve probably only gone out into Stockholm a handful of times. Sometimes if the kids get really bored of making snowmen outside or wandering the halls, we pile in a couple of cars and Nick and another driver will take us outside of Stockholm to one of the many estates that the family has spread out through the country.

Once we even went to a private ski hill on the border with Norway so that Rosemary, Thyme and Pike could try it out for the first time (Callum was happy sledding and April was happy flirting with the lift attendant).

Luckily, for the most part, the kids don’t really care. Unless they’re cranky, in which case everything bugs them. Being the oldest, Pike knows the harm that the press can do but when I’ve talked to him he says it doesn’t really matter what anyone says because he doesn’t live in Sweden, so who cares. He’s also more likely to go into Stockholm by himself (albeit with a guard). If people bug him (and he draws stares because of his tattoos anyway) he takes it all in stride.

Callum loves the attention, of course. Rosemary and Thyme are pretty chill. It’s April that hates them the most, to the point where she’s started fingering the photographers and honestly, I let her do it. I’m living vicariously through her. In all the photos of me you can tell that I’m using all my power not to throat punch someone.

I haven’t had a chance to meet Viktor’s parents again and neither have the kids but tonight is Christmas Eve and we’re invited over to celebrate.

I was worried there for a moment that we wouldn’t be. I know it’s not exactly the height of sophistication and elegance to have a bunch of foreign kids running around a palace. I also know that this is the family’s first Christmas without Alex and I hate to intrude on a time in which they might want to mourn in private. The first Christmas after our parents died was the hardest and this being our second, I know it’s not going to be easy either.

In fact, there’s been more than a few times these last few weeks that I’ve desperately wished for my mother to be at my side. She’d give all the right advice, have all the right guidance. She’d approve of Viktor so much and love him as much as I do. She would encourage me to follow my dreams, just as she did when she was alive, even if my dreams are of love.

Love is the best dream you can have.

A knock at the bathroom door snaps me out of my forlorn thoughts. I’ve been soaking in a hot bath with a glass wine, trying to prepare for tonight. I guess I’ve been in here long enough because I’m starting to wrinkle like a prune.

“Can I come in?” Viktor asks.

I can’t help but smile at his politeness. “Yes,” I tell him and he pops his head in the door. “What happened to the Viktor that would barge in and take me in the bathtub?”

He grins sheepishly and comes inside, holding something green from his fingers. “This Viktor has been under a lot of stress lately,” he says.

“What is that?” I say, frowning up at him as he comes over to the tub.

He holds it above my head. “Mistletoe,” he says. He leans down and kisses me softly. Then he pulls back and holds it above his crotch.

“You are the worst!” I yell, playfully splashing him.

He moves out of the way, narrowly missing getting soaked. “Hey you wanted to be taken in the bathtub,” he points out.

I’m almost considering it. He is half dressed in his boxer briefs and an undershirt and he does happen to have a rather delicious-looking erection. “What time is it?” I ask him, wondering if we have room for a long overdue quickie.

“Actually it’s time to get out,” he tells me reluctantly. “Sorry, we have to leave in ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes!” I startle, water splashing out of the tub. “I can’t get ready in ten minutes!”

“You’re going to have to try,” he says. “Sorry, I didn’t want to disturb you and then Callum ensnared me with some riddle and then I realized we’re running out of time.”

“Argh,” I grumble, getting out of the bath and snatching the towel that he’s holding out for me. I hate, hate, hate having to rush, even though it happens to me more often than not, but I really hate having to rush before I meet his parents for the second time. Plus it’s Christmas, so I have to look extra sweet, plus I have to make sure the kids look good as well.

I quickly dry off in front of him, no modesty here. “All you need to do is just put on a suit, right?” I tell him.

“Yes. And don’t worry, I’ll make sure everyone looks presentable.” He leaves me in the bathroom and starts to throw his stuff on while I get myself ready at lightning speed.

Somehow I’m only two minutes late by the time I’m grabbing a clutch and heading down the staircase. Everyone is at the bottom of the stairs and it makes me pause half-way down and fish out my phone.

I frantically wave for everyone to squish in together by the Christmas wreath and decorations in the foyer and take their pics. God, if only mom and dad could see them now, Thyme and Rosemary in dresses that match in style (though not color), Callum in an adorable vest, Pike in a suit and April in a little strappy number with a faux fur shawl. I’m not sure if this is what people wear in Sweden for Christmas Eve and maybe we’ve gone overboard, but I’ve honestly never seen my little family look so good before.

They look happy too. Despite the crazy situations we’ve been in, they’ve been kept safe and sound, so far. Maybe it’s even been an adventure to them.

At the very least, they’re getting to meet the King and Queen tonight and it’s Christmas so their excitement meter is off the charts.

While everyone goes out the back door and piles into the waiting limo, Viktor grabs my hand and pulls me toward him.

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