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She stiffens and tries to yank her wrist away but I hold on. “You’re a brute.”

I raise my brows and smile. “A brute? I like that. Isn’t there a cologne called brute?”

She narrows her eyes at me. “You’re a caveman. No class.”

“Ouch,” I say mockingly, rubbing my thumb along the soft skin of her inner wrist. I take a step toward her. “You insulted my social standing. How will I ever recover? I know, perhaps I’ll become king one day. That should solve the class problem.”

“Having a high social standing, money, or position of power has nothing to do with class and you know it. You can still be king, but you’ll be a crude one.”

“Then wouldn’t it make sense to have a sweet queen at my side? Life is all about balance.”

“I am not sweet and you know it,” she says.

I suck my bottom lip in for a moment and her eyes follow. Fucking hell, if I could just figure out whether she’s attracted to me or not it would be so damn helpful.

“The thing is, Princess, you are sweet. You’re spicy too. You’re a lot of different flavors I haven’t even had the chance to lick yet.”

Her cheeks burn and she shakes her head. “Why do I even bother with you?”

“I’m not sure. Why do you?”

“You’re a hestkuk.”

I blink at her for a moment, my hand dropping away. Then I erupt into laughter, not believing she just said that.

“What? You called me a hestkuk?” I manage to say between laughs. “Where did you learn that? Do you even know what it means?”

“I asked Ottar to tell me a swear in case I needed it. He said it meant asshole. You know, more than drittsekk.” A flash of worry comes over her eyes. “Doesn’t it?”

“It’s actually very close to English,” I tell her. “It means horse cock. But your pronunciation is spot-on.”

“Horse cock!?” she repeats indignantly. “How is that an insult?”

“It’s not for me. But then again, I have one.” Her eyes drop to my crotch for a second and I can’t help but grin.

“Damn Ottar,” she grumbles, quickly looking away.

“He’s from up north, they’re more creative with their swearing up there,” I tell her. “But since we’re on the subject of cocks again, I think we should stay there. You seemed a lot more into it before. Let’s just add horse cock to the trouser snake, the master of ceremonies, and the pink bologna pony.”

I thought my names would bring out another eye roll but instead she just snarls. Everything sweet is replaced with five alarm spice.

“Go fuck yourself,” she says to me and then starts walking off down the hall.

Helvete. She’s getting quite the mouth on her.

“Stay nasty, Princess,” I call after her. “That’s just the way I like you.”

She just gives me the finger and keeps walking.

After our horse cock altercation in the hallway, I left for the bar and I’m sure Ella went to bed angry. Truth is, I felt bad about the whole thing—again—and just outside of Oslo I made Einar take me back to the estate. It didn’t feel right going to the bar anymore after all that.

The next morning I refused to let things get weird between us again. I made sure I was at the breakfast table with her as she grumbled about our typical Norwegian breakfast, which is basically bread piled high with a million different things. I do mine with herring and pickled onion and ham, which disgusts her. She just drowns hers in Nutella.

“Hey,” I say to her as I sit down across from her at the table. “I’m sorry about last night.”

She shrugs, eyes focused on the Nutella.

Jane, who has been eyeing us like we’re some theatrical play that’s here for just her entertainment, asks, “What happened?”

“Nothing,” Ella says.

“I think she’s feeling a bit like she’s under house arrest,” I admit. “And I’ve been a little rude, crude, and thoughtless. So I’ve come up with an idea.”

Ella slowly raises her head to look at me. “What?” she asks cautiously.

“Tonight when I go to the bar, you can come with me.”

She frowns and starts picking about her bread. “You know I can’t be seen in public.”

“I know.”

“Especially with this nose,” she says, pointing at her bruises which are fading pretty quickly.

“You look so much better,” Jane tells her. “Really.”

“And it doesn’t matter,” I add. “Because there’s only one bar I’ve been going to and no one knows about it. It’s basically in a back street, it’s a quarter of the size of this room, and the owner, Harold, doesn’t let any cameras in. Plus I haven’t seen paparazzi there for weeks.”

Ella stares at me for a moment and I can see her inner demon and inner angel arguing with each other. The part of her that hates the fact that right at this very moment she’s skipping school is telling her that leaving the estate is against the rules. The other part of her, the one that fears being left out of things and brushed aside, that part is telling her she needs to do this, that she deserves to have a little fun.

I decide to appeal to the latter side.

“You deserve a little break,” I tell her. “I know what the rules are, but I promise this won’t come back and bite you on your cute little ass.”

“Sir,” Ottar admonishes from across the kitchen as he pours his coffee. I didn’t even notice him earlier.

I shrug it off. He’s heard way worse than that.

“What time?” she asks. “What would I wear? I didn’t pack anything for a bar or anything like that.”

I give her a reassuring smile. “Believe me, you can wear the pajamas you’re in right now. It’s not that kind of bar.”

“I’ll think about it,” she says before she takes a bite of her sandwich.

I’m tempted to pop question tiiiime on her but since it’s supposed to be a thing between just us, I decide to wait for later.

And later slowly rolls around. It’s nearly eight o’clock at night when Ella appears in the doorway of the parlor room as I’m scrolling on my phone by the fire.

“Okay. I’m in,” she says simply.

I glance at her. She’s dressed in skinny jeans and a low-cut black top that shows off just a hint of lacy black bra underneath.

Jesus. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen her cleavage. I practically stagger to my feet, yanked toward her in some sort of sexual tractor beam until I’m just a foot away.

“You look…” I tell her, unable to keep my eyes from roaming all over her chest, down her arms. The fabric of her top is slinky and begs to be touched, then pulled off, preferably with my teeth.

“This is the fanciest thing I have,” she says, chewing on her bottom lip.

I clear my throat. I’m fucking hard as concrete right now and I don’t care if she knows it. “It’s perfect,” I manage to say, finally meeting her eyes. “You look amazing.”

She averts her eyes shyly. “It’s just some cheap top I got at H&M.”

“You look beautiful,” I tell her emphatically.

“Oh, well thank you,” she says, and I notice she’s put on a bit of makeup as well, not just covering up the bruises but adding some smoky eyeliner that makes her look a little bit older and definitely sexier.

Then again, I also think there’s nothing sexier than Ella first thing in the morning, padding down the hall in her fluffy robe and slippers, her face bare, her eyes sleepy, her long blonde hair cascading messily around her. She always looks like she got rightly fucked in her sleep.

I’m starting to think I’d do anything to make her look that way myself.

Now that she’s ready, we don’t waste any time. Jane and Ottar stay behind so it’s just Einar taking us to Oslo.

It almost feels like a date as we sit in the back seat of the car, and I debate with myself whether I should reach out and hold her hand or not. But I know at this point I have nothing to lose. Time is running out, and with each second, I know how these two weeks will end.

I grab her hand, and while she flinches at my contact, she doesn’t quite pull away. She lets me hold it there, resting between us on the middle seat.

Even though it’s a long car and Einar is in the front, I lower my voice and softly sing, “Question tiiiiime.”

She gives me a look that says, really? Here?

I go on. “Do you like this? Me, holding your hand?”

She stares at me with big eyes, her brows doing a dance while she once again wrestles with different answers. But finally she nods and says quietly, “Yes.”

I want her to elaborate but I don’t think I’ll get much more out of her.

For now, I feel like I’ve just been handed a victory. The battle isn’t over, but this is a huge step for us. Who the hell would have thought that one day I would equate hand-holding to fucking? But it’s true. Holding Ella’s hand feels like I’m holding on to sunshine.

We pull into the dark, wet streets of downtown Oslo and Einar parks the car around the corner from the bar.

“Do you miss this area?” Ella asks me. I’m still holding her hand as we walk down the nearly empty street, Einar trailing behind us.

“It’s only been ten days,” I tell her.

“I know. But it feels like it’s been a lifetime somehow.”

I know what she means. The estate has turned into a time warp of sorts. “Do you miss school?” I ask her.

She thinks that over. “Yes and no. I miss the classes, the learning. I don’t miss living there. It was rather lonely.”

Something about her admission breaks my heart a little. I don’t want this girl to be lonely, not after what she’s been through. “What about Jane? That must help? You two are close.”

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