“Because…” Freja begins.
“The girls wanted a slumber party,” I fill in quickly. I’m not bringing up Snarf Snarf until I have to and it’s possible he wants to yell at me over something else entirely.
“I see,” he says, clearing his throat. “Well, you better run along to your room. I need to speak to your nanny in private.”
Clara and Freja exchange a look, brows raised, and then quickly scamper off down the hall, shooting me one last wary look before they go in their room. So I’m guessing this isn’t about the kidnapped pig at all.
“What, uh, is it?” I ask as he pushes past me, striding into the middle of the room while he takes out his phone.
I slowly close the door behind me and turn to face him. I’m not going any closer.
“This,” he says emphatically, holding the phone out for me to see, his arm stiff. I have no choice but to come forward until I see the screen.
It’s a picture of me.
A breathless gasp falls from my lips as I take the phone from him.
I have no idea what it says but it’s obviously some Danish tabloid or gossip site and there’s a whole slew of pictures of me and the girls from yesterday. Of course, they’re all terribly unflattering and you can almost see up my skirt from the picture where I’m crouching down and trying to console Clara.
“You have two seconds to explain yourself,” he says.
“That’s hardly enough time,” I say weakly, because fuck, it’s worse than I imagined. Why are there so many pictures? Oh shit, there’s even a video! Some wanker was videoing us at the part when I told them I’d sue them!
I give the phone back to Aksel and put my face in my hands, trying to breathe. I didn’t think this invasion of privacy would bother me like this but it’s so much worse than I imagined. I feel absolutely violated, and more than that, I feel like I failed as a nanny. My job was to take care of Clara and Freja and this feels like I flat-out failed. This didn’t protect them at all, and now they’re tabloid fodder all because of me.
“You fucked up,” Aksel says, and his words are knives into my heart, only adding to the pain. “Part of your job description is to keep these girls away from the paparazzi and to keep them calm and orderly. They aren’t some daughters of a CEO in France, they are heirs to the throne of Denmark!”
I turn and glare at him, feeling heat rising up my throat, spreading across my face. “They’re still girls, and girls are going to have breakdowns and temper tantrums every now and then.” I don’t know where I find the nerve to argue back but I feel like I’m at a breaking point.
His jaw clenches as he angrily shoves the phone back in his robe. It’s only now that I’m realizing he’s just in pajamas underneath. He must have woken up and seen this first thing. “Your job, Aurora, is to make sure these temper tantrums are managed. Your job isn’t to make it worse. Yelling at the public like that? Threatening to sue? Do you know how that looks? Do you know what you’ve done?”
God, he’s mean. So handsome and so mean.
“Well, they shouldn’t be filming us!” I yell. “If it were anyone else they wouldn’t dare!”
“That’s because we’re not anyone else! I don’t care who you worked for before, none of it counts. I don’t think you’ve gotten it through your thick skull yet that this is a royal fucking family.”
Whoa. Whoa. “Thick skull?” I repeat, and now I feel hot tears prickling behind my eyes.
Oh my god. Don’t cry. Don’t you dare cry here!
“Yes,” he says, though he hesitates slightly. “Because you don’t act like you get it. I haven’t changed my opinion about you. You’re just not fit for this job, you’re not cut out for it. If you were, then this wouldn’t happen.”
Holy fuck. This hurts. I mean, this hurts. I knew he was an asshole but his words never hurt me until now. Jesus, why am I even letting him get to me?
Maybe because I believe it myself.
Maybe because he’s right.
Maybe because it’s been nearly a month and I still feel like I’ve barely got my head above water. I’ve been trying so hard to persevere and stay positive and go with the flow but … but …
The tears start to spill.
Shit. I can’t cry in front of him. He’ll probably fire me for crying if he hasn’t fired me already.
I turn away from him, choking on a sob, and head for the bathroom.
He grabs my arm and pulls me toward him before I even get two steps.
His palm is warm against my forearm, his grip strong. I keep my eyes closed, my face turned from his, trying to breathe through it.
Don’t cry, don’t cry. Suck it up.
“Hey,” he says to me, his accent deepening. “What’s this?”
What’s this? Despite myself, I look up at him through blurry eyes. “I have a hard time believing you’ve never made anyone cry before.”
Then I pull my arm out of his grip and wipe away my tears with the heel of my palm, taking a few more deep breaths until I know the tears are at bay.
“Look,” he says. His voice is quiet, his stance unsure. He doesn’t know what to do with me now. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
He frowns. “For … making you cry.”
I sniffle and tighten the sash around my robe. “I’m not crying over you, so don’t flatter yourself. I’m crying because … because you’re right. Because maybe I’m not cut out for this. I’m trying but … it’s hard. It’s really hard. And yesterday was horrible.”
He exhales through his nose, his gaze dropping to the floor. “I should have given you more warning about the paparazzi. I know they can be hard to avoid, I just … I’m trying to protect my little girls. I don’t want intimate moments like this to end up as gossip for the masses. Do you understand?”
“I understand. Of course I understand. I want the same things for them as you do. But you knew that we were going to this theme park.”
He runs a hand down his face in frustration. “I know. That’s the problem. I also want them to be little girls. I don’t know what the happy medium is. Before … there was Helena.”
“And she took care of them.”
“No,” he says quickly, something flashing in his eyes. Then he relaxes slightly. “No, we both did. It was just that she planned it all. She handled it, for lack of a better word. I should have done more but … those were our roles. And now I’m a single father and honestly … I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how I’ll be able to raise them without her.”
Oh my god. He’s being honest. And real. And his eyes aren’t this cutting glare anymore but there’s a softness to them, to his face. It makes me want to keep staring at him, to keep pulling back that hard exterior, to see what he’s really like. If he has a heart that beats.
“I know you’ve lost a lot,” I tell him, and he automatically stiffens. I’ve said the wrong thing. “But the girls have too. I couldn’t have avoided that tantrum, no one could have, because Clara is a girl who lost her mother and misses her very much.”
“She knows better than to break down like that, especially in public. Freja, perhaps…”
“No. Both of them lost the biggest part of their lives. I don’t care if Clara pretends to have it all together, she’s allowed to break, over and over again. They both are. They’re not as good at pretending as you are and they don’t have to be.”
“Pretending?” he says harshly.
I shrug, knowing I’m back to pushing his buttons again. “When you wear a crown, you wear a mask.”
His eyes narrow again, the softness gone. “You don’t know me enough to make that presumption.”
“That’s not my fault,” I tell him. “We could get to know each other better. I’ve told you this time and time again.”
“You’re forgetting your role, your place. It’s a very distinctive one.”
I can’t help but shake my head. Talking to him makes me feel so fucking small.
“Why do you hate me so much?” I whisper.
“What?” he says, taken aback, like this actually shocks him. “I don’t hate you.”
“Then why are you so bloody mean to me?”
His brows raise, mouth dropping just a bit. “I don’t … I don’t mean to be. I guess you just frustrate me.”
“Frustrate you? Why?”
He stares at me for a beat, and though I can see so much in his eyes, I can’t read any of it. “I don’t know,” he says quietly.
“Probably because you’re not used to dealing with normal people. Only the upper class, the aristocrats, the ones with blue blood. Royals. I’m the opposite of all of that. Always have been.”
I watch as he swallows, his eyes still locked on mine. If only I could read them, if only I could understand what he was thinking.
But why would I? It would just be something cruel.
“Probably,” he says after a pause.
Tension seems to fill the air between us, followed by palpable silence.
I clear my throat and take in a big breath, squaring my shoulders, wanting everything to be right again. “I just want you to know, that I did what I could with the girls and that’s the best I can do. After Clara melted down, we left. I saw people taking photos, and I know I should have behaved with more decorum than I did, but it is what it is. I can … I can work on being proper. You just have to give me time. Hell, give me a chance. I’m not sure that you have yet.”
He wiggles his jaw for a moment, then nods. I wonder if the bastard has any idea of how handsome he is. Probably.
“So we’re cool?” I ask him, holding out my hand for him to shake.
And by cool I mean, not fired?