I crawl out of the SUV, the broken windows cutting my arms and legs.
We’ve landed on a slope, far beneath the road. My flashlight is swallowed by oak trees that surround us on either side, the car nestled in a patch of low foliage and rock.
“Helena?” I cry out, stumbling through the rocks, trying not to fall. It feels like my knees will give out at any second. “Helena!”
There is nothing. There is nothing here except the rain and soft warmth running down my arms and legs and head. Blood, maybe.
I hear a groan and try to run, nearly falling a few times. I see her, about twenty feet from the SUV. She’s lying on her stomach, pressed up against a rock. Her face is covered in blood, she wears it like a veil.
“Helena,” I cry out, dropping to my knees, ignoring the pain that rips through me. “I’m here.”
“Nicklas,” she manages to say, her eye fixed on me with such intensity that I know not to doubt what she’s saying. “Where is Nicklas?”
I swallow but it’s impossible. There are rocks in my throat. “I’m here,” I say again. “Aksel. I am here.”
But that is no comfort to her gaze. If anything, she shrinks from fear.
And then she shrinks from life.
I’m on my knees beside my wife, bleeding, maybe dying, and in the end just asking her to still see me for who I am, see me for me.
But she only sees him.
She only wants him.
And I can’t even fault her for it anymore. Because she should have whatever she deserves.
Because you don’t realize how precious and fickle life is until you see it drain right before your eyes. You don’t know how petty and trivial your stupid feelings are until someone is gone.
In the moments before, I wanted nothing but revenge and love and a million things that Helena could never give me.
Now, as she dies in front of me, I want nothing more than for her to be happy.
I want nothing more than for her to live.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper to her, holding her hand tight, so tight, as the tears start to roll down my face.
They mingle with the rain.
Soaking my heart.
I live and yet I die with the last breath she takes.
Once my lover. Once my wife.
My world has changed forever.
Present Day – September
When I first applied for the job I didn’t think much of it. If anything, I hesitated to fill out the application to begin with. I’d just come off being a nanny for Etienne Beauregard for two years and after that little French tyrant did everything in his power to defeat me, I started to think that maybe I ought to give being a nanny a break. I’d been an au pair, then a nanny, for various families across Europe for the last seven years. Even someone as optimistic and resilient as I can get a little burned out, and yearning for something new was what led me overseas to begin with.
But even though I gave myself permission to look at other options I could do instead (Teaching English? Being a private tutor? Busking on a street corner dressed as Marie Antoinette?), the moment I went into my recruitment agency to tell them I needed a change of pace, my advisor, Amelie, promptly told me about the position.
“It’s in Copenhagen,” she said with a waggle of her brows, as if Copenhagen was more alluring than the fact that we were currently in Paris.
“Listen, Amelie,” I told her, switching from my still rusty (by their standards) French to English. I blame it on my Australian accent. “I was actually thinking we could try something else.”
She stared at me blankly.
I went on. “Not being a nanny. Or a governess. Or anything like that.”
She chewed on her lip for a moment, brows furrowed. “Pourquoi?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Etienne was…”
“Yes, he was a brat and his father was a creep. But you did well and left when you could. They aren’t all like him. You know this.”
“I know, but maybe I could do something … different.”
She shook her head and put her attention back to her computer screen. “No. You can’t. You came here asking for work and we’ve placed you with four families since then. This is what’s allowed you to stay and work in the EU. You’re a good nanny, Aurora. Your energy is how you say, infectious. And that’s why this position is so appealing.” She punctuated her sentence by clicking on her mouse.
Suddenly all the different new directions and all the little lives I could have had disappeared from my head in a poof of dust. “Okay,” I said with a sigh and pasted on a smile. “What is it?”
“Alors.” She shot me a cunning smile. “It’s for a prominent family in Denmark. One-year term to start. Two girls, ages five and six. The father is, uh, single.”
Single dad? That was a new one. “Where is the mother?”
“Dead,” she said. I remember the look on her face, like she knew her personally. “Such a shame. So, yes, obviously the father needs some help.”
She went on with more details but not too much. Not enough to give it all away. After all, Amelie knew me and liked me and knew I was a good match with certain families. That infectious energy or whatever she was talking about. But there was no doubt she had to keep these cards close to her chest until the very end.
The first round of interviews took place in a nondescript café beside the Peninsula Hotel. The interviewer had been Maja, a very refined woman in her late seventies with enviously smooth skin and ash blonde hair pulled back into a long braid. I had been surprised that she came—normally it was the parents who interviewed me and I figured in this case at least the father would have. She wasn’t even a former nanny.
While her role in the family escaped me, her questions were odd as well. I learned nothing about the girls except their names—Freja and Clara—and instead was asked a lot about how I behave. My decorum. My beliefs. It was an interview but it felt less like it was for a job and more for if I was a decent human being. Maybe better than decent.
I couldn’t be sure that I passed.
I don’t come from a line of decency.
Then two days later, Amelie called. She wanted to meet me outside the Chloe boutique on Rue Honore, which I thought was an odd location considering it’s an expensive part of Paris and far from her office.
I found her there, smoking a cigarette.
“What’s going on?” I asked her.
Her eyes darted from side to side, as if she was afraid she was being followed. Then she nodded. “Come with me.”
Bewildered, I went down a side street until she stopped against a wall. Her eyes were still roaming around and I was about to ask if she was okay until she said, “You need to fly to Copenhagen tomorrow.”
“What?” Until that morning, Amelie hadn’t said anything about the position. I started to assume I didn’t get it.
She took a quick drag of her cigarette. “Short notice. But they want to introduce you to the children. If it works out, then you have the job. Maja seemed impressed. Either that or she had something in her eye.”
“You met with her in person?”
“Earlier today. We had lunch up the street.”
“Why was she still in Paris?”
“You don’t think you were the only candidate, do you?”
I hadn’t thought of that.
She gave me an amused smile. “You were my only candidate. But she’d seen a few from other places in Europe. They all met her here as a central location. At least that’s what she said. Germany, Austria, Belgium. She’d already been through England. And Denmark, of course.”
“It can’t be that hard to find a nanny. Why is she searching half the continent?”
Amelie’s smile widened. “Because it’s not easy to find someone fit for royalty.”
And that’s when I finally knew the whole truth about the position.
I wouldn’t be a nanny for just any wealthy or prestigious family.
I would be a nanny for fucking royalty.
And that’s why I’m currently on a plane to Copenhagen, trying my best to keep calm. Doesn’t help that we keep hitting pockets of turbulence and the woman next to me is clutching her rosary and muttering a fevered prayer in Italian.
I try and distract myself from the rollercoaster in my stomach by going over all the last minute research I did on both Denmark and the Danish royal family. I only had twenty-four hours to cram before I got on the airplane and I wasn’t about to show up at the bloody royal palace without being prepared.
Denmark was always a place I wanted to visit and I love doing research for fun, so luckily I already know a bit about the country, but I knew nothing about their royal family.
Now that I do, well, the history of the royal family is a rather messy one.
King Aksel is forty years old and one of the youngest kings in recent history.
He was the oldest child of King Felix and Queen Liva, with a younger sister Princess Stella. He inherited the throne after his father died of a heart attack four years ago. The dowager queen hasn’t been the same since and has spent most of her years hospitalized for various things that the internet can’t quite agree upon.
The tragedy in King Aksel’s life didn’t stop there.
Two years ago, his wife, Queen Helena, died in a car accident on the island of Madeira where the King and Queen were vacationing, thus leaving Aksel as the single father to their daughters, Clara and Freja. Ever since the very public funeral, the kids have been barely seen and Aksel’s own public appearances have been limited.
The King is said to be grief-stricken, which is understandable. More than that, the entire country is still in mourning. You see, the minute she became a princess, Queen Helena was often compared to Princess Diana. Not so much in that she was the people’s princess. If anything, Queen Helena was elite, coming from a line of Danish and Swedish nobility. But she was beyond charitable, gorgeous, stylish and witty, and the public absolutely adored her. I may have not known that much about the Danish royal family but I did recall headlines about Princess Helena.