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I’m a Nordic fisherman with a simple life.
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“Astrid, you need to eat.” I sit down at the kitchen table beside my niece and push her plate closer to her, but the six-year-old just stares blankly at the old raggedy doll she clutches to her chest.
She’s barely said any words since my sister and brother-in-law were killed by a drunk driver six weeks ago. The girl has grown more and more sullen, drawing deeper into her sorrow each day.
Unlike the two unruly boys that run around the kitchen, tormenting each other, and causing as much havoc as they can, Astrid has internalized her pain. And I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.
Finn, my eight-year-old nephew, holds a candy bar above his brother’s head, taunting him. “You can’t have it because you’re too little.”
“Finn, Lars, go outside,” I order, running a palm over my beard, and wondering how I’m going to survive this. I should be out on the water with my men, bringing in a haul of cod, not looking after my sister’s children. But one selfish asshole changed all of our lives forever.
“Give it to me,” Lars shouts before using all of his weight to tackle his older brother.
The four-year-old is all Johansen, sturdy and blond, with eyes like mine and Nora’s, the color of the sky just before a storm rolls in. And I have no doubt he’ll match my six-foot-four build when he’s older.
Finn, on the other hand, is built more like his father, slim, and tall, with dark hair, and clear blue eyes that are constantly looking for trouble.
The boys roll on the ground, and I grab the two of them, pulling them apart before any punches are thrown. God, what would Nora do right now? Or Daniel? He’d have these two under control with one stern look.
I’d wondered what my sister saw in the American when she’d first brought him home, but the man had quickly become one of my closest friends. And together we’d grown our company, bringing economic growth and prosperity to the small fishing village forty miles south of Oslo. And while we grew our fleet, Nora had built a home.
A happy one.
A family that any man would be jealous of.
Anyone but me. I’d been content with my life at sea. Sure, one day I figured I’d find a good woman and settle down. But I’d never imagined I’d be twenty-six and taking on the responsibilities of three young children.
Children that are still squirming in my arms, trying to strike out at each other.
“Outside, now,” I say, putting them down. I break the candy bar in half and give each of the boys a piece, then point toward the door. “And take Odin with you.”
The hound’s ears perk up at the sound of his name, and he follows my nephews out the front door, wagging his tail.
I can see them through the large kitchen window as they race across the yard, Odin following behind, crisis temporarily averted.
Leaning on the counter, I take a deep breath.
Everything will be okay. But even as I think it, I’m not sure if it will be.
I need help.
The woman from the nanny placement services arrives tomorrow. And I’m hoping that things will be able to get back to normal, or whatever my new normal will look like.
It was Daniel’s mother who’d recommended the agency. After the accident, she’d come to Norway to help with the children, but she’d only stayed a few weeks before returning to the States.
There’d been some talk about her taking the kids back to Seattle with her. Part of me wondered if it would be for the best, because honestly, what do I know about raising kids?
But I know my sister would want her children to be raised here – in the home she built, surrounded by the green hills and open sea. She may have married an American, but her heart always belonged to Norway.
So I’d done as her will had asked, and moved into their house, taking over the responsibilities of mother and father.
And I’m drowning.
“I want my mamma,” Astrid says so softly I barely hear her.
With a sigh, I turn and place a hand on top of her head, willing myself to be what she needs. Knowing I’m far from it. “I know, sweetheart. I wish she was here too.” I crouch down so I’m eye level with her. “But even though she’s not here, I know she wouldn’t want you to get sick. And if you don’t eat, you will. So will you please take a bite for me?”
Fine wisps of blonde hair fall over her face, and there are tears in her eyes when she finally looks at me. “Okay, Onkel Erik.” She takes a slice of the bread from her plate and takes a small bite before putting it back.
“Good girl.” I kiss the top of her head before standing. It’s a small victory.