Madelyn didn’t want to tell him. But even as she thought that, she knew it was foolish. It was one more thing she wasn’t likely to be able to keep to herself. It was already too late. All he would need to do was get in touch with his minister and she would tell him anything he wanted to know.
Again, there was probably a dossier en route as they spoke.
So Madelyn made herself smile, suddenly pleased with her choice of profession. She’d been waiting tables for years now and had learned how to smile serenely no matter the provocation. Who could have imagined that serving the tables of self-important and often overtly wealthy skiers would turn out to be such a useful skill?
“I live in a tiny town near Lake Tahoe,” she told him, keeping her tone even. Calm. “If you don’t know it, Lake Tahoe is a very large and beautiful lake on the border between California and Nevada in the Sierra Nevadas, notable for its ski resorts, its rustic charm, and its stunning scenery. There are quite a lot of tourists and resorts on the lake, in all seasons. I actually live a bit further out, in the hills.”
Where life was much more affordable. Most of her neighbors worked on the lake the way she did but, like her, preferred a little space between themselves and the relentless influx of visitors requiring service.
Paris Apollo did not question her further on the demographics of Lake Tahoe. He turned back to face her and seemed to be content to do nothing but study her while the silence grew. A muscle clenched and unclenched in his jaw, as if somewhere beneath the surface, that temper she could still scent in the air between them was getting the best of him.
Madelyn couldn’t imagine the Paris Apollo she’d known having any kind of temper at all, but if he had, she would’ve expected him to simply...blow up. Then blow over. She would have imagined he would share it with anyone and everyone who drew near. She would have said he was incapable of all thissimmering control.
But then, it wasn’t as if she needed further confirmation that she hardly knew him at all.
For some reason, that made her want to attack him, so she did it the only way she could think of. “Why are you really hiding away up here? I understand grieving. But two years seems like a very long time away from the spotlight for a man who grew up hogging it.”
She knew, instantly, that she’d said the wrong thing.
Or the right thing, maybe. Because Paris Apollo seemed to change before her eyes once again. And the more she looked at this new version of him—hard and grim, like he truly was fashioned from rock—the harder it was to remember the man she’d known so long ago. Back when she’d been a foolish girl who still believed in fairy tales and Prince Charmings. Before she’d known how badly a broken, trampled heart could hurt inside her ribs. Before she’d known anything.
She wouldn’t trade a single moment of Troy’s life or the joy he’d brought her—but still, she found it hard to reconcile herself with the naive creature she’d been six years ago.
And Paris Apollo was looking at her now as if she was something else entirely.
Something like an enemy.
There was no reason at all that it should make her...shivery.
She tamped down on that reaction.
“During these years you’ve hidden away, have you had contact with any other Ilonians?” he asked, in a steel-tipped voice.
“I have never met an Ilonian in my entire life except you. Until the day that Angelique Silvestri appeared at my front door, which was yesterday. I think. There have been a great many time zones since.”
His green gaze seemed far darker than it looked. “You are certain of this?”
“I am notcertain,no. I wait tables in luxury hotels, Paris Apollo. In case you don’t know what that is, or what that means, I’m a waitress.” She waited for him to curl his lip, but he didn’t. He only watched her, much too closely. Much toointently,and she wasn’t sure that was better. Though it made that shivery thing inside her intensify. “But there are always rich men with this or that accent, throwing their money around. I don’t actually take the time to interrogate them about where they’re from. I’m a little more focused on doing my job, because I want good tips. That’s the entire point of waiting tables.”
“What of your personal life?” His gaze got even sharper somehow. Even darker. “Do you often entertain men?”
Madelyn actually laughed at that. “I entertain one man. He’s very demanding. He doesn’t leave a lot of room for others.” When Paris Apollo only glowered at her, she scowled back at him. “My son. I meanmy son. Obviously.”
“If Angelique could find you, anyone could.” But it sounded like he was talking to himself. “I must assume that they did.”
“She told me the palace has always known each and every woman you have ever been involved with. Meaningyoumay not remember me, but I believe I’m on a very long list kept by someone who does.” She shrugged with a carelessness she certainly did not feel. Though she thought she ought to. “For all you know, you might have hundreds of sons kicking around out there.”
And that would be a good thing, surely. Because then he wouldn’t need to concern himself with hers. But the way her stomach turned over inside her, it almost seemed as if a pretty sizeable portion of her didn’t think that was agood thingat all.
She shoved it aside, though it took a great deal of effort. “But you still haven’t answered the question I asked you. Two years up here, all alone, seems the most unlike-you thing I could possibly imagine. You must have a reason.”
“Grieving the loss of both my parents at once, and following my culture’s custom while I do so, does not strike you as a sufficient reason?”
But Madelyn didn’t back down at that as she was clearly meant to. “I lost my parents, too, you know. The fact they’re still alive, as far as I know, isn’t as much of a comfort as it should be. I’m not suggesting it’s the same, but I’m also not sure that hiding away on a mountaintop is any kind of healthy.”
Then she found herself holding her breath. Because he prowled toward her and there was no part of him that reminded her of that languid, pleasure-seeking creature she’d known in Cambridge. This man was some kind of rangy, beguiling predator. Even the way he moved was different. Notlanguidat all. As if everything about him was as hard as rock, inside and out.