Don’t be silly, she told herself sharply, though that didn’t much help.There is nothing to reveal.
She wasn’t the one with a questionable memory. She had no secrets here.
Up on his dais, Paris Apollo was surrounded by a great many men and women dressed in fine dresses and many black suits, all of them holding folders or clipboards and frowning self-importantly. She found herself holding her breath as she studied him, as if looking for clues. Maybe she was. Maybe she thought that if she could find that long-ago lover in the King who stood above her now, all of this would make sense. Or even that man from last night, harsh and accusatory, yet somehow more accessible than theKinghe was now.
Because even dressed in robes and acrown,this Paris Apollo was smiling. He seemed almost approachable, when he should have seemed anything but. It was the same thing she’d noticed earlier. As if he was somehow bridging the gap between the versions of him she’d already met.
But thinking about that made her feel dizzy again, so she twisted in her seat and looked out once more to where the back wall seemed to dissolve into all that glass, creating a kind of optical illusion. As if the sky and the sea were in the palace with them, crowning the King in all that blue.
Madelyn knew that the palace sat high on a hill. She knew that if she went to the wall of windows and looked out, she would gaze down into the city that stretched out all the way down that hill, over the cliffs, and down into the harbor.
But from up here, it looked as if the Ilonian palace was the only thing in all the world.
Certainly the only thing mattered.
As if the King who ruled here was some kind of god of the sea.
Looking at Paris Apollo again, she felt much the same. Dizzy. Awed.
All those things she’d felt that fateful night in the pub but had since pretended had only been her inexperience.
No,she thought now.It’s just him. It’s always beenhim.
He had seemed like a god to her then. There was a part of her that hadn’t been at all surprised when he’d moved on the way he did—because who had she been kidding? He washim.She was her. The gulf between them had always been too wide and too deep to cross.
Madelyn was just lucky that, for a short little while, she’d gotten to touch him.
Maybe she needed to find a way to be grateful for that.
A loud sort of gong sounded, and the crowd went still and quiet. Up on the stage, all the attendants faded away before the gong did, leaving Paris Apollo standing by himself.
With only his throne. And his crown.
Madelyn expected him to take his seat, but he did not. She looked around for the usual ubiquitous teleprompters anyone would expect in a situation like this, but saw nothing. It made her ribs hurt to realize it was just Paris Apollo up there, all by himself.
“My fellow Ilonians,” he began, “my beloved Islanders, it is my joy and privilege to show you not only that I am alive and well, but that I have spent these years of grief and mourning making myself over into the King you deserve.”
Sitting this close to his stage, it was too easy to forget about that harder, grimmer man she’d encountered at the Hermitage. It was tempting to believe the conviction in his voice and in his gaze.
Yet Madelyn held her breath as he spoke, and she wasn’t sure why. He was saying reasonable things. He was talking about hopes and dreams. Of his kingdom, of his promises. Of his lost parents.
And the longer he spoke, the more the spell of this hall and hissceptereased its grip on her. Belatedly, it occurred to her that there was no reason at all that she should be sitting in thefront rowfor his first speech to his people. She wasn’t Ilonian. She wasn’t anything. And given the tenor of the conversation that she and Paris Apollo had had the night before, she couldn’t imagine hewantedher here. She really ought to have been surprised that he hadn’t left her locked up for the duration. Maybe even in the dungeons.
She assumed all palaces had dungeons.
“I am well aware that there are many who, no matter their affection for my family or even for myself, question whether I am ready to make these commitments to you,” Paris Apollo intoned. And he smiled. “My parents indulged me. I indulged myself. But those days are gone. With my father and mother. And there is no greater way to honor them, in my mind, than to become the son I know they anticipated that I would become in time.”
Then he moved to the edge of the dais, his gaze upon Madelyn, and started down the wide stairs until he stood before her. His hand outstretched while she...froze in horror.
She had no intention of taking it.
But the women on either side of her made excited noises, and before she knew it—without committing to any movement at all—she found herself on her feet.
Because, of course, she’d been placed right here at the bottom of the stairs on purpose. Right here where everyone could see her. Right here while the cameras tracked Paris Apollo’s every move.
Paris Apollo took her hand in his and led her up the stairs, somehow making what should have been an awkward and embarrassing moment feel as graceful as a dance. When they stood once more before his throne, before the crowd, his green eyes found hers and held.
And like a terrible curse, Madelyn could feel him everywhere.