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Because she had looked up from her life, seen him, and nothing had been the same since.

She wasn’t sure how she’d managed to forget all of this.

Particularly the wildfire seduction of his kiss.

One taste of Paris Apollo and she would have done anything. She had.

Her parents weren’t the only ones who had lost a little faith in her and her decisions.

The difference being, you know that Troy is worth it,a voice in her chimed in at once, the way it always did. Because that was what mattered. At times he had been the only thing that mattered to her.

Paris Apollo couldn’t change that.

Madelyn staggered down one hallway. Then, feeling claustrophobic—even though there was nothing the least bit confining about these wide marble halls and arched ceilings—she saw a set of doors that led outside and pushed her way through them.

There was still light far off in the sky, a hint of daylight somewhere else. But she didn’t have it in her to wish she was following the light, because the dark was pushing in and it felt soothing.

Just for a moment, Madelyn thought, she could take a minute to soothe herself.

She felt guilty because Troy was here and for once she didn’t have to rush off to pick up a shift. She could spend all the time with him she liked, and she should. She would. Still, with only a backward glance at the looming palace, Madelyn set off across the path that opened up in front of her and found herself in the gardens.

She could smell sweet flowers in the night—night blooming-jasmine, bright mimosa, and a lingering note of deep green mixed through with a bit of salt from the sea. The pathways were lit by the same warm lanterns she’d noticed against her will up on that terrace with Paris Apollo. She had seen the gardens from her windows earlier, but in the dark they took on an air of mystery. Romance. It was the buttery light of the lanterns—

Madelyn ordered herself to stop thinking about pretty lanterns. Wasn’t that how she’d gotten herself into this mess? She’d spent too much time thinking about things she shouldn’t have. Whole years wrapped up in tiny concerns, like how to get a better serving job at a better restaurant in a better resort. When all along she should have been focused on what was happening here in these islands.

Of course she’d looked them up. She wasn’tthatnaive. But tales of isolated islands and hereditary monarchies in the high seas seemed like bedtime stories when there were so many less fantastical details to focus on every day. Like bills. Preschool. All the marvelous and stultifying things about parenting, many in the same stretch of five minutes.

She obviously should have been paying attention to what Paris Apollo and his parents were doing this whole time so she could have reacted quicker. So she could havedone something.

So she could have avoided forever the truths she learned about herself tonight.

After all this time. After all that had happened. After the truth she’d had to face at the top of those stairs in Cambridge, and many harder truths afterward. When her parents had turned her away. When she’d given birth all alone. When she’d stayed up in the night, nursing Troy and sobbing as much because of the ways her body was ravaged as because she was so tired and so uncertain how she was going to make it to morning...

Sometimes it hadn’t been clear how she was going to make it to the next hour.

And all of that had simply...gone up in flames tonight.

All it had taken was a kiss.

Madelyn despaired of herself.

But that was nothing new. And the only cure for this feeling that she’d ever found was walking. That was all she’d done when she’d come home from England that August. She’d gone to her classes and, in between them, walked around the city. Up and down the famous hills, in and around the marinas and the parks. Across the Golden Gate Bridge and back. Not that walking solved a thing, she thought now as she made her way down one garden path, then up another, noting the way the lantern light caught the long skirt of her dress. The way the pools of light seemed to urge her on.

But solved or not, she felt calmer for it. So she kept walking.

She had no idea how much time had passed when she found herself at the farthest edge of the garden. For a while, she followed the stone wall there, gazing over it and down across the sweep of the city, gleaming and sparkling in the dark. She couldn’t see the ocean, but there was no mistaking where it was. That inky black, there on the edges of everything.

Hovering. Waiting. Lurking, even.

But no matter how many dramatic words she conjured up to describe it, Madelyn still found something about its presence peaceful. As if, no matter the petty concerns of a woman with a child high up on a hilltop, the ocean would endure.

Maybe she would, too.

Madelyn blew out a shaky breath and turned around, finally looking back up at the palace as it sat there above her in all its splendor.

And maybe she hadn’t slept as well last night as she would have liked. Maybe being stranded in a stone hermitage and then let loose on the grounds of an actual palace made her a bit fanciful.

But she couldn’t help thinking that the palace represented Paris Apollo a little too well. It was stunning. Beautiful. It almost hurt to look upon it in all of its glowing glory as she stood here in the dark.