“Hey!” Troy cried happily. “You’re the King!”
“I am,” Paris Apollo replied. And he wasn’t dressed in suspicious black today. He wore black, yes, but not the sort of black that anyone would use to scale a wall. Today, it was a dark suit with quiet touches that lent him that air of offhanded elegance. He looked darkly blond and beautiful, the way an archangel might, and Madelyn had to restrain herself from slapping her own face at that idiocy. “I hear your name is Troy.”
“I am Troy,” Troy replied, in that overtly serious way he sometimes had. He blinked. “What’s it like to be a king? Did that crown hurt your head? Do you get to play with it whenever you want?”
He continued to ask questions, one blending into the next. And Madelyn braced herself for Paris Apollo, who she couldn’t imagine in the company of the child, turning away. Looking at his own child with disdain—and she was ready for that. She would fly at him, she told herself. She would snatch Troy up, and run, and scale the wall herself. She would never let him treat her son badly. Not even for a moment—
But he didn’t do any of that.
Instead, she watched as King Paris Apollo, who looked like an archangel but was not one, crouched so he could put himself at Troy’s eye level.
As Madelyn held her breath, he then proceeded to answer each and every one of Troy’s questions as if he had nothing else to do with his time and never would.
“Are you my dad?” Troy asked him at the end of all these questions. It was matter-of-fact. He looked at Madelyn, then back at Paris Apollo. “I heard the maids talking and they said you are. But I didn’t want to ask my mom. She always gets sad when I ask her about my dad.”
Madelyn discovered, then, that there were so many new and different kinds of heartbreak. So many more variations on that theme.
One was learning, like this, that her son had seen that sadness she’d been so sure she’d hidden well.
And another was this one that she hadn’t known she held so dear in her heart, coming true at last.
Paris Apollo looked up at Madelyn, his expression as serious as his son’s. It hit her hard. Then he looked back at Troy, man-to-man.
“I am your dad,” he said, in the same matter-of-fact way. “And I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you.”
THATNIGHT,PARISAPOLLOsummoned Madelyn to his chambers.
The weeks back in the palace had gone exactly to plan. He had gone over every possible detail, or so he’d imagined up there in the Hermitage, but he’d also allowed for the possibility that there would be unforeseen complications.
So far his predictions had been on point. Every night, he took to the streets exactly as intended. He hunted down all the nasty little far-reaching tendrils of his cousin’s disease, rounding them up and dropping them off to make certain they could do no more damage to the kingdom.
And just in case there was any confusion, he left a list of their transgressions pinned to their chests.
Are you crazy?one of them had asked only last night.You think there were scandals before? Women and such? What do you thinkthiswill look like when it hits the news?
Who do you suppose will believe you?Paris Apollo had replied with a grim sort of satisfaction.I can’t think of a better way to announce that you might be a delusional drug addict than to shoot off your mouth about this fantasy you have that the King of Ilonia is tramping about the streets at night, consorting with the likes of you.
Sure enough, there hadn’t been so much as a whisper of his involvement. Just as he’d planned.
Things had been going so swimmingly in that department, and with all his plans, that he’d thought it was finally time to do something about the child.
But he hadn’t let himself dwell too much on the boy. He couldn’t. Not until it was time.
Not until he had donesomethingto avenge his parents. That might not make him feel that he deserved this new family that had been thrust upon him, here in the ashes of the old family he had not treated as he should have. But it would be something.
It would besomething.
His man had faithfully reported back what Madelyn had said about the King’s responsibilities as a father. Paris Apollo could even admit, privately, that she’d had a point. Because he had not needed the blood test the palace’s legal ministers had insisted upon when he ordered them to change his will and begin the official process of naming Troy his son and heir. He would have had to be a blind man to miss the fact that the child was made in his image. It was like looking through a time warp.
But, of course, that wasn’t the same thing as actually interacting with the child.
Troy, he had told himself stoutly, day after day. Notthe child. Notthe boy. Notthe heir.
The boy’s name was Troy. He needed to use it. He needed to engrave it on his bones because surely that was what fatherhood was.