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That was how it had always felt to be Aether’s son.

Paris Apollo had prepared for a great many things, up there in his stone retreat for those two years of grief. How to track down each and every person he had determined had a hand in his parents’ deaths. How to circle his cousin carefully so that his revenge might be as cold as possible. He had considered a thousand possibilities of the way things could go depending on an ever-shifting number of factors. He’d conditioned his body. He’d sharpened his skills in a hundred different ways to make himself ready.

He’d been so certain he was ready for everything and anything he might face when he came down that mountain and took his throne in full.

But he hadn’t been prepared for Troy.

He hadn’t been ready for the tidal wave of emotion that had knocked him this way and that in the gardens today. He hadn’t been prepared for what it would feel like to have a whole conversation with his own child.His child.To answer Troy’s questions, ask his own, and find himself fascinated by the way the child’s young mind worked.

He hadn’t been ready for how it would feel to study his son’s small body and see things that he knew were his.Hisnose.Hisface. The shape of his shoulders, the jut of his chin, that Paris Apollo knew, in time, would resemble his own.

That night in the Hermitage, he had been shocked at the news that he had a son. He had been unimpressed by Madelyn’s suggestion that it had never crossed her mind to let him know he was a father. But he had channeled all that into action. He had been able to find a cool, rational distance from the issue and had seen exactly how this revelation could best benefit him and his reign.

He had commended himself on accepting such a huge plot twist with equanimity. That night, he hadn’t slept at all. He had stood there watching the dawn break over the islands from his windows, congratulating himself. For he had come into the Hermitage a broken son who knew only how to be a lackluster prince, but he would leave those stones a king and a father, able to handle anything that was thrown his way.

But today he could not access that sense of composure.

Today Paris Apollo felt nothing but the deepest betrayal. It felt like a howling thing within him, dark and wild—and he rather thought she knew it.

Because Madelyn didn’t make him seek her out tonight. He’d been perhaps a little too ready for that. There was something stirring in his blood, some kind of predatory fury—

In truth, he wanted it. Hewantedthe excuse to stalk through the halls of this palace, find her, and call her to account.

Any way he could. Every way he could.

Instead, Madelyn not only appeared a good five minutes before the appointed hour, but she also came dressed appropriately for a dinner with a king. When he was all too aware that she had been shirking such considerations the whole time she’d been here, deliberately defying his staff’s requests as if that might save her from the fate that awaited her.

Nothing can, he thought now, with no little pleasure.There is no escape.

They would wed in a couple of short weeks. And that was that, for Ilonian monarchs did not divorce. It was only a matter of coming to terms with the inevitable, Paris Apollo thought.

She would have a great many years before her to practice.

He found her waiting for him out on that same terrace, though this time, her hands were not already on her hips. She was not glaring at him. This time, he found her staring off over the railing, into the gardens and the city and sea beyond, a troubled look on her face.

She was not starting off on the offensive tonight, then. That beast in him roared its approval. Because he certainly was.

“So you are capable of behaving like the future Queen of this country after all.” He belted that out and then watched the way she stiffened. Though she did not turn to face him. “My staff report that you are more often found dressed like our son. Jeans and a T-shirt, rolling about in the dirt or hiding from your duties in the libraries.”

“Is this really what you wish to speak about tonight, Paris Apollo?” Madelyn’s voice was mild, but he wasn’t fooled. Not tonight. Tonight, he felt seared straight through with a kind of clarity he wasn’t sure he’d ever had before. Not where she was concerned. “This is the only topic you can think of? Are you certain?”

“Do you dare to attempt to call me out?” He roamed toward her, hungering to put his hands on her, but he did not. He did not dare. Not yet. “After your own sins? Or have you forgotten?”

“I never claimed I had a poor memory.” She turned to face him, then, and he disliked how easily she could render him...undone. With only a look. A pitying sort of look now, as if she alone could see the truth of him. “I believe that’s you.”

And there were too many parts of this that Paris Apollo did not wish to look at head-on. He had tried, these past couple of weeks, to set aside the things that kiss had made so clear to him.

Like the ways he had deceived himself. Like his own cowardice. That he had been so willing to act the way he had. That he had tried so hard to pretend she was nothing to him. That he had dedicated himself to the attempt to tamp it all down, hide it away, as if it had never been.

When he’d pretended he didn’t know her, and not for any reason but the most petty and unworthy: he had hoped it would hurt her.

His parents would not have approved. He knew that.

Are you angry at her?asked a voice in Paris Apollo’s head that sounded far too much like his mother’s. Cool, serene, and yet unflinching.Or are you angry with yourself?

But he knew the answer to that too well because he didn’twantto answer it.

“How could you keep him from me?” he demanded, though he kept his voice a low growl. “How could you pretend to yourself that I would not care?”