“What can you possibly be thinking? You must know how dangerous it is to just be...out here. Roaming around.”
“I am not at risk.”
“You are the King, Paris Apollo. If it wasn’t dangerous for you to be on your own, why do you have so many guards? So many walls around the palace? It only takes one motivated and disturbed individual to prove them all necessary. Just one. Are these nighttime rambles really worth that?”
“This does not concern you.” It was a fight to keep his voice low. To keep from shouting—when Paris Apollo could not recall another moment in his life where he had come close toshouting.Somehow, he managed not to make this the first. “You should never have followed me away from the safety of the palace.”
“Thank you for acknowledging that it’s not as safe as you’re pretending,” Madelyn said quietly, and it made that rawintentin him tip over into a kind of roar. “I can’t understand why you’d risk yourself like this. What could possibly be so important?”
He wanted to rage at her, but it wasn’t safe. Just because he couldn’t see anyone peering out at them from any number of windows facing the street, that didn’t mean there weren’t eyes on them. Wasn’t that what he been taught to assume, always, as a royal? That there were always eyes? It was only in places like the Hermitage that he could be sure he was truly on his own.
That was the true purpose of guards and walls. Above and beyond the relative few who liked to make threats that were usually idle, it was to ensure some small shred of privacy. Without them, he would have none.
But he did not feel that applied to this woman—hiswoman, soon to be hiswife—and whatever had possessed her to come after him tonight of all nights. He hated her out here, alone. He hated that she was this close to his treacherous, murderous cousin.
He hated all of this.
Paris Apollo reached over and took her wrist in one hand, then began walking, tugging her with him as he went.
He expected her to fight. Because wasn’t that what she did? Fight everything, at the slightest provocation? Fearless in the face of anything and everything—including him?
But tonight was strange in any number of ways. Because Madelyn did not try to wrench her wrist from his grasp. She fell into step with him, perhaps a bit too easily, as if they were simply a couple out for an evening stroll.
Though most people did not stroll about this far after midnight.
He skirted the bluff entirely, though there were lights blazing in his cousin’s house. His jaw felt like granite as he thought of all the things he would not be learning tonight. All the gloating he would not get to do.
It was a wonder he didn’t start shouting again, there and then. But he kept walking until he found the old, ancient gate at the end of a little-used side lane, tucked away between two elegant cottages that anyone else would likely think twice before approaching at this hour.
Paris Apollo was not anyone else. This was his island. And he knew every last centimeter of it like his own beating heart.
He led Madelyn to the gate that still opened the way it had when he was young, with a secret lever secreted in the midst of a flowering vine. Then he took her onto the steep path down to the beach beyond, where the tide was high and made it look as if there was nothing at the end of the path but a steep tumble into the water.
It was really no more than an optical illusion. And had the great benefit of keeping anyone who didn’t know the beach’s secrets away. For there was a turn in the trail that led back around beneath the hill to a private beach well out of the reach of the sea.
Once he’d navigated the way to the sand, liberally strewn with rocks and great pieces of driftwood, Paris Apollo dropped her hand. Like it was on fire. And then walked away because touching her was not doing anything good for his self-control.
“I will ask again,” he said to the dark sky, to the covetous tide. To Madelyn herself, though everything in him was at a fever pitch already. “What possessed you to follow me? Tonight of all nights, when the island is filled with wedding guests. More suspicious eyes than usual.”
“I could ask the same of you,” she retorted. “I’m not sure there’s ever a good time for the King to be wandering around in public, in the dark, all by his lonesome. But tonight of all nights? It’s as if youwantto be caught.”
“I do not.”
“And yet you didn’t notice me behind you, when I doubt very much that I was giving the local cat burglars a run for their money.” He had to grit his teeth at that, and he thought she knew. She tipped her head to one side, and he could see her too well in the dark. It meant she could see him, too. “Why won’t you tell me what this is about?”
He didn’t want to tell her. Or maybe it was the opposite. Maybe he had spent two years sitting with this and she was the only one he could think of to tell.
Every night, they came together and followed the fire that had always been between them, wherever it led. In the aftermath, they would lie together, with their breath coming fast and hard. And it would nearly burst out of him, the need to confide in her.
The way it always had.
“You can tell me,” she said quietly, watching him far too closely. “Whatever it is.”
And there was something in her voice then that made him pause. He barked out a laugh. “Do you think it’s a woman?”
She didn’t reply to that, which was a reply in itself, and he raked his hands over his face. He could not quite bring himself to laugh again. “You credit me with far more stamina than any man could have. Or do you not imagine that the demands we make on each other are more than enough for one person in one day?”
“I havealwaysthought so,” she replied, and he could see her eyes flash, there in the dark. Paris Apollo did not miss the emphasis on the wordalways.