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“I was in my bedchamber when you returned that day,” he told her, not sure why his voice had gone gruff. Only that there was something intense between them. There always had been.

“I know you were.”

“Alone,” he bit out. “With a very old bottle of very good scotch. I had instructed my staff to let no one in until I drank the whole of it down. I did not come out for two days.” He scowled at her. “You were the one who left, Madelyn.”

He watched his words fall through her, and he thought she swayed on her feet. Her lovely face, still too pretty, seemed to pale.

Yet she did not tumble over. She took a deep breath that sounded a great deal like some kind of grief, then stood taller.

Paris Apollo pushed on. “I’m not having an affair. I’m not sneaking out of my own palace for a little variety in my bed. And if I did, Madelyn, you can be certain that there would be no sneaking. I am a great many things, too many of them disgraceful, but I’ve never been a liar.”

The waves crashed against the sand. Up on a nearby hill, a lighthouse beamed out over the water.

“I believe you,” Madelyn said, surprising him. And he did not know, until she said it, how much he’d needed her to believe him. How much it mattered to him. It was another thing he hadn’t seen coming, this need not only for her body, but for her to see who he really was. “But only because you’ve never been furtive a day in your life. Why now?”

It seemed to shake something loose inside him.

She believed him. She knew him well enough to know that what he said was true. He would not sneak around for sex. He never had.

There was not, as far as he knew, a single person alive or dead who had ever known him and believed that. They had all imagined that because his appetites were intense, he would do anything to feed them. Lie, cheat.

But even back in Cambridge, Madelyn had looked straight through to the heart of him. He had found it nearly painful then. Was it possible that some part of him had welcomed Annabel’s take on Madelyn? Was it possible that he had believed in Madelyn’s callousness a little too easily?

He had not known what to do with this intensity back then. It had overwhelmed him.

Tonight, he found it a kind of balm.

“It has never been much of a secret who ordered my parents killed,” he told her then, simply enough, while the waves reached for them across the sand, again and again. “Not to anyone connected to the palace. My cousin Konos is an ambitious man. It has always been his intention to take the throne. He used to feed stories about my unsuitability to rule to the tabloids when I was all of thirteen. Fourteen. When there was supposed to be a media blackout until I reached eighteen. Instead, I was obliged to create a media persona much earlier. So that all my cousin’s intimations would not be taken as fact. I did this by leaning into the things he said of me and making them seem charming.”

She blew out a breath. And she no longer looked as furious as she had earlier, looking for him on a deserted street with her hands on her hips. Like she intended to give him—him—a piece of her mind whether he intended to marry her or not.

As if he was a man, not a king.

Paris Apollo began to feel that this was one more instance of all the ways she really would make the perfect Queen. It was entirely possible that she would understand what he was doing in a way no one else could.

For hadn’t she come to find him in the Hermitage with a heart as hard as his had needed to be these past two years? Hadn’t she kept his own child from him for five years?

If anyone knew the pleasures of revenge, he was certain it would be Madelyn.

“If everyone knows who killed your parents, why hasn’t he been brought to justice?” she asked.

“Because he is the cousin of the King,” Paris Apollo said with the same deep fury that accompanied even the thought of his cousin. “He is protected by his bloodline. And because there is no proof.”

“This is what you’ve been doing,” she said, frowning slightly. “Every night.”

He wanted to reach over and rub that line between her eyes away, but he didn’t. Touching her led to forgetting himself and his purpose. It was the only way he’d ever known how to deal with the intensity between them—but he was not the callow, overwhelmed princeling he had been at Cambridge. He had lived through a greater grief than losing her when once he would have thought that impossible.

Not that he intended to lose her again.

And now that he’d begun to tell her his story, he didn’t want to stop.

It was as if he worried it would be trapped inside him forever. Though he knew it was a kind of madness to keep allowing himself to think these fanciful things that led him nowhere he needed to go.

Madelyn was still looking at him as if she was seeing him for the first time. “I’ve been reading the local papers and every day there’s another story of criminals rounded up and dumped for the police to find. And just in case there’s any confusion, they always have lists of their crimes pinned to the chest. This is you.Youare doing these things. Your knuckles were bruised the other night.”

“My parents should have lived for decades yet,” Paris Apollo gritted out. “They should have had the opportunity to see their son act like a man and step into the role they crafted for him. But they didn’t. They should have had the opportunity to know their grandson, but they won’t. These things were taken from them. The man who arranged their deaths walks free, thinking himself safe as he plots to steal the throne from me, too, because that was the plan all along. Get rid of the old King and Queen, then make it clear that I am unfit. And I am certain that if that doesn’t work as it should, some or other accident would be arranged for me, too.”

“This is what the police are for. All you need to do is call and—”