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“They were my parents, Madelyn. They thought I was nothing short of a miracle, and their reward was that I shirked every responsibility they ever set before me.” His voice was a kind of rasp, and he did not tell her that he had fallen in love with her long ago, and had loved her all the more because it would be the one thing his parents wanted for him that he could actually do. He shook his head to clear it of the past. “This is the very least I can do to honor their memories.”

He genuinely expected her to nod, to agree. While he’d been talking, he’d moved closer without knowing he meant to move at all. He’d slid his hands to wrap tight over her slender shoulders, and if anyone had been looking at them then, they might have assumed this was a prelude to a passionate kiss.

Then again, everything was with Madelyn.

Paris Apollo saw her begin to shake her head.

He couldn’t make sense of it.

“I’ve spent a long time beating myself up for the way I let my parents down,” she told him softly. “I should have been the daughter they wanted, because I knew what their expectations were and I went ahead and let them down anyway. That’s what I’ve been telling myself all these years. But then, tonight, they proved to me that it was never my fault. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant with Troy, there would have been some other reason for them to wash their hands of me. Because that’s actually what they want. No one in the world could possibly live up to their standards. They never wanted me to.”

“My parents were nothing like that,” Paris Apollo grated out. “If anything, they allowed me too much leeway in all things and excused it all away.”

“I’m not suggesting otherwise.” She moved closer, there in his arms, to press her fingertips on his chest. “They sound like truly wonderful people. I’m sorrier than you know that I never got the chance to meet them. That Troy never will. But that’s not my point. I spent a lot of time these last years thinking about the many ways I could get revenge on my parents for turning their backs on me when I needed them the most. Sometimes it was all I thought about. And do you know what I finally understood tonight?”

“I do not want—”

“Revenge is a poison, Paris Apollo. It mires you in your worst moments while time marches on without you. It chains you to darkness. I know this. I lived this. And all the while I made up revenge scenarios in my head, my son—ourson—was growing up. They tried to make me give him up. And I still spent far too much time in my head, which means I might as well have let them take him.” She let out a soft breath. “Tonight made it all too clear. They don’t have any power over me I don’t give them.”

“This is about justice, Madelyn. Revenge is just a happy byproduct.”

“But...” She shook her head again and her gaze was imploring. And he didn’t know what he was supposed to do when her gaze was the color of the sea just before dawn. When the world was so still and all manner of impossible things seemed attainable. “I haven’t heard a single story about your mother and father that didn’t make it clear that they were wise, generous, remarkable people. Every person I encounter, from the lowliest servant to ambassadors from afar, agree. They were all about love, Paris Apollo. That was who they were.”

His chest hurt. “They were all that and more.”

“Then you must know that they wouldn’t want this for you,” she whispered.

He felt as if her words inflicted a mortal wound upon him. He staggered back because he couldn’t have his hands on her or hers on him. It felt like treachery and he was sick to death of treachery.

Coming from her, it felt like another betrayal.

He wished the moon wasn’t rising tonight, dancing on the water as if nothing was the matter. He wished the stars did not dare to shine. He wished the waves themselves deserted this beach so that even they could not bear witness to one more instance of him being turned against.

One more bit of proof that the only people who had really believed in him were dead.

And given his behavior, he might as well have killed them with his own hand.

“And, pray tell, what do you know about love?” He hardly recognized his own voice then. It was so harsh. As if every syllable was made of acid, but he struck out anyway. Wasn’t that who he’d made himself? “Where would you have learned it? Certainly not from your parents. Certainly not from a brief, ill-considered affair with a man you washed your hands of before you left the country.”

“I did no such thing.” But she sounded winded. And he felt hollow. “I knew you were faking.I knew it.”

“Iwantedto forget,” he growled. “I wanted you to think I thoughtthat littleof our time together. Is that what you would call love? That pettiness? Tell me, Madelyn—is that where you got all this wisdom you dispense so freely?”

For a moment she looked unsteady, but then, while he watched, she straightened. She stood taller, even shifting her feet farther apart as if to take up more ground. She folded her arms and eyed him steadily.

It only made his ribs ache all the more.

“I know all about love,” she said in that mild yet brutal way that he decided, there and then, enraged him. “I think I must have fallen in love with you at first sight. That was why it was so all-encompassing. That was why, on some level, I think we were both relieved it had to end when I flew home. And then it was easier to pretend that it had been something shabby and coarse, didn’t it? But it was neither of those things. It was love, Paris Apollo. I was there. I know.”

He opened his mouth to tell her the lie that would end this, once and for all. But he couldn’t do it.

And it was as if she knew. She took a step closer, and he didn’t like that. He liked it less when she took another. “You are the only one I have ever loved, in all my life. The only one I will ever love. And I know it’s the same for you, whether you want to admit it or not.”

That was another attack, a strike straight to the core of him. “I am incapable. Ask anyone.”

And maybe he was finally shouting, after all.

But it must have been inside him, because she was still speaking in that quietly devastating way. “I don’t need to ask a soul.I know.It was the same for both of us. It’s still the same for both of us. And we spent the past six years differently, but it all amounts to the same thing. Love, Paris Apollo. And I don’t think it matters when or how we found each other again. It would always be like this. It will always be like this.”