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“You had no intention of ever informing me of my own son’s existence. I somehow doubt that has the makings of a love for all ages, Madelyn. You’re starting to sound like a silly little virgin all over again.”

“I think we both know that I’m no such thing. You saw to it personally.” He wasn’t prepared for that, or for the way her mouth curved as if she found this...amusing.

Or anything less than absolutely devastating.

“It isn’t loving each other that hurts us, Paris Apollo,” she told him then, in that same quiet voice that pounded inside of him, drowning out the sea all around him and even his own heartbeat. “It’s the pretending that we don’t. It’s the pretending that we’re something less than what we are. That we weren’t stuck by lightning that very first moment, and staggered around, half burned and half electric, trying to make sense of it when there was no sense to be made. Sometimes that’s the way it is. Two people meet and they’re meant for each other, and sense has nothing to do with it.

“Madelyn, for God’s sake—”

“And even if I didn’t already know this to be true about you and me, I know it because of Troy,” she continued, with that soft precision that he feared might well be the end of him. “He’s the perfect embodiment of the love between us and you know this. I know you do. I watch you with him. I see the way you look at him, then at me, as if you can’t believe we made him. But we did.”

He wanted to end this. He wanted to walk away, but he couldn’t seem to move.

“And do you know how we made him, Paris Apollo? With love. There is not a single cell in his body that didn’t come from love. He’s the proof, if you need it. The walking, talking, thrilled-he-gets-to-be-a-princeproof.”

Paris Apollo didn’t want to talk about Troy. He didn’t want to bring that bright, funny little boy into this, because he was separate. He was something else.

Or, possibly, he had something to do with that yawning chasm deep inside Paris Apollo that he had no intention of looking at too closely. He tried to shove it all away.

“You can talk about love all you wish,” he managed to get out. “I can’t stop you. But that has nothing to do with the course I am bound to take here.”

This time, she was the one who closed the distance and put her hands on him. She gripped his arms, still looking up at him, her expression as much beseeching as it was infuriated.

That, too, made him ache.

“There are courts for a reason,” she said, her voice urgent. “You need to be a king, not a vigilante. You need to be a father, Paris Apollo. A husband. A man.” She gripped him harder. “And I know that you can be a good one. I know that youarea good one.”

But that was the final straw because Paris Apollo knew better.

Within him, he was nothing but bitter storms and despair, guilt and rage.

He stepped back. He made certain to look at her as coldly and as cuttingly as he could.

Because he couldn’t have this. He couldn’t be the man he sometimes saw when she looked at him. He couldn’t be anything but what he was—a creature better suited to the darkness, made only for revenge and restitution.

The man who had loved her and lost her once, and then lost everyone else he’d loved. Suggesting the common denominator was him.

If he was even a shadow of the man his parents had imagined he might be, he would never risk Madelyn like this. Much less an innocent child.

He gathered that shadow around him now.

“You are entirely mistaken about me,” he said, the cold of a thousand winters in his voice. “Must I prove that? Very well.”

Madelyn whispered his name. It rang like a bell, deep inside him. Like all the churches whose doors he dared not darken.

“I release you,” he told her harshly. Because it was better that way. “I will instruct the palace that the wedding is called off. You and Troy can go home to your lake and your woods, with my compliments.”

Then he turned and left her there, standing on a hidden beach. He didn’t look back.

Not until he was far enough up the path that when he did look, the beach had disappeared in the curve of the hill and there was nothing but the sea and the moon far above.

As if she’d never been there at all.


MADELYNSTOODONthat beach for a long time.

And when, at last, she turned and started back up the path, she hardly knew how she managed to put one foot in front of the other.