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It made her feel a bit flushed and unsteady on her feet to think of how far she’d come from that night here. And how far there was still to go.

She blew out a breath and didn’t head up to the upper levels, where she already knew there were bedrooms everywhere and more lounges like the one she and Paris Apollo had stood in that first night, with narrow windows and a storm outside. This time, she headed to the lower levels instead.

Because this time, the storm was already inside.

In her mind’s eye, she could see the pictures she’d looked at of this place. She’d seen the various levels stacked on top of each other, so she knew that she wasn’t really descending into any kind of cave.

But it felt like one.

Down at the bottom of the spiral stairs that wound around the interior of a stone tower, she found herself standing before a huge door made of metal hinges and sturdy oak. It looked ancient. It looked forbidding.

Madelyn tugged on the heavy iron handle and let herself in.

Before she could talk herself out of it.

But then she had to stop in astonishment when she saw what waited for her.

The door opened up to a great room. Like a kind of loft, except it was carved into the stone and the rough edges made it clear it really was a kind of cave after all. As if whoever had made this level hadn’t bothered to finish the part of the room’s walls that were just...mountain.

Yet every other part of the space was modern.

This, she realized, was Paris Apollo’s command center. This was how a king could disappear from his people for two years yet still run his country.

There was a wall entirely made up of screens. There was what she assumed was a state-of-the-art computer console. There was an area set aside for what looked like a private gym, equipped with fierce-looking machines and iron things that looked like yokes, plus barbells and more weights than could possibly be necessary for one man. Behind it, she could see that a climbing wall had been fashioned out of the slope of the mountainside that formed the ceiling.

And the side of the room that faced the islands outside was all glass. A simple glance told her that her initial impression, back on that stormy night when she’d first come here, had been right.

She could see the palace, away in the distance two islands over, standing high and proud. She could see the other islands that made up the rest of Ilonia, scattered across the sea like gleaming green marbles.

But most important, she saw Paris Apollo standing in the center of this place of his, glaring back at her.

He was stripped to the waist. And even now, even after everything that happened and everything that had been said on that beach, she felt that same longing for him that she always did. She could see all of those ridged muscles she had explored with such dedication, and below them, that dusting of dark hair that led to his sex.

He was still the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. He was, and would always be, the great love of her life.

And he was looking at her now as if she’d been sent to assassinate him herself.

She watched as he braced himself. He squared his shoulders as if he fully anticipated that she would come in swinging.

And Madelyn had intended to. She had thought of nothing but the many things she would hurl his way as she stormed up the side of this mountain.

But as she stood here and really looked at him, so terribly alone and so dedicated to his guilt and the things he felt he needed to prove to the ghosts of the two people who had always forgiven him for everything, she felt, instead, the heart she’d thought he’d stolen from her beat hard and painful in her chest. She felt her eyes fill up with tears.

Madelyn moved toward him and didn’t care the way she probably should have when those tears swelled up and spilled over, making hot trails down her cheeks. She walked to him, as carefully if he was some kind of wild animal, but she wasn’t afraid.

Even when he looked at her as if he might come apart at any moment, she still wasn’t worried.

She walked directly to him. She reached up and fit her palms to his face, one on each side of his strong, perfect jaw.

“Madelyn,” he growled out in warning.

But she could hear that longing beneath it.

So sheshushedthe King of Ilonia. She held him.

And she whispered, “Paris Apollo, they would never ask this sacrifice of you. You are a father yourself now. You know better.”

He made a noise and looked as if he wanted to pull away, but she held on.