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It was certainly something different. None of the others had left until he’d ordered them away. Some had even required threats to leave the Royal Isle.

She was always something different,a voice in him whispered, but he shoved it aside. She had left him and never looked back. Why was he shocked that this time, she was doing it where he could see it?

“I ordered you to stop,” he said, quietly enough, but even he could hear the stark command in his own voice. Once, he might have mourned the change in him. That he should sound not only so unlike himself, but also very much like all of those he had hated and disdained in turn. Or had simply found tiresome when he was young and feckless, like his poor father.

But it worked.

Madelyn turned, though she took her time with it. “You said you don’t remember me.” She folded her arms, reminding him with that gesture that she really was an American, with no innate understanding of the deference due her betters. The old him might have admired that. Well. He knew all too well that he had. “But to clarify, I’m not one of your subjects. You’re not the boss of me. Or anything in between.”

He lifted a brow and decided that his knee-jerk decision to pretend he didn’t know her was inspired. “Yet you must be something to me or they wouldn’t have sent you.”

She stiffened as if outraged. When normally women were only too happy to fight for the opportunity to get this close to him. And despite how easily she had left him six years ago, he knew beyond any possible doubt that she had once yearned for him. Ached for him. Hungered for him, body and soul.

Body,he reminded himself darkly.Hersoulwas never involved—only yours.

“Tell me, which one of my devious ministers dispatched you up the side of my mountain?” When she only glared back at him, Paris Apollo let his mouth curve. It was not a smile. “Angelique, if I had to guess.”

He could tell he’d hit his target by the way Madelyn pressed her lips together.

And he’d been trying to insult her before. He’d had an opportunity to lash out and he’d taken it, and he wanted to assure himself he didn’t regret it...when he knew he did. If only because it was as if he had learned nothing at all these last terrible years.

The truth about Madelyn was nothing so simple aswan.She was fresh faced and innocent-looking in the quintessentially American fashion, fair enough. But she was also remarkablypretty.

God help him, she was still so damned pretty.

And she still lit him up as if the only light in the whole of the world was her. When he knew it wasn’t. Because she had taken it with her when she’d gone, and the sun had still found a way to rise. Summers had waxed on forever. There had been light enough.

But there hadn’t beenher, and he was furious he even noticed. When he wanted, so badly it felt like another betrayal, to be immune to Madelyn Jones at last.

He studied her, trying to reason outwhyshe affected him so much. Why she always had. There was the long blond hair and surprising gray eyes. That lean figure, skinny in a way that suggested something other than fashion. Head to toe, she looked...haphazardly put together, as if she’d thrown on the clothes she wore with no thought and spent even less time on her hair.

As if she had actually done this, not spent hours to achieve a certain curated version of carelessness when she was anything but. She was not stunning and sophisticated like most of the women who had cluttered up his orbit before—and after.

She never had been.

Madelyn had been artless and earnest, and God help him, he did not intend to go down that road again. Not when he knew how it ended.

Not when he knew that he had been nothing to her but a spot ofsightseeing.

And no matter that there was still that same maddeningsomethingabout her that made the memory of other women seem overdone and labored in contrast. As if her inescapable prettiness was not only greater than the sum of her parts, but also a sort of fresh breeze that blew out the cobwebs of all those women who tried too hard for his attention.

It would have been easier, then and now, if she’d merely been beautiful. Beauty was a commodity.Prettywas impossible to define and harder still to sell. Yet everyone knew it when they saw it. When they were nearly struck speechless at the sight of it.

More than all that, she lookedkind, he thought—

And then nearly barked out a bitter laugh at that line of thinking. Because he knew all too well how little kindness there really was in this world, and how seldom it mattered anyway. Or his parents would still be alive.

But this was still not the time to unleash the full force of the darkness inside him.

Not when he already knew, without doubt, that what he thought he saw in her wasn’t there. It never had been.

“If you are not here to tempt me,” he murmured instead, “as that is not how Angelique operates, why are you here?”

“Why does anybody come all the way up here to see you?” She sniffed with a disdain Paris Apollo had only seen before in films. Never directed at himself. For even at his most dissipated, he had still beenhimself.Who would dare disdain the Crown Prince of Ilonia to his face? And if anyone would, he could not imagine it beingMadelyn,who had once made him believe he might possibly have hung all the stars. Just for her. “I understand that a great many have been sent. And all have failed. Not that anyone has asked me for my opinion, but if you’rethatinterested in remaining in a big stone castle on the top of a little-known mountain, I’d be inclined to let you do it. After all, that’s what the world needs, we can all agree. One more outrageously wealthy man on a personal quest that inconveniences as many people as possible.”

Something stirred inside Paris Apollo at that, and it took him far too long to identify it.