“Save the fact that I have had what I could only term an epic amount of sex in my lifetime, cara,” he said, almost drawling the words. “But no one has ever turned up claiming I left them pregnant.”

“I didn’t actually ‘turn up.’ You did. Here. At my father’s funeral.” Her gray eyes glittered. “But by all means, let’s brush that aside and continue to talk about your feelings.”

“It is not a question of feelings,” he said, through his teeth. “It is a question of what is possible and what is not.”

She lifted a shoulder, then dropped it. “There is only one possible way I could have gotten pregnant. Because there was only the one night. And only the one man.”

“But I do not—”

“Please.” Those big, gray eyes implored him, though the hand she held up was rather more of a demand. “There’s no point arguing about this. Why don’t you give me your details and I’ll arrange a test. No point discussing it further until then, is there?”

“Pia. You cannot imagine that I will simply wander off into the ether, can you?” He didn’t know what possessed him. One moment he merely stood there a foot or so away from her. And in the next, his hands were on her delicate shoulders, holding her there as if she’d tried to walk away. When he should have wanted that. “Or is that what you want me to do?”

A strange expression moved over her face, darkening her eyes. That wry twist to her lips was back, and deeper this time.

“That’s a question you need to ask yourself, I think,” she said softly. “In the absence of a test, who’s to say who the father is? I certainly won’t say a thing, no matter who asks.”

That dropped through Ares like a stone. A heavy weight, sharp and cold and jagged, sinking deep inside him.

He could turn around and leave, right now. His lip would heal. The tabloids would speculate, but then, they always did. If he didn’t feed them, surely the stories would die away.

And he could carry on as he’d always intended. As he’d planned.

But despite himself, he thought of his mother.

Of how disappointed she would be in him if she were here.

Nothing had been more important to the queen than her family. Him. All she had ever wanted for him was a wife. A child.

He could shrug off his father’s obsession with bloodlines without a second thought, and had. He’d shrugged off his father as easily.

But never his mother.


He realized his hands were still wrapped around Pia’s shoulders. Her head was tipped back, and that belly of hers was between them.

And he wanted nothing to do with this. He wanted to turn back time, refuse to come to this funeral, or go back further and make sure he was nowhere near that party in Manhattan that night.

Even if that would have meant missing out on that taste of her that haunted him still, loathe as he was to admit it.

“There are two things you must know about me,” he told her gruffly, as if he was making vows. “First, I have no intention of marrying. My father, the king, would love nothing more than to knock me out of the line of succession entirely. And I have done my best to help him with that, as it is preferable to playing his little games. And second, but just as important, I had no intention of ever having children.”

“Is this the royal version of congratulations?” she asked, but her voice quivered. He could feel it inside him, like shame. “It needs a little work.”

“I want no part of this,” he told her, dark and sure. “But I will do my duty. One way or another.”

Ares wasn’t sure what he meant by that. All he could seem to concentrate on was that he’d moved too close to her without meaning to. His mouth hovered worryingly close to hers. He could so easily tilt himself forward and help himself to those lips of hers, impossibly sweet and soft and right there—

But Pia twisted her shoulders and stepped back, out of his grip. He could have held her fast, and knew full well he shouldn’t have felt a sense of heroism that he hadn’t. And then he felt something far worse crawl through him as her hands went to cover her belly.

As if she was protecting her child from him.

His child, if what she said was true.

“I haven’t asked you for anything,” she said, very distinctly. Quiet, but sure. “Including your reluctant, begrudging sense of duty, thank you very much.”

The door behind them opened, and Ares turned, astonished that anyone would dare interrupt him.

It was a day for astonishment, it seemed.

“Your Highness,” the head of his security detail said, bowing his head apologetically. “I’m afraid there is a situation with the paparazzi. We must go.”

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