PIA FELT AS if she had whiplash. Everything had been in hideous slow motion at her father’s graveside, but now, it was as if events were tumbling of their own accord. A glance out the window showed the scrum of reporters, all shouting and shoving. Her gut felt much the same.
She felt as if she was a train on a broken track, careening out of control.
Though she knew better. There was no train. Events weren’t carrying on of their own volition. And while she might feel out of control, that didn’t make it so.
It was him.
His name was not Eric. It had never been Eric. And now that she knew who he was, she couldn’t quite imagine how she’d believed he was just...some guy. That he was royal appeared stamped deep into him, today. How had she missed it in New York? It was the way he stood. It was the way he lifted that imperious brow of his. It was the way he assumed command, instantly.
He drew her back from the window. He barked out an order to his guard, then returned his considerable attention to her, green and gold and grave.
How had she convinced herself there was anything regular about this man at all?
“We cannot get to the bottom of this here,” he told her in a tone that matched the expression on his face. And made everything in her careen about all the more. “You will have to come with me.”
“Come with you?” she repeated, dazed. “What do you mean? Where?”
But Ares did not wait for her acquiescence. Perhaps he assumed it wasn’t necessary. Perhaps, where he came from, agreement with his every whim and desire was the law of the land. He certainly acted as if it was. He strode off, his long legs eating up the floor of the library in only a few strides. And then he stopped at the door, turning back to her with that astonished, arrogant look of his.
“Pia. That is your name, is it not?”
In case she’d forgotten that every single part of this situation shamed her and humiliated her.
“It is, yes,” she said, threading her fingers together and making herself smile the way she’d been taught. Serene and smooth. “And in all the confusion and violence, I believe I missed your formal introduction. You are...?”
She watched that hit him, like a slap. He blinked as if it had never occurred to him that any person alive might not know precisely who he was—suggesting that he’d thought she was only pretending not to know him in New York.
Pia should have been more sympathetic. After all, she knew what it was like to be known, often when she would have preferred to be anonymous. She knew what it was like to have an inescapable family identity that followed her around and often preceded her. And possibly, if she had been a better sort of person, she wouldn’t have taken such enjoyment in watching Ares’s struggle.
“I am His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Ares of Atilia. Duke of this, Earl of that. But no need to address me by my full title. Ares will do.”
He certainly didn’t appear the least bit ashamed that he could have spent a night like that with someone and not know their name. Pia resolved she should feel no shame herself.
And while she couldn’t quite get there, she could certainly fake it. She lifted her chin and tried to exude a sunniness she didn’t quite feel.
“It’s lovely to meet you, at last,” she said. “But you should know that I have no intention of going off somewhere with you. I did just meet you, after all.”
And she remembered every scandalous searingly hot detail of the night she’d spent with him. She had seen all kinds of expressions cross his face. She had seen him laugh, go tense and hot, shatter.
But she had never seen him look dangerous until now.
“You do not understand, so allow me to enlighten you.” His voice was almost as striking as that expression on his face. Dark. Powerful. Nothing lazy or offhand about him, and his green eyes blazed. “You have made a claim to the throne of the kingdom of Atilia. If what you say is true, you are pregnant with my child.”
“What does it matter?” she asked, with a brazen sort of calmness she did not feel. “You said you have no intention of marrying. And so what if you have illegitimate children? Don’t all kings litter them about, here and there, down through the history books?”
His perfect, sculpted lips thinned and if possible, his gaze grew hotter. And more dangerous. “Atilia is an ancient kingdom, bound by ancient rules. I cannot imagine you truly want a lesson in our laws and customs regarding succession.”
“I’m certain I didn’t ask for a lesson in anything.”
He ignored that. Or didn’t care, more likely. “Legitimate issue takes precedence over illegitimate issue. But only if they are male.”