But he was more focused on the span of time. Six months. It made his head swim. And it meant...
“So you will... That is to say, we will...”
He couldn’t say the words out loud. Was he sweating?
“In a few months,” she said. “But babies are tricky. They do what they like. And I’m told twins tend to come sooner rather than later.”
“In the history of this kingdom, there have never been twins.”
She dared to look amused. “Ever? Really? In the course of how many thousands of years?”
He thought his growl might have been audible, then. “In the royal family, I should say. There have only ever been single births.”
“They say it skips a generation,” she offered, helpfully. She studied him for a moment. “My father’s aunts were twins.”
“Twins,” Ares said again.
As if, were he to say the word enough, it would change things, somehow.
Pia stood then, then smoothed out the front of her dress, though it required no smoothing.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a conversation with much sense in it tonight,” she said quietly. Kindly, even, which made him want to...do things. “I suppose that even if you released me on the spot, there would be no leaving here before morning. Why don’t we talk about this then. When you’ve slept on the news and let it settle a bit.”
“What do you imagine there is to talk about?” Ares scarcely sounded like himself. “You have... This has...”
“Yes,” she said, sounding faintly amused in a way he didn’t care for. At all. “You’ve caught me. I schemed to get pregnant. And to get pregnant with twins, no less. I hunted you down, cold-bloodedly used you to do my evil will, and then, as a coup de grâce, I went away and never contacted you again. Because secretly I knew that my father would drop dead and you would show up at his funeral—”
“I am trying very hard not to blame you for this,” Ares told her, and his voice, like the rest of him, was tight and taut and not him at all.
She gave the distinct impression of laughing at him without actually doing so. “That’s very kind of you. Because as I recall, we were both there. Unless you’d like to pretend that you, in fact, are a twin and Eric is the real father?”
Ares wished that Eric was a real person, so he could knock him out.
“I don’t understand how this is possible,” he said. Possibly not for the first—or fifth—time. “I am a man who enjoys sex, I grant you. But I had no intention of procreating. Ever. I have never been anything less than scrupulous about protection.”
She made a sympathetic noise, though she didn’t look the least bit sympathetic. “Did you have a vasectomy, then?”
It seemed that Pia was the one delivering knockout blows tonight.
“I did not,” Ares said. Stiffly.
“As it turns out, a vasectomy is only 99.9 percent effective. People do still get pregnant after them, though it’s rare.”
“I’ve just said I never had one.” And he had stopped explaining himself decades ago, yet he felt the strangest urge to leap to his own defense now. “I suppose I might have gotten round to it, eventually.”
The fact he’d been so adamantly opposed to procreating and yet hadn’t taken steps to ensure he couldn’t seemed, now, like the very height of foolishness. What had he been thinking? He had been so certain his blood was poisoned, given the example his father had always set of what happened when their long line of royals met the crown. He had been so clear about the fact he wouldn’t risk poisoning any children himself, to end the misery with him. And yet...
“I’ve had a few months to research protection in a panic, as I, too, failed to understand how this happened,” Pia told him in the same calmly informative way that made his teeth grind together. “And as it turns out, as they told us in the convent, the only version of protection that is one hundred percent effective is abstinence.”
She even smiled faintly as she said that. And something in Ares turned over, bright with temper.
“Do you think this is entertaining?” he demanded, his voice hardly more than a growl. “I understand that you didn’t plan this. Yet it has happened anyway, apparently. And you have had months to come to terms with it. To make your little jokes about abstinence. But my world ended tonight, Pia.”
And he watched, in that sickening mix of dismay and shame, and fury, too, as she slid her hands down over her belly as if she wanted to protect her children.
Ares shouldn’t have cared about something like that.
But it turned out, he did.