It had been so hard, after New York, to understand why she’d behaved the way she had there. Why she’d done those things, and so easily and carelessly when that wasn’t her. That wasn’t how she behaved.
But she got it now. It was this. It was Ares.
It was extraordinary.
He was remarkable.
And it was no wonder that she had never been the same since.
She found herself running her fingers up and down her belly, in the absent way she often did, and she smiled when Ares did it, too, from beside her. Tracing patterns this way and that.
Introducing himself, she thought when one baby kicked.
Letting them know who he was, she thought when the other followed suit.
“Pia,” Ares said, in that low, marvelous voice of his that she loved to feel roll over her like the sweet, thick breeze from the sea before them. “You are the mother of my sons.”
“That’s me,” she said softly, and her smile trembled a bit on her mouth. “Like it or not.”
He looked up from her belly, leveling all that green intensity on her. His expression was grave. “I want you to marry me.”
It was an order. A royal command.
And what surprised Pia was how deeply, how passionately she wanted to obey him.
But what did she know about marriage? Nothing but what she’d seen growing up. And certainly nothing that let her imagine two people so unevenly matched could make it work. She’d watched her parents’ marriage explode time and time again, sometimes in the same evening. She’d watched it fall apart a thousand times, though they’d stayed together. She’d watched the games they played with and at each other, and the pieces they’d carved from each other that she didn’t think they’d ever gotten back.
And Eddie and Alexandrina had been a love story for the ages.
Pia didn’t see any reason why she should subject her babies to a far grimmer, far less exalted version of her parents’ marriage. All the struggle and pain and yet none of the love.
How could she subject herself to that? And worse still, how could she make her babies grow up like that? Hadn’t it been hard enough for her?
She lay there on the balcony with the sea as their witness, naked and replete, still spinning in all that sensation and sweet hunger. She reached over and slid her hand over Ares’s, holding him to her.
And she said no.
“No.” She said it distinctly. “I won’t marry you. But you are the father to my sons, Ares. That won’t change. We don’t have to be married. We can just...be parents.”
He was quiet for a long, taut moment.
“And how do you think that will work when I take the throne?” he asked mildly, though Pia wasn’t fooled by his almost offhand tone. “Will the two princes have alternate weekends with their father, the King of Atilia, and then spend the rest of the time in some godforsaken Yorkshire village?”
“We’ll figure it out, one way or another.” Pia made herself smile at him, though it felt like a risk when his green eyes were so dark. “With or without my beloved, godforsaken Yorkshire.”
Ares rolled to his feet. Then he reached down and pulled her up from the chaise, letting her stand there before him as the night air danced over them.
And as Pia longed for more.
“I mean to have you as my wife,” he told her, starkly.
“No,” she said again, and felt something hitch in her as she said it, as if the longing was tangled up on itself. “No, you don’t. You want to marry me for the babies, but it has nothing to do with me. You don’t want me for a wife. You want your babies’ mother.”
“Why can’t I want both?”
“No,” she said again. Calmly and firmly, despite that tumult inside her that she feared was something even more embarrassing.
Like stark, desperate yearning, despite everything.
And Pia expected him to argue. To rage, perhaps, the way her father would have. Or go dark and broody, the way she’d seen him do before.
But Ares only smiled.
PIA DIDN’T KNOW what she’d expected. Perhaps she thought that having been rejected, Ares would go off somewhere. Lick his wounds with his favorite whiskey. Pretend the conversation had never happened.
Instead, he helped her dress, pulling the softly elegant knits into place. Then he ushered her back into the dining room and took his time helping her into her seat. He sat—too close to her—at the entirely too intimate table, and they...had a perfectly civilized dinner.
Complete with finger bowls at the end.
“And if I drink mine?” she dared ask him. “Will you do the appropriate thing as host? All to make me feel comfortable?”
But this was why Pia wrote columns about seemingly insignificant things like whether or not to send thank-you notes—yes, always—and whether one should flout convention in matters such as the wearing of white in the off-season—of course, if you can pull it off.