But Pia had been falling in love.
And she had to bite back a little sob as that word poured through her, so bright and hot she was shocked he couldn’t see it.
She couldn’t think of anything more stupid. Or embarrassing. But it was true. She had fallen in love with Ares. If she was honest, she suspected that it had happened at first sight at that party in New York. Because she had never been affected by any other man.
But one look at Ares and she’d wandered off with him, happily. Then she’d gotten herself wildly, irrevocably knocked up. And to add insult to injury, as was apparently her specialty, she’d gone off with him again at her own father’s funeral.
She’d let him lock her up here. And sure, she had a thousand excuses for herself. There were guards. There was only one road out and it was closely watched. But the truth was, she hadn’t tried very hard to get away from him after that first night.
Pia had told herself she was nesting. That was what pregnant women did—every article she found online said so. She wrote columns about trusting one’s gut and how best to handle awkward social interactions, while all the while she was handling her relationship with this man just about as badly as it was possible to do.
Because Ares might have decided he wanted something other than what he’d told her he wanted at the start, but it didn’t matter. Because any way she looked at it, what he really wanted was his sons without the trouble of custody agreements. Which was fair enough.
But it felt even more brutal now that he didn’t want her.
He would have sex with her. Extremely good sex, if what he said was true about this wild, greedy thing they shared. But he didn’t love her. He couldn’t love her. He hadn’t been looking for her when he’d found her at Combe Manor that day. He’d been on one of his royal engagements, doing his duty to the family.
When Pia knew, thanks to her father, that when a man loved a woman he could not rest. He would seek her out, no matter what damage it did. No matter what.
It was long past time Pia faced the facts here, no matter how little she liked them.
“I don’t understand why everything changed,” she said to him, trying to keep her panic tamped down. And worse, that bright beacon of a word she couldn’t say and a thing she shouldn’t feel. “You were very certain about the things you didn’t want.”
“It’s not a question about what I want,” Ares said, his green gaze hooded. “It’s a question of what is right.”
He was still on the bed, lounging there in that seemingly careless way of his. And it made her heart kick at her. He did, even now.
She tightened her grip on the coverlet. “Because somehow, what is right involves war in the blood and something about poison. Oh, yes, and infectious power.”
“I want to make you my queen,” Ares said, and he no longer sounded quite so mild. “Do you not understand that part of it?”
“I understand it,” Pia heard herself say, though she hardly recognized her own voice. “That’s the problem.”
She turned her head away, not sure what might be written all over her face then. What he might see. She wrapped the coverlet even tighter around her, bitterly aware that the only thing she could wrap around herself at all these days was a piece of fabric that had been made to stretch across a bed. A very large bed.
Her throat ached, but she made herself speak anyway. “I’m the size of the barn. But even if I were not, you and I both know what I look like on any normal day.”
There was only silence, and Pia was forced to turn back and look at him.
Ares only gazed back at her, a baffled sort of look on his gorgeous face.
Pia made a frustrated sound. “I’m not a queen!”
“You are a queen if you marry a king. It is really that simple.”
“The very idea is laughable, Ares. Do you understand me?” Her voice sounded like a sob. But she couldn’t seem to stop herself. She couldn’t do a single thing to avert this horror as it happened. “People would laugh.”
FOR A MOMENT there was nothing but the echo of Pia’s raw words hanging there between them.
She wanted to snatch them back with her own two hands. Her fingers twitched as if they might try, all on their own.
“Now I am the one not following you.” Ares looked bemused and haughty at once, every inch of him royal as he lay there on the bed as if he was entirely at his ease. Perhaps he was. “People would laugh why, exactly?”
Pia was shaking. Everywhere. She wrapped her hand around the nearest bedpost, hoping it would steady her. Hoping something would, when the floor seemed so treacherous beneath her. She couldn’t believe he was going to make her say it out loud. And worse, she couldn’t tell if he was taunting her.