“I do care.”

“You even told me I was beautiful.” And her voice dropped on that, into something so painful it hurt her to hear herself. “Why did you have to lie to me? Has this whole thing been a game to you from the start?”

“This is not a game.” He rocked back on his heels, and even now, the moment he stopped touching her she wanted only for him to start again. “How can you think it?”

“How could I think anything else?”

“I don’t know what this is, Pia. Of course I care for you. You are the mother to my—”

“You told me I was beautiful,” she said again, and her eyes were too blurry to see him now, which she took as a kind of blessing. There was a strange fire low in her belly, and that cramping that wouldn’t stop. “And the worst thing is, I wanted to believe you. I did believe you. Why would you do this to me?”

“What did I do to you?” he roared at her, as if even now, he didn’t understand.

“You made me think that you could love me,” she told him, though she thought it might kill her. There was a sob in her voice, and something heavy, like a stone, over her heart. And yet she kept going, though her face twisted. “Because only a man who loved me could find me beautiful.”

Ares’s face changed then, into something like alarm, and that was even worse. “Pia.”

But she’d started down this road. She’d humiliated herself. Why not throw all her cards on the table? After all, what was there left to protect?

“I love you,” she told him, sealing her doom. “And I never would have told you that. I would have kept it to myself because I know better. I still know better. But you told me I was beautiful, and I hoped, and you gave me your grandmother’s ring. And I wanted so badly to believe it could all be real.”

He moved closer to her, a harsh look she’d never seen before on his face. “Pia, you need to—”

She lifted up her hand to keep him back, because she couldn’t trust herself. And she tried to struggle to her feet, but her legs refused to help her. And she reminded herself that no one actually died of heartache, no matter how terrible they felt. No matter how awful she felt right now.

“It’s not the first time I’ve been made a fool of, and I doubt it will be the last,” she told him. “You have what really matters to you. Legitimacy for your heirs. But I need you to promise me something, Ares. No matter what, you must never lie to me again. I need you to promise me that whatever games you need to play, it will never be this one. Never again.”

“I will promise you anything you want, woman,” Ares all but shouted at her. “But right now, you are bleeding.”

It seemed to take Pia a lifetime or two to look down at the white dress she wore. The way it pooled around her feet.

And at the way what she’d taken for anxious cramps and heartache was instead bright red, and spreading out across her lap.

“Promise me,” she said, though she didn’t mean the same thing any longer. Or she didn’t think she did.

But then it didn’t matter what she meant, because the darkness came rushing at her, and sucked her in deep.

* * *

There was too much blood.

Ares caught Pia as she began to slump over, and he was already shouting for his staff. For someone to call back that damned helicopter. For help.

But there was blood. Everywhere.

He swung Pia up and into his arms, and he barely felt the weight she carried in that marvelous belly of hers. He strode toward the staff who yelled at him, or for him, he didn’t care which.

Her face was so pale. And the blood kept coming.

It was the longest helicopter ride of his life. And when they landed on the Northern Island, on the top of the Royal Hospital, Ares was still holding her. And found he wanted to start knocking heads together, or start tearing people apart—something—when the medical personnel that met them on the roof took her from him to strap her on a gurney.

“She is my wife,” he told them, aware he must sound mad with terror, with grief. Fierce with the fear that burned in him. “She will one day be your queen. She is carrying the heirs to this kingdom and you must save her. You must.”

And then, despite all his arrogance, all his consequence and power, he could do nothing but watch them rush her away.

Someone led him to a private room, eventually. They offered him a change of clothes, but he refused it. He sat in a chair with his head in his hands, and he waited.

While inside, his heart threatened to burst.

He could not lose Pia. He could not lose his sons.

He had spent his whole life doing everything he could to avoid having a family, and he was about to lose his before he got the chance to enjoy them.

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