Pia couldn’t believe he had called her beautiful.

But Ares couldn’t believe she loved him.

His first reaction was denial. Rage, that she would take this there, when it had worked fine as it was.

Because he knew what no one dared say to his face.

That there was nothing about him anyone could love, except his mother. And she had died a long time ago now.

But there was no one else on this earth, not even his father, who shared that sentiment. Ares was a monument to a throne, that was all. He was not a person. He existed in the first place only because his father needed an heir. Any child his mother had could have taken on that role. But no one loved him.

Except Pia.

And Ares could argue with himself all he liked. He could tell himself that she was mistaken. Or that she didn’t know enough about men and had fallen for the first man who had ever touched her—

But he knew that wasn’t true. There had been any number of men at that party, but Pia had smiled at him.

Him.

Ares knew now that she had never done anything like what she had that night in New York, but she’d done it for him. She’d given him her innocence. She had suffered his reaction to the news that she was pregnant. She’d come with him to the islands, and allowed him to lock her away for his own peace of mind, not hers.

She had done all these things, and he knew that there could only be one reason. The one reason he never would have come up with on his own, because the word wasn’t in his vocabulary.

She loved him.

Once he understood that, Ares couldn’t understand how he had ever managed to convince himself that it was anything else. That it could be anything else.

And now she had blood all over her. Blood, again. Blood always.

And if that blood was poisoned, the way he’d always believed, he had done that, too.

And Ares found that while he had no trouble thinking of the ways he could pay for the sins of that bloodline, he couldn’t bring himself to imagine that Pia might also pay that price. Or either one of the babies she carried.

He could not lose her.

God help him, he could not lose her, not now. Not when he had only begun to grasp how very much she meant to him.

She was the only woman he had ever been this intimate with. There was the astonishingly good sex, yes, but they’d spent all this time together. Time enough to get to know her. Time enough to understand how much more it was he wanted to know her.

Time to understand that he wanted, badly, to meet his own sons.

Ares needed more time.

He thought he could spend a lifetime trying to imagine what Pia might say next. He thought he could spend another one learning the different shades of meaning in her smiles.

She was the only woman he had given his grandmother’s ring. The only woman he had asked to marry him, not once, but time and time again.

She was the only woman, period.

She needed to live, so he could tell her so. So he could tell her a thousand things. So he could apologize for treating her like a pawn—

She just needed to live.

“Your Highness,” came a voice from a doctor at the door, and Ares’s head shot up, but he couldn’t read anything on the man’s face. “Your wife is stable, but the babies are in some distress. We will be performing a cesarean section immediately.”

“Early,” Ares managed to say, his head spinning. “It’s too early.”

“Twins are always early,” the doctor replied. “But we must make haste.”

And Ares followed, unable to do anything else.

Because he could not lose Pia. And he could not lose these babies he had yet to meet. And he had not realized until now, until he found himself in these antiseptic halls, how very thoroughly lost he had been since the first moment he’d set eyes on this woman.

His wife.

His future queen, and mother to the future king of Atilia.

Ares, by God, would make sure she lived long enough to assume each and every one of those roles.

And tell him she loved him once more.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

PIA WOKE UP in a panic. A desperate, confused rush—

“Pia. Cara mia.”

Her head snapped around, and she found him there.

Ares.

With those grave green eyes, and a stern set to his beautiful mouth. Ares, her prince, though he appeared to be wearing hospital scrubs. Of all things.

She felt herself calm, just a little. Because Ares was there, and that meant—

“My babies—” she blurted out, her heart exploding inside her. She tried to sit up, but her abdomen protested sharply, and she had the terrible notion that she’d had surgery. And that meant... “What happened to my babies—”

“We have all been waiting for you,” Ares said, very solemnly, and the calm sound of his voice made her stop. Made her breathe. “Allow me to make the introductions.”

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