He couldn't tell if she was terrified or furious, but he could tell she felt something, and strongly. Perhaps it was a memory—this terrace was, after all, where they’d spent much time in the past. His eyes ran over the space. Completely private, set apart from the rooms anyone else had access to within the palace and impossible to be viewed from outside, this place had been theirs.
Was she remembering the way he’d kissed her here, for the first time? The way she’d brought him loukoumádes here, just as he liked them best? Or the way they’d made love against the wall just over there?
“Would you like a drink?”
She fixed him with her expressive brown eyes, the accusation in them unmistakable. “What I’d like is to go home.”
“We’ve addressed this.”
“No, you’ve addressed it. I was too dumbfounded by your arrogance to offer any response. But no, Chyrós, I’m not going to stay here until it suits you to send me home. I’m not going to stay here until you’ve got what you consider to be a suitable answer. Maybe there is no answer? Maybe things with us just didn’t work out?”
“Is that why you left?”
Her answer was restrained, as though she were working very hard on revealing nothing. “I left because one of us had to end it.”
Her eyes lanced him, and there was such icy disdain in her features that he felt a momentary burst of grief. This woman had, once upon a time, looked at him as though he were made of gold and filled with perfection. Now it was as though she hated him.
“Because we’re from two different worlds,” she snapped. “Because our relationship was just a bit of fun, for that one summer.”
He rejected that assessment. It was ridiculous. While they’d had a lot of fun, it had been so much more than that. She was the first person in the world who’d seemed to truly understand him, and he could have sworn he understood her too. But he’d been wrong. Her departure had shown him how little he knew his lover.
There was more she wasn’t saying, so rather than argue, he stayed quiet, waiting for her to reveal what she was thinking. Sure enough, a moment later she added, her voice gravelled, “Because you’re going to be the king of this whole damned country and your people expect you to marry someone suitable. Like Anastasia.”
Her contempt hit him like a bag of potatoes in his gut.
For a moment, he felt ashamed—ashamed because of the reports in the media that had so greatly exaggerated his love life, reports that had undoubtedly filtered down to Ivy. He had heard nothing from her. For three years, he’d wondered about her and who she was with now, how she was spending her days—and more vitally, her nights. He’d tortured himself with the knowledge that her body would have long ago forgotten his. That she’d taken money from his mother and run. Better to know now what she was after, than when you were too involved with her, Chyrós.
Except he’d been so sure his mother was wrong, sure Ivy wouldn’t cash the cheque, sure she’d contact him to explain. She didn’t.
Ivy, though, would have lived with constant media speculation on his love life. Had it even been one week after she’d left when the first story had run, announcing that he was dating one of his cousin’s best friends?
And he’d been glad at the time, he remembered with a hint of self-condemnation now. Glad to think of Ivy reading a story about him and someone else. He’d wanted to punish her for leaving him and even when those rumours hadn’t held a shred of truth, he’d been comforted by the idea that Ivy might think he’d already moved on.
“My engagement to Anastasia is over.”
“Yes, I saw.” Her expression gave nothing away. There was a time when he’d been able to read her better than this. He used to know everything she was thinking by even the slightest shift in her features, the hint of darkening in her eyes. His stomach felt as though it had been squeezed to realise how capable she was now of shielding her feelings and thoughts from him. “That doesn’t change the fact that you’re destined to marry someone like her.”
A frown quirked his lips, because she was right, and yet that didn’t explain why she’d crept away from the palace under the cover of darkness, catching a flight before he even knew she’d left.
You know what women like her are like, darling. How could a servant ever understand your duties? What future could there have been?
His mother’s voice rang through his ears.
“Three years ago, I had no intention of marrying anyone.” It wasn’t completely true. He’d harboured fantasies about himself and Ivy. True, his mother and possibly even his people would object, but Chyrós hadn’t cared about that. He’d wanted her in his life regardless.
“I’m aware of that.” Her voice was so cold, her words so stiff.
Something unfurled within him: a petty desire to provoke her to drop her rigid act of non-concern and show him what she was really thinking. To remind her of the way she used to look at him and how he was capable of making her feel.
He crossed the terrace, moving into the drawing room. He poured two measures of Scotch then looked over his shoulder towards Ivy. It was like slipping through the cracks of time and being pulled into another vortex. She looked exactly the same. Less tanned, which was hardly a surprise given that she now lived in her native England rather than here on Akilandos, and her hair, which he’d always loved loose, was styled into a tight braid.
What was he doing? Why had he brought her here? She’d left Akilandos and he’d spent a long time accepting that—whatever her reasons—that was her prerogative. And now? At the first sight of Ivy Harris in three years, he’d turned into some kind of henchman and kidnapped her to his palace? What the hell had he been thinking? .
For a moment, he saw the real her—soft and sweet, and hurting?—before she tightened her features, looking at him with such cool disgust that his resolve firmed.
“Here.” He handed the Scotch to her and she appeared to take it on autopilot, her fingers wrapping around the glass tumbler so they brushed against his. Her eyes jolted to his face and her cheeks flushed with pink.
“Thank you.” It was a stiff acknowledgment that brought a cynical smile to his lips. It was loaded with antipathy, rather than gratitude, and he could understand that, given the circumstances of her being here.
“What did you do with the money?” Perhaps once he had an answer to that question, he could finally let her go. Maybe it was just the “not knowing” that kept her alive within his soul?
She pinned her eyes to the view as she sipped her Scotch.
He watched her from a small distance away, impatience slamming at him.
At length, she turned to face him, her eyes cool, her expression composed. “Why does it matter?”
An excellent question. Ivy had always been so good at that—making him drill deeper into his feelings, to understand what he wanted before he himself even knew.
“I thought I knew you,” he said after a moment. “And yet I didn’t expect you would take any kind of payment in order to leave my life. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, given your upbringing, but I was.”
Her lips were grim, but she didn’t otherwise respond.
It only served to increase his impatience. “I thought you genuinely cared for me.”
Her mouth twisted into a grimace. “I thought so too.”
But that right. It didn’t quite capture what he’d meant. “I thought we cared for each other.” His words were hoarse proof of how infrequently he made such an admission.
“You were wrong.” She stood then, her chin tilted defiantly. “We were just… We were a mistake. It should never have happened. Does that answer your question May I go home now?”
Anger slashed through him. “We were many things, Ivy, but I have never considered you to be a mistake.” And without giving it another moment’s thought, he crushed his lips to hers, dragging her body against his frame, driving them both back into a past that had been so much simpler, a past that had been, for a brief time, perfect.
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