“I made you mine in every way that counted today.”
“Indeed,” she said, her tone frosty.
“You don’t agree?”
“Does every woman you have sex with belong to you? If so, we should start partitioning off a wing for the royal harem.”
He pulled away from her and started working on the tie on his own again. “You need to dress for dinner.”
“And the subject has changed.”
“It bloody well has.”
“Are you always such a horror after sex?”
“No, but I am always such a horror when I have to put on a tie and perform at some...state dinner I have no desire to partake in.”
“So I should expect a lot of this then?”
He sat down again, his hands folded, his chin braced on his knuckles. “I have to get over it, don’t I?”
“The fact that I don’t like this. Or want it. That I don’t know how to do it anymore.”
“How is it that you managed to lose all of what you were raised for? How did you lose so much of who you were born to be?”
Xander shifted in his seat. And he wondered if it was time she knew. “Because it’s not who I was born to be.”
It was too late to take it back now. There was no pulling back from a statement like that. She would never let him off the hook now.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
It didn’t mean he wouldn’t make her drag it out of him since just saying it seemed too hard.
“The way the system works here in Kyonos, it’s almost as if our bloodline gives us some divine ruling powers. I mean, Stavros’s children can’t be in line for the throne because they’re adopted, because they don’t descend from our great and noble lineage. Are there magic powers in it, I wonder? I’ve always wondered that, even when I was a boy. Wondered how I’d been so fortunate to be born with such blood and the divine right to rule that came with it.”
“No wonder you were so insufferable.”
“Yes, it’s no wonder at all when you’re born believing that the simple act of your birth puts you above the common folks.” He took a breath and looked out the window, at the slice of blue sky just barely visible. Not for the first time, he thought he would rather sail into the horizon than deal with all of this. But he’d made a promise.
He’d made a promise to Layna.
He wouldn’t run again.
“But I found out...that I was not born with that right at all. I have no royal blood, Layna. I am not my father’s son.”
“What?” He had succeeded in shocking her. Her eyes flew wide, one eyebrow raised, the other, paralyzed by scar tissue, still managing to convey her surprise.
“That was what my mother and I were fighting about. She told me, on our trip to the beach that day that I was not of royal blood, but the product of an affair she had with her bodyguard. Ironic, considering Eva’s marriage. But my sister had the courage to walk away from her arranged marriage when she decided Mak was the one she wanted. My mother made a different choice. She went ahead with the marriage to my father, knowing she was pregnant.”
“She seduced him quickly, is my understanding, and it was no hardship to convince him I was born just a few weeks early.”
“But she’s certain?”
“So she told me. She was already pregnant when she slept with my father for the first time.”
“And the bodyguard?”
“Sent away with a grand payoff. She never took a test of any kind, and that was, in the end, why she told me.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’d been getting increasingly paranoid, with the way technology was progressing. She was starting to fear that someday my DNA might be used against me. And so she begged me not to ever undergo any sort of analysis of my blood. Or to ever let my children undergo such a test, when you and I were married.”
“But why would she...?”
“I think it was long-held guilt, starting to eat at her, making her see shadows where there were none. But the thing was, the economy had been having issues already and with the state of political unrest she was concerned for me.”
“But if... Why couldn’t Stavros rule then?”
“My father didn’t know. She didn’t want him to know. She loved him by then, you see? She hadn’t loved him when they’d first married. So lying to him hadn’t seemed so bad. But later...she wanted to keep it a secret. For her. For him. And for me. In her mind, I was her firstborn son and I deserved the honor. I think in some ways, I was her favorite son because of my real father. Because he was her first love. Because she had gone to such great lengths to protect me and ensure I was the heir.”