The conversation turned to unchallenging things. No one questioned Xander on his years away, no one asked about her scars. No one compared her to a zombie. All in all it went very well.
And when it was over, Xander, Stavros and Mak adjourned to Xander’s study—and it killed Layna not to follow and act as support—while Eva and Jessica stayed behind with her.
“We can take coffee in my study,” she said, gesturing for them to follow her. She felt like a bit of a fraud considering Eva had lived in the palace until a couple of years ago, and Jessica was a frequent guest, where Layna was just learning the layout of everything.
Both women smiled graciously and followed her, and Layna waited until they were seated before settling herself in one of the armchairs that was positioned by the fireplace. It was lit and roaring already. She was used to having to see to things like that herself. But she wasn’t going to complain.
“He’s doing well,” Jessica said.
Eva smiled, a kind of special smile a little sister has for her older brother. “He’s brilliant.”
“And both of you are happy?” Layna asked. “With the order of things, I mean. Jessica, I understand that when you married Stavros it was with the idea that he would rule. That you would —”
Jessica shifted in her seat, her red lips pursed. “Neither of us have ever really wanted it. He would have done it, because he believes so strongly in doing his duty. But he loves his business, and frankly, I love mine.”
“Are you still a matchmaker then?” Layna asked, having been briefed on her future sister-in-law already.
“Yes. We both work less now that we have the children. Lucy and Ella take up a lot of time, after all, but we’re both still heavily committed to the companies we’ve built. Stavros is so interested in bringing more business to Kyonos and he’s thrilled to have more time to focus on that. And more flexibility for the girls. It would have been a hard life for them. Raised with the strictures of being the king and queen’s daughters, with no hope of ever taking the throne. They would be considered second forever, because of their blood.” Jessica’s eyes glittered in the firelight. “The idea of that...I can’t stand it. I’m so glad they were spared it. I had no idea how hard it would be until we were faced with the reality of what it would mean for them.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, either,” Layna said, looking down at her hands. “How terrible it would be for them.” And Xander, how terrible it would have been for him. To be the oldest child in the household and not be the heir. In some households, the matter of blood could be forgotten because love forged the bond. But in a royal house it was different. In a royal house blood was so much more important.
She swallowed and looked up at Eva. “And you, Eva? What about your children? Do you want this for them?”
Eva shook her head. “I’ve always chafed at what was expected of me. I don’t see why my children would be any different.”
“And Eva would be bored with palace life,” Jessica said. “It’s no wonder she had no desire to marry a prince.”
Eva smiled. “Or perhaps I just liked what the bodyguard had on offer.”
Jessica winked broadly and crossed her legs, her tulle skirt fanning out around her. “The prince does all right.”
“Oh, come on. Don’t get prudish on me now, Eva. You didn’t get that baby bump by eating a watermelon seed.”
Eva sniffed. “How very American of you.”
Layna laughed, genuinely enjoying the interplay between the two women. Between these women who would now be her family. And it was a relief to her to hear they didn’t want the throne anywhere near them.
“Yep. I’m totally American like that. Another reason I probably shouldn’t be the queen of anything,” Jessica said.
It all made Layna appreciate the impossible place Xander was in even more. The reason he’d run. The reason everything had felt so hopeless.
It wasn’t enough to have your father look you in the eye and lay the blame for your mother’s death on you. He’d had to experience it knowing that the man wasn’t really his father. That there was no magical bond between them. Not a blood bond.
And in a family like this, blood was everything.
“How about you, Layna?” Eva asked. “Are you all right with being in this position?”
“There is nothing holding me to the position. Nothing forcing my hand.”
“Except for your relationship with Xander,” Jessica said, her eyes narrowed.
She and Xander did have a relationship now, and she couldn’t deny it. Not after they’d been together so intimately. Not when she felt this need to protect him.