Authors: Richelle Mead
“So, let me make sure I’m following this correctly.”
I sighed and shifted on the bed, knowing Dorian was repeating this conversation mostly because he liked seeing my discomfort.
“Your ‘technology’ can tell you you’re having a boy and a girl, when they’re due, and allow you to hear their heartbeats,” he continued. “But some medicine inexplicably totally counteracted the other one you take to prevent pregnancy.”
I muttered. “Seeing as it’s kind of pointless now.”
Dorian leaned back in a plush armchair, face expressing overly dramatic pondering. After fainting, I’d been given a guest room befitting my status, a good sign since “hospitality” simply meant protection and in no way related to one’s accommodations. It wasn’t quite as nice as Dorian’s room, of course, but the mattress was thick and fluffy, and the green velvet canopy coordinated with the heavy brocaded bedding. As sick as I’d
felt, I honestly would have been content to curl up on the floor somewhere. I’d been awake for about an hour now, alone in the vast room save for Dorian.
“What a fascinatingly bizarre turn of events,” he mused, stroking his chin. “If you thought the Iron Crown scared people, just wait until this news spreads. Which, of course, it already has.”
I draped a hand over my forehead. “Isn’t it bad enough that I’m carrying a world-conquering prophecy child? Why all the political fallout?”
“Because you’re carrying a world-conquering prophecy child,” he responded. “It’s the type of thing people tend to have strong feelings about.”
“I thought almost everyone wanted to conquer the human world.”
“Most,” he agreed. “But not all. Especially those who—after observing your record thus far—might fear you’ll conquer this world first.”
I rolled over to my side, giving me a better view of him. Since the earlier spectacle, Dorian had masked whatever personal feelings he had about my pregnancy, switching into cunning ruler mode. “But not you,” I said. “You’ve always been in favor of this—fulfilling the prophecy.”
“I’ve never made a secret of that,” he agreed. “From the moment we met.”
That was true, at least. He’d sat on that desire while we were involved, but I’d always known it lurked. “You’ve just kept other secrets instead,” I blurted out.
He didn’t answer me right away, but those
green-gold eyes weighed me thoughtfully. “Yes. Yes, I have. Secrets I now regret.”
That silenced me for several moments. I hadn’t expected any kind of apology. Something in me softened toward him. “Really?”
“If I hadn’t deceived you about the Iron Crown,” he explained, “we would still be together.”
I could only stare. The piece of me that had never stopped loving him tentatively reared its head. It was hard to believe he was here confessing his feelings, admitting that what we’d had had been more important than his scheming. It gave me a new insight into him, one that astonished … yet pleased me.
“And if we’d stayed together,” he continued,
would have been the lucky beneficiary of this medicinal slip.”
So much for new insight.
I groaned and turned away. “Of course. Of course that’s the real source of your regret. You don’t get to lead the revolution.”
I heard him get up and sit on the bed beside me. A few seconds later, he actually had the audacity to lie down. I wiggled over to make room.
“It’s more than revolution,” he said. “I
told you the first time we met that I’d have a child with you, regardless of any prophecy.”
“I’m not convinced that the ‘with me’ part was so relevant.”
Dorian touched my cheek and turned my face toward his. “Do you really believe that? Do you really believe my feelings for you were so small
that your being the mother of my child wouldn’t have meant the world to me?”
I started to snarkily correct him with
but it seemed petty. “I don’t know what I believe,” I said honestly. “I don’t even know if I have the energy or motivation to analyze our relationship when I have
going on.” I rested my hand on my stomach. Dorian’s eyes followed that motion, utterly captivated.
“Despite your foolish fathering choices, this …” He reached toward my stomach as well, then pulled back. “This is a miracle. This is a prophecy fulfilled. This is life. And really, Kiyo is no longer relevant. He’s given up any claims to these children. They are yours and yours alone now.”
My fingers tightened on my stomach, not painfully, but more in a possessive type of way. My gaze grew unfocused. “I still can’t believe that. I can’t believe that he’d dismiss his own children so easily. That he’d dismiss
so easily …”
“I doubt it was easy. You aren’t that easy to get over.” A small note of bitterness there. “But his opposition to the prophecy was too great. Just as my support is great enough to take you in—despite your betrayal—and embark in the madness to come.”
Betrayal? I started to tell him he was the last one who should accuse anyone of that—but held back. “Will people think you’re crazy to do it?”
“Hardly,” he snorted. “Most will think they’re my children anyway, ironically enough.” No one except Jasmine had heard my brief paternity exchange with Dorian in the hall.
I frowned. “I think sometimes Kiyo does too.”
“They can be.”
My first reaction was that this was some sort of joke of his, but all humor had disappeared from his face. “I don’t think you fully understand genetics.”
“I understand that parenting is more than just blood,” he said, still deadly earnest. “And as I said: he’s relinquished any claims. You are in control, and if even he and others question the children’s parentage, then so much the better. Simply declare me the father. Have it recorded, and by our laws, the children will be mine for all intents and purposes.”
Something about that set off my alarms. “What do you mean ‘intents and purposes’?”
He shrugged—a bit too casually. “Titles. Prestige. Protection. Inheritance—if either is strong enough to hold my kingdom. Which, according to the prophecy, your son should be.”
“I don’t know,” I said. There might be some safety benefits to this sort of gentry “adoption,” but I had a feeling that Dorian wasn’t telling me all of them—particularly things that benefited him alone. He was still upset with me. He didn’t like Kiyo. There was no reason that I could see for this. “I have to think about it.”
“Think fast,” Dorian said. “Things will be in motion soon, particularly once we get you back to your own lands.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why would you want to claim someone else’s children? I mean, I get your wanting to see the prophecy come true, but you don’t have to take that extra step.”
“Maybe someone else’s children are better than no children at all,” he said.
It was another odd statement from him, a surprising one. Both philosophical and touching. Yet, I still believed there was a deception here. This wasn’t out of love for me. Not anymore. His hand moved toward my stomach again and he didn’t pull it away this time, though he made sure to keep away from my hand.
“Let me ask you a question,” he said when I made no response. “Why did
choose to keep these children? Do you fear the unholy procedure your people use to end life? Were you unable to live with your daughter’s blood on your hands?”
My mind rewound back to that day at the doctor’s. That day? Hell. It had only been earlier today. So much had happened since then that weeks might have gone by. My horrible ordeal with Kiyo had blurred the memories, but now, the ultrasound came back to me, the sights and sounds as real and vivid as though I were experiencing them all over again.
“I heard their heartbeats,” I said at last. “And I saw them.” Well, kind of. Those blurs still didn’t look like much to me, but the point was irrelevant. “And when I did …” I groped to explain my feelings. “I just … I just wanted them. Both of them. None of the rest mattered.”
A slow, strange smile spread across Dorian’s face. “That,” he declared, “is the most gentry thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
Normally, I would have mocked him for using “gentry” instead of “shining ones.” It was a slip
he sometimes made around me. His words’ content, however, was of more importance. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Not so. Humans overthink things. They throw away life heedlessly. Honestly, after all this time, I was beginning to think you were more human than shining one.”
“I hate to tell you, but I am,” I said.
Dorian made himself more comfortable, and the hand on my stomach moved so that his arm lay over me, almost—but not quite—an embrace. It was possessive, like I was a prize that had fallen into his lap. “Are you, my dear? You’re expressing philosophies very like my own. You’re carrying a child that will allegedly conquer the human world—a world you can’t go back to for a while, seeing as it would give the kitsune an edge. You’re safer here in this world where, I’d like to add, you rule not one but
kingdoms. That,” he declared triumphantly, “makes you, by my reckoning, more like a gentry than a human.”
I looked away, not meeting his eyes—because I had a crazy feeling he was right.