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“You should have told me. I would not have –”
“I wanted you. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of controlling my sexuality. Don’t start treating me like I’m tainted.” She guided my face to hers with her hand.
“If I see him, I’ll kill him.” I looked her straight in the eye.
“No, you won’t.”
“But I will. No one does that to someone, especially you, and gets away with it.”
“He’s not, okay? I have pressed charges. He’ll be dealt with this summer.”
I shook my head. “This is just –”
“I know it’s a lot. –” She looked down. “You didn’t sign up for all this. Why do you think I tried to leave you alone?”
“You are not what happened to you. You have told me that from the beginning.”
She looked up at the sky as her eyes turned to glass. “It’s a positive experience when we’re together. I know I can trust you not to hurt me.”
“That’s good.” I guided her to my chest and held her close. “I love you.” I kissed the top of her head.
“I’m so sorry.” She sniffled.
“Hey, no. You did nothing wrong.” I rubbed her back.
I held her as she cried. I whispered words of affection to counteract her negative thoughts.
“Please stay with me tonight.” I pleaded when she articulated that she too tired to stay awake for much longer.
“You’ll get into trouble with Verna.”
“I’ll just tell her –“
“I don’t want anyone else to know. Promise me you won’t repeat what I said.”
“Iz, she can’t say –“
“Promise me; I can’t have everyone thinking –” She buried her face into her hand.
“I promise.” I guided her head back to my chest and held her tight. “I desperately want to hold you through the night — to be there for you, to make sure–“
“I love you too.” She kissed me on the cheek before retiring to her room.
I was left alone with the knowledge that someone within the city violated her. It disturbed me to my core, angering me beyond belief.
I slammed my palms onto the balcony. I clenched my hands into fists and attempted to ground myself. I sought outside help when I realized my attempt at inner peace was futile.
“Milo? It is almost 3 in the morning there. Has something happened?” Alarm rang in Wilmer’s voice.
“May I speak to my father?”
“If Verna is invading-“
“This has nothing to do with her. Please fetch him.”
“May I know what the issue is so that I can brief him?”
“Everyone seems to forget this, but there are times when I need my parents for guidance. He’s an intelligent man, he should be able to figure out how to speak to the person he created.”
“Just a moment.”
I began to pace the length of the terrace.
“Is Isabella pregnant?” My father questioned immediately.
“I’d say ‘yes’ just to poke fun, but it would hurt too much to know for sure that you would send someone else to take care of it, instead of supporting me yourself.” I seethed with aggravation.
He sighed heavily. “I love you, Milo. That is why I am hard on you. That is why I will not allow you to destroy your life. I am not ashamed of the extent I have gone to ensure your safety.”
“Is this how you will always see me? As a giant disappointment that you have the misfortune of calling a son?”
“I am not asking you to be perfect. Personally, I have requested nothing from you.”
“Our advisors, Mom, Nonna, all of Listonenia – they all do, all the time. And you say nothing as they tear me apart!”
“If you do not learn to handle them now, you will fall to pieces when you take the throne. My father was the same with me. Matteo and Francesca were able to run wild. The same can be said for Salvatore. It is different for heirs!”
“I never asked for this.”
“No, you did not. It is our honor and duty to serve.”
“Then I guess I am an ungrateful brat for not viewing it that way.”
“Acceptance comes with time. There have been moments in my life where I have resented my lineage. We are never entitled to a simple existence. I lost someone very important to me because my fate and her aspirations did not coincide.”
“Did you love her?” I swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Yes, very much. Are you having relationship troubles?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Not in the conventional sense. We get along well. I am still in love with her. Something happened to her before we met. She told me about it tonight. I fear that I will disappoint her if given the opportunity.”
“May I know what happened?”
“What conflicts you about it?”
“She is brave but rightfully fragile. She will grit her teeth and bear all that she can, but when she’s had enough, she implodes. I have heard tales and observed minor glimpses, but I have never witnessed it all in full swing. If it were to happen, abandoning her in fear would make it all much worse.”
“Does she articulate her feelings?”
“It is a work in progress, but she has come a long way.”
“You are my first priority. If you feel the urge to break your sobriety because of stress she is creating, I want you to have the courage to walk away. It is not your job to repair her.”
“She has never relied on me in that way. I give her space when she needs it and vice versa. I have never felt like this before.”
“Emotionally invested to the point of being protective. I have gotten defensive, but never indisputably furious.”
“It only comes with love.”
“I do not mean to speak out of turn, but I was not aware you feel so strongly about mother.”
“I appreciate her for standing by my side all of these years and I love that she gave me you, but our fondness towards each other does not extend past mutual respect.”
“On both parties?”
“I fail to see the point of your relationship. I could never call a woman I do not love my wife.”
“Our critics would say that is you living in a fantasy world, but I sincerely hope that you are able to fulfill your dream of marrying a mate of your choosing.”
“I thought you wanted me to marry Osha.”
“I have always been opposed to your pairing. A woman like her would drive you mad.”
I grinned. “What makes you say that?”
“Once she is in the hands of the palace, she will be molded into a mirror image of your mother and mine.”
“If you are so unhappy, why have you not filed for divorce?”
“The paperwork is in the process of being drawn up, actually. Your mother and I were going to discuss it with you over spring holiday, but you had other plans. We were trying to find a time to tell you after the fact, but we have been rather busy.”
“They will know we are not perfect.” I slid my free hand into my pocket and resumed pacing.
“I am tired of being a hypocrite. I am in the process of petitioning against your arranged marriage. All of my reasons regard your happiness. If given the opportunity, I would have opposed mine. This is the next best thing.”
“What made you hold on this long?”
“You, mostly. And while my father was still alive, the knowledge that I was disappointing him was too much for me to handle. He would have called me a coward and spent the rest of his days criticizing all of my decisions simply because I redacted one of his.”
“Thank you for taking my side.”
“It is the one I have always been on. I was like you once.”
“You did not do half the things I have.”
“I have done my fair share. I accidentally impregnated my university girlfriend.”
“What happened to them?”
He cleared his throat. “Jacqueline took a bath one night and slipped trying to get out. It caused her to miscarry. She was 20 weeks along. We knew it was a girl. We planned to name her Lilliana.” His voice was gravely.
I remained silent to give him time. There were no words that could make it easier.
“Jay was the one that ended our relationship. We both took the loss incredibly hard. It hurt to lose her too, but I understood why she needed to get out. It was a delicate time in which too many people were prying. She was basically trapped in the palace once she started showing. The kingdom simply thought our engagement was called off, never knowing of their existence. The advisors simply stopped their mad dash to get us down the aisle before the child was born.” His voice was still tight, but he sounded as though he had a much better grasp on his emotions.
“Can I have an idea of how your parents and advisors treated her?”
“They questioned the validity of her pregnancy. As soon as that was confirmed, she was submitted to all sorts of paternity testing. It humiliated her. Once it was confirmed that she was carrying my child, they alternated between treating her like she was nothing and trying to change everything about her.”
“I never would have known.” I somberly expressed my condolences.
“You were never supposed to, no one was. The advisors ensure it.”
“Do you blame them? I would.”
“At times, but I should have exhorted more effort protecting her from them. I was the one she trusted.”
“How did you end up with mother?”
“My parents arranged a marriage for me while I was still reeling, no longer willing to trust my judgment. We were not married until two years later. They wanted to leave a respectable amount of time for the public, but all of it felt like it was happening way too fast for me.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
“It is no trouble at all. There have been plenty of times where I have wished I could tell myself what I know now.”
“Here is your chance.”
“I intend to make the most of it to ensure you do not regret calling me.”
He imparted words of wisdom on me that I could not have received anywhere else, all of which were things I needed to hear from him.