His father gaped. “I don’t understand . . .”
This time the bitter resentment was thick in his voice. “I couldn’t very well go by Nykyrian eton Anatole, as it’s a felony to pretend to be royalty.”
His father’s mouth tightened. “You are royalty.”
“Had I tried to contact you, Majesty, and claimed to be your long-lost son, your administration would have had me jailed without even investigating the veracity of my claim, and having already gone to jail for something I didn’t do, I had no desire to repeat the experience.”
His mother swallowed. “And I know why you didn’t bother coming to us. I swear, I shall see my mother punished for this. What she did to you was criminal.”
Aros sighed. “I shudder to ask about the second time we met.”
“I was on your League security detail when you attended the bicentennial council meeting on Ritadaria fifteen years ago.”
His face blanched. “I do remember you . . . You were that young kid who saved me when that protestor came at me. I only remember because you looked so incredibly young to be on so important an assignment.”
Nykyrian inclined his head. “You tried to have me removed.”
Aros wiped a trembling hand over his face. “And they refused, telling me that you were the best they had in spite of your age. Which you proved when one of The League assassins caught the protestor but didn’t disarm him. You snatched me away right before his shot would have landed between my eyes. And then, wounded, you took him down and had him cuffed before anyone else could reach us.”
“The shot barely grazed me. They didn’t even take me off duty over it.”
Aros looked as ill as Kiara felt. “Did I even say thank you for it?”
“You were too shaken up by the attack.”
“You were shot.”
“It was my job, Majesty, and it was neither the first time nor the last.”
Aros wiped his mouth with his napkin. He was visibly shaken by Nykyrian’s disclosures—and he hadn’t even heard the worst of them. “How arrogant am I? Here I came expecting you to fall down in gratitude at having been found by your mother. That you would embrace us and be grateful. But we have wronged . . . no, I have wronged you so greatly. Words cannot express the depth of my sorrow or regret.”
Nykyrian wanted to throw those words at him—indeed, they even sounded rehearsed. He wanted to slash at his father the way he had slashed at him. But what was the purpose? It was the past.
Nothing could undo what had been done.
His father’s eyes were shiny with unshed tears. “Had Carie not stumbled upon you today, would you have ever sought us out?”
“No, sir,” he answered honestly. There would have been no need since he’d believed his mother wanted nothing to do with him.
And his earlier encounters with his father hadn’t been any better. The only thing his parents could have given him that he couldn’t have on his own was League amnesty, and that was something he couldn’t care less about. So there had been no reason to seek them out.
Not to mention he’d been rejected enough where they were concerned. The thought of one more rejection would have overridden any stupid notion he had of trying to contact them.
Aros rose slowly to his feet. “I shouldn’t have encroached tonight. Forgive me. I’ll leave you in peace.”
Kiara waited for Nykyrian to stop his father from leaving, but he made no move whatsoever. Unwilling to let this go, she stood. “Majesty?”
“What are you doing, Kiara?”
She put her hand on Nykyrian’s shoulder and looked down at him. “He’s your father, Nykyrian, and he’s making an effort. I can tell you from my own experience that even when you love your parents, there are times when you want to absolutely kill them. What happened to all of you was tragic—I know some of the horrors you have yet to share with them. But you have a chance to build a relationship from here on out. People make mistakes, but they shouldn’t be slapped when they’re trying to correct them. If they didn’t love you, they wouldn’t be here tonight.”
She looked at Aros. “And believe me, Nykyrian wouldn’t be here, either. You’ve no idea how hardened your son is—and with very good cause. But he’s a good man. Stubborn to a fault, but decent and good to the marrow of his bones. All of you have a rare chance to rectify the past and move forward. Please don’t let your anger and hurt rob you of that.”
Nykyrian stared at the tiny hand on his shoulder. A few months ago, he’d have shoved that touch away and cursed her for it. But tonight he listened to her words.
And he remembered Thia.
No one had told him about her, and in his daughter’s mind, he was just as guilty of abandoning her. For all he knew, Thia harbored the same feelings of rejection and isolation. The same feelings of hatred for him.
That revelation gave him pause.
How could he blame his parents for the same thing he’d done to his own child?
Yes, his father had f**ked him over. Royally, to use a bad pun. But it had been done in ignorance and while his father thought he was protecting the one son he had.
Kiara was right. This was a rare opportunity, and though his feelings were mixed, he had a wife and two children to think about.
For them, he wouldn’t be selfish.
Rising to his feet, he offered his hand to his father. “Why don’t we forget the past and just start with this moment and go forward?”
Aros took his hand and covered it with his own. “I regret the lost years I should have had with you. I can tell you are a man worthy of the title.”
Nykyrian snorted. “Not really.” He looked over at Kiara. “But for my wife, I wouldn’t even be human. She’s the only part of me that’s decent.”
Kiara felt the heat rush over her cheeks at his praise.
Aros gave her a stately bow. “You are a wise and very kind woman. I can see Nykyrian has done well for himself.”
She smiled as Nykyrian held her chair for her. “You only say that because you haven’t run up against my stubborn streak.”
“And you should be eternally grateful for that.” Nykyrian returned to his seat.
Aros laughed as he sat down.
Now that the hostility seemed to be cleared and she wasn’t afraid to leave Nykyrian alone with his parents, she leaned over to ask him where the restroom was.
“I’ll show you.”
Kiara blushed at the stares she collected. The only thing she hated about being pregnant was the multitudinous bathroom breaks. “Just tell me where it is and I can find it on my own.”
He shook his head. “It’s too crowded here. Too many exits. I don’t think you should go out there alone.”
Kiara’s face felt so hot, she feared it would explode. “Nykyrian, please. I’m a big girl and it’s a public place. People go alone to the bathroom all the time. I promise you, I don’t need you standing guard outside the ladies’ room. I’ll be right back.”
She could tell by the tense line of his jaw that he wanted to argue some more.
His mother leaned forward. “There are many dignitaries here and our guards are just outside. She’ll be fine.”
He released his tight grip on her wrist. “Don’t be long. It’s next to the bar, right behind the end of the counter.”
Kiara patted his arm affectionately. “Thank you, Captain Worry. I promise you won’t even have time to miss me.”
Excusing herself from his parents, she made her way out the door. It didn’t take her long to find her way through the dining room and to the restroom so that she could attend to her needs.
As soon as she was done, she left the bathroom and headed back. She waved at the maitre d’ as he passed by her, leading another set of guests.
She quickened her steps, not wanting to leave Nykyrian alone too long with his parents. This wasn’t easy on him and the last thing she wanted was for him to think she’d abandoned him, too.
She stopped, wondering who’d called her name as she skimmed the diners. Turning around, her breath caught the instant she recognized Jullien seated at a table with another man. Why wasn’t he in their room with his parents?
Then again, given his past with Nykyrian, she was grateful he wasn’t. No doubt that would have resulted in all-out bloodshed. And with that thought in mind, she didn’t want to be around him, either.
Ignoring him, she headed back.
Jullien caught her arm and pulled her to a stop. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.” He took her hand and placed a wet kiss over her knuckles.
Kiara stifled her shudder along with the urge to wipe her hand off on her dress.
His smile was warm enough, but she wondered at the coldness behind his eyes. “I realize you must be here with someone. But could you please take a moment to say hello to my friend? He’s a huge fan of yours and he’s dying for a chance to meet you.”
She tried to pull away, but his hand tightened around hers. “I promised not to—”
“It’ll only take a moment,” he begged with those eerie eyes. “Please?”
Reminding herself that even if he was a heartless prick, he was her brother-in-law and a royal prince, she nodded her head.
Jullien led her back to his table where a blond man was waiting. “This is the woman I was telling you about.”
The man stood and slowly turned to face Kiara. Her heart hammered in fear.
“You!” she gasped, recognizing him as the man who’d glared at them that day in the bay of her flat.
He pressed a small blaster into her stomach. “Act like you’re happy to see me or the chef will have fresh human entrails to serve the hybrid. Smile,” he suggested.
Kiara wanted to spit in his face, scratch out his eyes, anything other than go along with him. But what choice did she have? She had no doubt that he would kill her if she so much as twitched.
Nykyrian will save me. Of that she had no doubt.
And one day, she would learn to listen when Nykyrian cautioned her not to do something—even if it was something as innocuous as going to the bathroom alone.
Aksel inclined his head to Jullien. “I owe you, old friend.” He nudged her with the gun. “Walk slowly to the outside door.”
Nykyrian looked up from his food expecting to see Kiara entering. Instead it was the frightened maitre d’.
“Commander . . . your wife just left with a friend of Prince Jullien’s. I don’t think she went willingly . . . she appeared afraid of the man who was escorting her.”
Cold, bitter rage gripped Nykyrian’s soul and he tightened his hands into fists.
He heard his mother’s gasp of fright and his father’s curse. But that was all he heard before he concentrated on the raw anger pulsing through his body. He drew strength from it, because he knew he was going to kill someone over this.
His every move a study in predatorial intensity, he got up and left his parents. Hooking his coat into the loops to keep it out of the way when he reached for his weapons, he strode through the room with only one thought in mind.
He left the restaurant and headed for the nearby landing bay.
Nothing. Not a sign of her anywhere. She and her abductor had vanished into the night. Which left him with only one target now.
With that single thought burning in his mind, he made his way back through the restaurant to the area where his parents had the bastard cornered.
Jullien stood between them, whining. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t seen her. You must be mistaken.”
Blind rage clouded his vision, but he knew better than to show it. Disregarding his parents, he grabbed Jullien by his dinner jacket and hurled him across the nearest table. Serving ware shattered and scattered, the icy tinkling sound mimicking the coldness consuming him.
Nemesis was awake, and demanded to be appeased.
Guards appeared out of nowhere to attack him as diners screamed and dove for cover. Whirling on them, Nykyrian caught the first one with a hard fist to the man’s jaw that lifted him off his feet and sent him straight to the ground. The other went to shoot him. He flung a knife, catching the guard in his hand, then threw another knife into his shoulder.
The next three came at him simultaneously. He caught one by the arm and twisted so that the guard shot his companion and not him. He broke the guard’s arm and used the blaster to knock the last one unconscious.
Draining the charge, he tossed the blaster down, then ruthlessly pulled Jullien off the floor by his neck. He pinned him to the wall and held him fast.
“Where is she?”
Jullien tried to claw Nykyrian’s hand from his throat.
He tightened his grip as every part of him screamed out to kill the weasel where he squirmed. “Your life hinges on how fast you answer me, you bastard!”
He looked at his parents to see if they would interfere. They just stared at him as if he were an animal.