(Caines, Terres Somnia - The day after Queen Mary Condor’s Arrest)
Sitting across from his mother, even in her current state, was terrifying.
Before her attempt at a war between Urbem Armis and the rest of Terres Somnia, Prince Aaron Condor had never gone against Queen Mary Condor’s will before. Sure he partied up a storm and ended up on the front page of all sorts of publications for all the wrong reasons his fair share of times, but when it came down to it, his mother was in charge. His father, King Henry was there too, but he had nothing on Mary.
What Aaron wore, what classes he took, how he spent his free time. Whether he even had free time. She controlled his life and who was allowed to be in it. Only when she asked for his brother James’ head did Aaron, in the most dangerous move of his life, step out of her shadow and go up against her.
This was the result. Her in a pair of handcuffs, in holding, waiting to be transferred.
“If your little ploy didn’t cost you the crown, I’d be proud. You’re a true legacy. A born king. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but you caught these old bones completely by surprise when you finally gathered the nerve to act against me,” said Mary stoically, her hands clasped before her, her posture showing off her genteel upbringing.
“You’ve certainly changed your tune since the last time we spoke. I always knew that the day would come. I just didn’t know if I’d be strong enough to beat you. After all, who sees through me quite like you, mother?” said Aaron.
He should feel victorious, vindicated, liberated and yet all he could see was what his betrayal had done to her. How she would never see the light of day again. The pity he felt for her was probably swimming around in his eyes. His plan saved James’ life and kept civil war from breaking out in his country. The crown was a hefty price to pay and he was still feeling the weight of that cost, but he didn’t come away from it without a prize. Giving up her dreams for him, giving up her, was the only solution. The only way to freedom.
“Would that I had been as strong as you were, my son. Would that I had gone up against my mother and taken what I wanted the way you did. No matter. One day soon, you’ll learn just how worthy a move like this makes you to me. I’ll show you the depths of your legacy. I’ll make you greater than a king. I’ll make you a god amongst men, the way I should have been,” said Mary.
Dark fire burned in her eyes. Ocean blue just like his. Looking in the mirror these days terrified him. Words like that even more so. Given a little more time, what could she have gotten him to do? For a moment there, when he found out that he wasn’t eligible to wear the crown, he felt her dark shadow rise up in him. For a moment, with her whispering in his ear like the demon that she was, he considered it. Wiping James off the board. Taking back what he gave up his childhood working towards. Why should he lose his crown because Henry didn’t have the backbone to divorce his first wife? Aaron considered securing his position as crown prince by killing his own brother.
This wasn’t the work of one day though. Mary had always been the greatest influence over Aaron. She followed him everywhere, even now. Would follow him for life if he couldn’t leave her behind today.
Forcing the pity down, reminding himself of everything this woman had robbed him of, Aaron set his jaw, took a deep breath to steady himself and spoke the last words he’d say to his mother.
“I tried to save you. I’ve been trying all my life. But there’s no saving you from yourself, is there? Let it go, mother. It’s over. It’s finally over. I finally feel like I can breathe. The mind games, playing with lives, the obsessive need to be perfect. Would it matter if I said I don’t want it? I don’t want your legacy. All I want is to get to know Aaron Condor. You’ve already lost me and CC and your crown and I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry your mom married you off to a man unworthy in every way, but I’ll never be your king. Accept it.”
With that, Aaron rose from his seat and knocked on the door. King Henry was waiting for him on the other side of the door.
“I specifically forbade you from coming here, Aaron,” King Henry boomed. “That woman-”
“Is what you turned her into!” Aaron snapped. “And I, your failed heir, your chronic fuck up, is what she turned me into in turn.”
This promptly shut the king up.
“Where is she going?” Aaron asked. “Where will you hide your biggest shame, father?”
“She’s going where she should have long ago. Home,” King Henry answered stiffly.
2020, February 14th
(Capital City, Warlanda)
She walked through the doors of the softly lit restaurant and Aaron's fear that he'd made a mistake was confirmed. Of course Troy wasn't letting Aria show up tonight. What kind of dumbass would he have to be to let this happen? What kind of dumbass was Aaron for letting Aria talk him into this? For still wanting to see an engaged woman whose wedding had to happen by the end of March?
"Troy sends his regards," said Emily, taking the seat across from him.
Emily put the ring box down in front of him. Aaron just looked at it. The bloody thing was obviously cursed.
"She really did want to come Ron, but Troy's just not-"
"Since when are you two such besties?" Aaron asked, draining the glass in front of him.
"I guess things are better now that you're not in the picture. I'm even allowed to come to the wedding now."
"Well whoop de doo for you."
He got up, threw a few bills down onto the table and was about to walk out when she took his hand and stopped him.
"What part of not friends did you not get?" he snapped.
"I'm not sorry about Aria, about what I did," she said after thinking about the words for a moment.
If she half assed some apology he would just see right through her. So if she was going to do this, it would have to be all her cards on the table. Aaron Condor was all or nothing, had always been.
Aaron didn't know why he sat back down, only that he couldn't quite help it. Maybe some part of him wasn't done tearing into her yet. Maybe part of him would never be done with Emily Maine.
"I'm not sorry about James and Zoey either," she continued.
Why wasn't he saying anything? Walking out the door? Why did it still matter what a bitch she was being? Aaron was tired, heartbroken and just straight up pissed off. If she wouldn't let him get wasted in peace, then he just wanted to go home.
"Pick another day Em. I don't have it in me to go ten rounds with you tonight, only to end up nowhere, like always."
He picked up the ring box and got back up.
"Then let's go somewhere this time," she said softly.
It had been a while since the last time he'd heard that vulnerable voice, the pleading in it. She hadn't opened up to him like that since James and Zoey got married. Emily wasn't still supposed to be able to do this. She wasn't still supposed to be able to make him stay.
"Another no strings offer from the woman who cost me not one but two women? I think I'm going to-"
"No," she said, determination flashing in her eyes. "This time the offer is me, all of me Aaron."
He looked into her eyes and there it was again. That look, the anguish in her eyes, the woman who pleaded for him even as she planned to marry his brother.
"I know you're hurting right now, that you've been hurt before because of me, but you need to know why. I need to tell you why."
Run. Whatever she's about to say, it's a trick, a lie, some sort of deception. Everything with her was just an illusion. There's nothing honest about them. They grieved together, grieved a man that wasn't dead. That was the extent of their bond, their friendship. Only she was looking at him like he'd always wanted her to, needed her to. He was hurting, needed something, someone to matter to. Just not her. Can't be her.
"I'm in love with you, Ronnie."
She said the words and it was like she'd just blown up his world. He just stared at her. He didn't love her, couldn't love her. There had been other women. He had let go. Bloody hell man, why aren't you moving?!
"I know how it sounds, believe me I do. When James left, I was prepared to be broken up about it possibly forever. But he's not the one that stayed with me, Ron. He's not the one I couldn't quite get away from. Still can't get away from. Even back then, seeing you with Aria in ways you so obviously couldn't be with me, wouldn't be with me, hurt so so badly. I didn't get it then. I do now. I hate what I did, hate that I ever hurt you, but I'm not sorry."
Once the shock wore off, the anger hit hard. It was too late. All those lonely nights she spent swearing up and down that it could only ever be James. That all she wanted was James, James, James. How many times had he let her rip out his heart? How many times was he sure that this time she'd choose him? He didn't want to hear it anymore, didn't want her to be wrecking him the way she was. Couldn't handle another Maine in his head. What was this fresh hell? How could she trigger him like that like she was some switch in his head?
"There's nothing here but pain, Emily," he said, swallowing hard, desperate for air to flow normally through him again, raw emotion in his eyes. "You're just pain. Everything is just pain."
"I know," she said, getting up, reaching out for his face. "Believe me I know. After all these years spent watching you with women that weren't me because I couldn't admit what you were to me, because I couldn't make myself ask for you, believe me I know. I don't want to be stupid anymore. I don't want to lie to myself or you anymore. So when you're ready, come and find me. This time I'll be whatever, whomever you need me to be Ron. This time I want to make the pain stop for both of us."
Seated on the other side of the restaurant by the window, Lady Keira Dormer was having a rough time. Her ex-fiancé's killer was finally dead and his child was safe. Suddenly there was no action to take and the walls closed in on her hard. Ethan was really gone. It was set to be another night wallowing in her grief until she saw him. Subtle shift in the atmosphere. The piercing, rugged, good looks of The Casanova of Caines had her taking notice.
Keira had been watching him through the slightly ajar partition that separated his dark, secluded corner from the rest of the restaurant for about an hour before Emily Maine showed up. As she watched them exchange heated words, the memory of Ethan took a backseat to Aaron's tortured face. He stirred unfamiliar sensations in her. Just like the first time she laid eyes on him in that shooting range in Sartis Est.
These chicks needed to get their heads checked. Aaron Condor was devastatingly, take me now hot. Eyes bluer than the ocean, big enough to drown in. Expertly combed, long, brown hair waiting to ruffled. Broad back and shoulders, toned arms hidden under that suit. Even with that suit hiding his well kept body, that I’m so fucking gorgeous, I’m definitely a bad boy face alone was enough to justify the rumours. She'd heard that no one heated up sheets quite like him and damn the soldier in her to hell if she wasn't going to at least shoot her shot.
He had to let Emily walk out the door. It has to be this way. Emily thought she knew everything, the depths of his despair, but not even she knew just how dark it got in Aaron’s mind sometimes. Of late, Aaron had come to realize that not even he had fully grasped what exactly was bothering him. Was it really just about losing Aria or was some part of him lamenting the loss of yet another crown? He didn’t want it, was sure even as he stood at the altar on the verge of marrying a queen. He knew he didn’t want it and Aria didn’t want him. So at the end of the day, he was actually relieved when things fell through. Heartbroken, devastated, but relieved. Once again, he did the right thing. So why couldn’t he shake this feeling of failure?
Really laying into the champagne now and on the verge of switching to something stronger, Aaron didn’t notice her until she was right in front of him, taking the seat across from him. If gazing at her beauty was one of the ways she killed, he wouldn’t be surprised. Terrifying, twinkling, dark eyes. Soft, black curls gently laid out on her shoulders. Black dress so tiny it was almost criminal to call her a lady. Definitely exactly his type, if she wasn’t an assassin, that is.
"You've already made so many bad decisions tonight, already look like you want to die. It might not be such a stretch after all," said Keira, sitting down, Bloody Mary in hand. "What's say we make some bad decisions together Ronnie?"
Aaron gave her a death stare. Could she tell that his body was betraying him? This was the woman that almost killed James, could have killed him. He must be out of his mind, but when was the last time he felt the warmth of a woman's body up against his?
With his ex-fiancee, Aria being a no show and Emily showing up to return The Red Regiis in her place, the Maine women were both running through his head. More the latter than the former, what with her having just professed her love for him. Hearing Emily say those words gutted him and yet, somehow Keira was stealing the show. Every woman he associated with was beautiful, but there were no words for her. He hated the woman, but he couldn’t deny it. She was so stunning, it was truly terrifying how drawn in he was by her. So much so that when he first laid eyes on her from afar, he couldn’t stop himself from following her through the gardens of Sartis Est just to get a look at her.
Look away, you broken fool. Walk away.
"I'm not interested," he said, getting up again.
She got up too, placed herself in front of him, looked him in the eye as she slipped her hands onto his ass and pulled his body up against hers.
"Sure seems like you are," she said, licking his lips with the tip of her tongue. "When was the last time you tested those shooting skills in bed Ronnie? I may not be the one, but aren't you over that shit? I could be everything you need tonight. I could be the one for tonight."
What was it about her? He hadn't been this guy in years, but the way she looked at him, held his body to hers. Women didn't usually claim Aaron like this one was and he found tonight he really wanted to be wanted. He wanted those dark eyes and the danger in them. She had him wanting to be everything he'd given up for Aria, for Zoey. Keira saw The Casanova of Caines. The player, the party animal and she liked it. This was the absolute wrong thing to do. She was the wrong woman and that just made him want to kiss her more, to forget in her arms, if only for a night.
"One night. No strings," he said, slipping a hand up her dress and between her legs.
She gave a little purr, smirking as he pulled her to him and kissed her hard and fast, angry passion flowing from his lips to hers.