Valtteri stared at her until her cheeks couldn’t get any redder.
“Say something,” Sofia said.
His voice came out raspy the first time he tried to speak. He cleared his throat, then said, “You’re with child?”
“How long have you known?”
“Just a couple days. I’m not very far along, only eight weeks.”
Valtteri swallowed. Sofia, pregnant…
Here was the clear and undeniable truth that he wasn’t impotent, as his father and everyone in the Southern Arm believed. And yet he could tell no one.
“Sofia,” he said quietly. “You said you were going to take the herbs.”
She grimaced. “I know, but the mage who usually hangs around town left the day before I met you. I didn’t know until I sought him out. And then the healer—well, she’s a traditionalist. She wouldn’t sell them to me. It was one night…I figured I’d just take my chances. And then I started to feel sick in the mornings, and my breasts hurt…”
He took her hands, even as she avoided his gaze. “Gods, Sof, I don’t know how to react.”
She looked scared when she met his eyes. “Which way are you thinking of going?”
Shaking his head, he said, “If my father had his way, I would have been a father myself nearly three years ago. I’ve been ready for that for a long time.”
“I didn’t mean for this to happen—”
“Of course not,” he said. “I understand. I…” He paused, furrowing his brow. “Honestly, the first thing I thought was that this definitively proves I’m not impotent.”
Sofia frowned. “Yes. But that would mean our relationship would become public.”
“And…” He sighed. “We did briefly discuss how inappropriate this match is.”
She bit her lip. “Briefly.”
“It’s the law in the realm. Old blood families intermarry to keep the lines alive. My father’s overlooked me for the princedom, but I still have time. My brother Regan is useless—if I can prove to my father that I can be the heir he wants, he might still give it back to me. But I would have to marry a woman of the old blood.”
“Ultimately,” she said.
His face heated with shame. “I’m so sorry.”
Sofia squeezed his hands. “Oh, Valtteri—I know you’re in an impossible position. I don’t care about any of that. But I want to be clear…I would like to carry the child. I’ve thought about it a lot since I found out.”
“I would never ask you to get rid of it,” he said. “I was operating on the assumption that it’s too late to go back now.”
She smiled, just a little. “I can do it on my own. I make enough to save up for now, and I can take odd jobs when I get too big and while the baby is too little for me to work.”
“Don’t worry about money,” he said. “I’ll find a way to get you more money than you could ever need.”
“A child needs a father,” Sofia said. “That’s more important to me than the money.”
“You won’t have to worry about that, either. No more disappearing for two months. I’ll be available for you.”
“How, if we’re to keep this a secret?”
“My brother Casimir. He’ll help me. I know it.”
She nodded slowly, their fingers still entwined. “Valtteri, this was an accident. I never intended to trap you. But the night we spent together…I think about it all the time.”
“I do too,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about you every day.”
“When I found out…it was like you’d left a piece of you behind. I liked everything I saw. I couldn’t let that go.”
Valtteri leaned forward, and their lips met, gently. He admired the soft violet of her eyes in the candlelight for a long time before he said, “I’m flattered that you regard me so highly.”
She crinkled her nose. “Stop being so formal. I’m carrying your child, remember?”
They both laughed.
“My father will go ballistic if he finds out,” Valtteri said. “Firstly because I would be proving him wrong about my unsuitability for the throne, and then because it would show a reckless disregard for my destiny, sleeping with a woman of common blood. As if he hasn’t dabbled in whorehouses.”
Sofia cupped his jaw. “I ran from my family so I wouldn’t have to answer to them anymore. I can imagine how difficult it is to live by the expectations of someone else.”
“The thing is,” he said, placing one hand against her belly, “it’s not that I don’t want to be prince. I was educated for it and I think I could do a lot of good in the Southern Arm. I care about the people. But some of the things that have happened to me because I was born with such a lofty destiny…those are the things I hate. The way nobility play all these games with each other and tear each other down. The utter lack of honesty. I want to serve a throne with candor. I want my father to care more about the welfare of the people than the reputation of his house. I want him to believe me when I say none of this is as it seems.”
She laid her hand over his, though her stomach hadn’t swelled in any noticeable manner yet. “I think you would make a good prince. You’re kind, and smart, and thoughtful. Your father is making a mistake. One day, I think he’ll regret it.”
“You do?” he asked.
“I do,” she said. “You are everything a nobleman should be, if you ask me. And I know I’ve gotten us into a mess, here, but I don’t think I could ask for a better accidental father to my first child.”
Valtteri tucked her hair behind her ears, feeling calmer than he had in ages. “You are stunningly beautiful. Did you know that?”
Sofia flushed crimson, grinning. “And you’re more talented with flattery than you give yourself credit for.”
“Carrying this child will mean we’re always connected, Sof. The least I could do is make you like me.”
“Never fear,” she said. “I like you more than enough already.”