Fury riding him like an angry stallion, Crown Prince Maksim of Volyarus let loose with a punch-cross-hook kickboxing combo against his cousin and sparring partner.
Demyan blocked, and the sound of flesh hitting pads mixed with his grunt of surprise. "Something the matter, your highness?"
Maks hated when his cousin, older by four years and raised as a brother with Maks in their family's palace, referred to him by his title.
Demyan was well aware, but the older man liked pushing buttons, especially during their workout sessions. He said it made the sparring more intense.
Today would have been sufficiently punishing without the added irritation. Not that Maks warned Demyan of that. His cousin deserved what he got.
"Nothing wiping the smug look off your face won't take care of." Maks danced back before driving forward with another fast-paced, grueling combo.
Well-matched in stature and strength, they both kept their six-feet-four-inch frames in top physical condition.
"I thought tonight was the big night with Gillian," Demyan said, scrambling in a way he rarely did during their sessions. "Don't tell me you think she's going to turn you down?"
"If I were going to ask, she'd say yes." And a day ago that certainty had given Maks a great deal of pleasure.
Now, it just taunted him with what he couldn't have. Namely, Gillian.
"So, what is the problem?" Demyan demanded as he went on the offensive, forcing Maks to defend against a barrage of punches and kicks.
"Her medical tests came back."
"She's not sick, is she?" Demyan asked, sounding sincerely concerned.
Coming from a man with a reputation for cold ruthlessness, it would have shocked anyone else.
But Maks knew how much Demyan cared about their family. And for the last eight months, the beautiful, sweet Gillian had been moving closer and closer to joining that group.
"She's perfectly fine." If you didn't count poorly functioning ovaries. "Now."
"What does that mean?"
"She had appendicitis when she was sixteen."
"That was ten years ago, what bearing does it have on her health now?"
Demyan stopped and stared at Maks in confusion.
In no mood to give his cousin a break, Maks took advantage of the other man's inattention and knocked him on his ass with a well-timed kick.
Demyan jumped to his feet, but he didn't come back for more like Maks expected. "Knock it off and explain what the hell appendicitis as a teenager has to do with an adult woman's fallopian tubes."
Demyan was no idiot. He knew Maks's interest in Gillian's reproductive system was of paramount importance to the House of Yurkovich, the royal family of Volyarus.
"She has a poorly functioning reproductive system." Maks adjusted his thin sparring gloves. "There is less than a thirty percent chance of pregnancy."
A lot less by some estimations, slightly more by others, according the specialist Maks had consulted.
Demyan shoved hair the same dark color as Maks's own off his forehead. "With fertility treatment?"
"I have no intention of becoming the next father of sextuplets."
"Don't be an ass."
"I'm not. You know I cannot marry a woman who won't be able to produce the next heir plus a spare."
Demyan didn't reply immediately. They were both too personally aware of the costs associated with those issues.
"You aren't your father. You don't have to...