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Chapter no 20 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

Evangeline ran out of the door right as two guards burst through into her room. She quickly dodged past, expecting them to give chase. But she was the only one running. Her bare feet clapped against the cold hard stones as she ran after Archer and cried again, “Wait—stop!”

He couldn’t have gone far. She could hear the fall of his boots around the corner. Hall after hall after hall she heard him in the distance. But every time she turned a corner, Archer wasn’t there. All she saw were portraits of Apollo that looked far more accusatory than she remembered.

The prince’s painted eyes watched her as she ran down a particularly narrow hallway. Some of the lights had been snuffed out, making it darker as well, until she reached another portrait of her husband. The sconces flanking this picture seemed especially bright, glistening off the golden frame as if to make up for the lights that had gone out.

It looked like another portrait of Apollo in the magical phoenix tree, lounging across the branches. Although it was difficult to be sure. The portrait had been slashed down the middle.

Archer stood beside the mutilated picture, cape tossed back behind his shoulders, arms crossed over his chest, as he eyed the mangled portrait. “I think I like this one best.”

Evangeline didn’t see a knife in his hand, but there was a sharpness to Archer’s gaze that felt like a blade. If anyone could cut with a look, it would be him.

“Did you do this?” she asked.

“That wouldn’t have been very kind of me.”

Evangeline’s eyes drifted toward the blood spattered on his pale shirt. “Would you describe yourself as kind?”

“Not at all. But I think you already know that.” He shoved off the wall and stalked closer to her. The hall was quite narrow, so it wasn’t much of a walk. Two steps and he was there, near enough that everything smelled of apples and her head felt suddenly light.

Yesterday morning when she’d met Archer in the hall outside her room, just standing next to him had made her feel as if she’d made a bad decision, yet she had still wanted to follow him. She had supposed herself delirious from lack of sleep. But she wasn’t delirious now. She wasn’t mad. It was just him.

Standing this close to Archer made her feel as if she couldn’t catch her breath, as if her blood was made of champagne bubbles all rushing to her head.

“What are you to me?” she asked. Archer’s eyes locked with hers. “Nothing.”

But it didn’t feel like nothing when his fingers reached down and he took hold of the sash that kept her robe tied together. He held it as if he couldn’t decide if he wanted to untie it or tug her closer to him.

“Why are you lying?” she asked.

“I thought we’d already established that I’m not very kind.” Archer tugged on the sash, enough to loosen the knot.

Evangeline quickly stole it out of his hands and pulled her robe tighter. He laughed softly. “Am I making you nervous now?”

He said it as if he hoped he was. Or maybe he was just trying to keep her from asking questions. When he was this close, it was hard to think clearly, hard to remember why she’d chased him down the hall. There was something about Archer that made her just want to be there, with him.

She knew it was wrong. She was with Apollo. Not just with Apollo, she reminded herself, married. Apollo was her husband.

Archer couldn’t be anything to her. And he’d just told her that he was nothing to her. But he’d also said he was a liar.

“Just tell me one thing that’s true,” she said, and then she promised herself silently that she would walk away from him, and from these feelings. “I know we met before you rescued me at the well. Were you my guard?”

He worked his jaw.

For a second, she didn’t think he would answer.

Then he shook his head. “No. I’m generally better at doing damage than protecting.” He looked down toward the blood staining the front of her robe.

She hadn’t really looked at the cut that had caused all the blood since she’d first been injured. It was shallow enough that it had already closed. It would not need stitching. But the blood left behind looked something awful

she probably looked awful as well.

“You could never look awful,” he said faintly.

She looked up again. For a second, he looked almost shy and incredibly young, barely older than her. Blond locks of hair fell over his eyes as he slowly leaned in closer.

She didn’t know if he was trying not to frighten her away, or if he was maybe frightened. He seemed uncharacteristically nervous as he reached toward her cheek. He slowly took an errant pink strand of hair between his fingers and tucked it behind her ear. He was so careful, his fingers didn’t even brush her skin, but he looked as if he wanted to.

There was a different kind of pain tightening his jaw and making the muscles in his neck pulse as he stood there, holding her gaze as if he wished he could be holding her instead, crushing her to him like he had in her memory.

Married. Married.

Married, she reminded herself.

She was married to Apollo. She was nothing to Archer.

“I should go,” she said. “My guards—they’re probably about to ring an alarm. I’m surprised we’re not hearing bells right now,” she babbled, hoping to find more words so that she’d have a reason to stay, even though she knew she needed to leave.

She imagined that there were still more memories of him that she’d forgotten. But now she was a little afraid of what she might remember, if remembering more meant feeling more than she already did.

It was hard enough to stand there across from him, not touching in a way that almost felt more intimate than touching. It looked as if it was taking all his strength not to reach out and graze her fingers with his. As if one brush of their skin might set off a riot of sparks or blow out every light in the hall.

She waited for him to walk away. But Archer didn’t move.

For a second, neither did she. She couldn’t shake the feeling that if she left him now, if she turned her back, she might not ever see him again.

She’d felt butterflies when she’d kissed Apollo, but Evangeline had a feeling that kissing Archer would be earth-shattering.

Married, she reminded herself one more time. And this time she finally turned to leave.

As soon as she moved, Evangeline felt as if she’d just made a mistake. Although she had no idea if the mistake had been getting too close to Archer or turning and walking away.

Evangeline tried not to think about Archer as she practically ran back to her suite. She looked over her shoulder only twice. He wasn’t there either time.

Upon returning to her suite, she found all evidence of the crime gone.

It was actually a little bit unnerving. It should perhaps have been more than a little unnerving, but after the events of the night, Evangeline wasn’t really capable of feeling more than she felt. Or asking too many questions about the oddness of it all.

There were guards waiting at her door, but at her arrival, they didn’t even ask her about where she’d gone or the man who’d been dead on her floor. A man that they’d clearly seen, for they’d already cleaned up the body.

When Evangeline stepped inside her suite, it was as if nothing foul had ever happened.

Her bed was once again covered in a fluffy quilt as pure as snow. There were no stains to be seen, not even on the floor, where a new white-and-gold carpet had been placed. Everything was crisp and pure and clean— except for Evangeline.

Archer had said, I’ll make sure the guards clean this up and keep it quiet.

But this was all remarkably clean and quiet. Either the guards were

exceptionally loyal to him, or . . .

Evangeline didn’t actually have any words to go after the or. Now that she was back in her room, she was feeling more of the shock that she should have experienced earlier.

Her pink hair was a riot; her eyes were overlarge, stuck in a state of fright; and there was blood on her nightgown and smeared across her cheek. She looked a mess.

Her hands shook as she cleaned the blood from her person and changed into a fresh pink gown. She tried to stop her thoughts from flickering back to Archer. He wasn’t hers to think about, and yet she kept picturing the way he’d looked in the hall, and how for a second, he’d seemed almost shy, almost scared, and almost hers.

Ding. Ding. Ding.

The tower clock chimed three o’clock in the morning.

Evangeline startled back to the present. She closed her eyes, shook away the memories of Archer, and then returned to her main room—only to be startled again at the sight of Apollo.

He looked as if he’d just stepped inside the door to her suite. His eyes were hooded, his shirt was wrinkled, and there was blood spattered on his boots. It was only on his boots, but there was so much of it, soaking through the tan leather until they were practically red all over.

Death. It seemed to be everywhere tonight.

“Are you all right?” Evangeline quickly crossed the room. “What happened?”

Apollo pulled a shaking hand through his hair and closed his eyes, as if the memory of whatever had occurred was simply too much for him. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

When he opened his eyes, they were bloodshot, and his jaw was covered in a layer of stubble that she’d never seen before. Apollo was always immaculate. The perfect fairytale prince. But in the few hours since she’d seem him last, something appeared to have changed.

Evangeline felt wrung out. She’d thought she wasn’t capable of experiencing more emotions, but she must have cared for Apollo more than she realized. She didn’t know what had happened, but she wanted to try and make it better.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” she asked.

He looked as if he was about to say no. Then his eyes dropped. They moved to her mouth and lingered there, as if maybe he could think of one thing.

Her heart thudded nervously.

He didn’t move right away, as if he knew this wasn’t the sort of help she was offering. But maybe deep down it was; maybe this was what they both needed.

He needed comfort and she needed clarity. He leaned in closer.

Her body trembled. She didn’t know why this felt so wrong when it should have felt so right. It should have been easy to lean into him, to put her hands on his chest as his arms went around her waist.

His fingers were shaking, which made her feel a little better. As if maybe nerves were normal.

The first press of his lips was soft, and so was the slide of his palms as they moved lower on her body. Wearing only her thin gown, she could feel so much more of him than she ever had when they’d kissed before.

Soon she was a little lost in the taste of his tongue and the press of his body against hers as they tumbled together toward the bed. Then her world was spinning sideways, plunging her into another kiss from another time.

She could feel a breeze at her back and the pressure of Apollo against her chest.

Evangeline’s heart became a drum, beating harder and faster as he pressed in closer. There were layers of clothing between them, but she could feel the heat coming off him. More heat than she’d ever felt. It was almost too hot, too hungry. Apollo burned like a fire that consumed instead of warmed. And yet there must have been a part of her that wanted to be scorched, or at the very least singed.

She wrapped both hands around his neck. Apollo’s mouth left her lips and dropped to her throat, trailing kiss after kiss down her—

A cold hand clamped on her shoulder and wrenched her free of the prince’s grasp. “I think it’s time we go.”

Archer pulled her toward the balcony stairs with supernatural swiftness. One moment, Apollo was all Evangeline could feel and then she was tucked underneath Archer’s hard arm, pressed close to his cool side as he ushered her toward the steps . . .

Archer.

Apollo quickly broke away from the kiss. “What did you say?” Evangeline’s throat went suddenly tight. She must have accidentally said

Archer’s name out loud.

“I just had a memory,” she blurted, and then of course she instantly regretted it. She could not tell Apollo she’d had a memory with Archer. She could maybe tell him about the first part, the kiss. But then he would probably ask why she’d said Archer, and she didn’t want to mention that he pulled her away afterward.

Although suddenly Evangeline was intensely curious as to why Archer had done that. And how could he have? Apollo was a prince. But she didn’t have time to wonder about the why of it all—not when Apollo was staring at her as if she’d betrayed him.

Jealousy far worse than what she’d seen earlier burned in his eyes. She could feel it in his hands as he clenched his fist in the back of her nightgown.

Evangeline scrambled for something to say. Anything that would change the way Apollo was looking at her now. Then she remembered the engagement story from Madame Voss. She could tell him this was what she remembered.

“I had a memory of you. It was the night you proposed. We were at a ball and you were dressed like the Archer from the old fairytale, The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox.”

As she spoke, Evangeline had a picture in her head that might have been a memory, too.

Apollo went down on one knee.

She abruptly forgot how to breathe as the crowd around them increased, caging Evangeline and Apollo in a circle of ballgowns and silk doublets and shocked faces.

Apollo took both of her hands in his warm grip. “I want you, Evangeline Fox. I want to write ballads for you on the walls of Wolf Hall and carve your name on my heart with swords. I want you to be my wife and my princess and my queen. Marry me, Evangeline, and let me give you everything.”

He brought her hand to his lips again, and this time, when he looked at Evangeline, it was as if the rest of the celebration didn’t exist.

No one had ever looked at Evangeline like this before. All she could see was the longing and the hope and the hint of fear swirling in Apollo’s

expression.

And yet it wasn’t nearly half as powerful as the way that Archer had looked at her in the memory she’d had earlier, as if he’d haul her from the clutches of war, from falling cities and breaking worlds. She could picture him again, looking down on her as a drop of water fell from his eyelashes onto her lips.

But that was all in the past.

In the present, she was married to Apollo. Whatever feelings she’d had for Archer didn’t matter. If she could forget a year of memories, she could forget those feelings as well. But the problem was, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Not yet, at least. Not when she still didn’t know the entire story.

She knew it was wrong to hold on. But she also realized tonight just how little she truly knew her husband. She hadn’t known that he was jealous and that he liked to toast to curses. She didn’t know why he had blood on his boots right now.

And after telling him she’d regained a memory of his proposal, she would have expected him to look happy. But Apollo looked unmistakably alarmed.

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