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Chapter no 30 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

The memories started out like rainfall, slowly falling over Evangeline and blurring everything else as she remembered writing the letter to herself in the first place. She’d been sitting in her royal suite on the verge of angry tears, but she’d also been heartbroken. She hadn’t recognized the emotion at the time, but present-day Evangeline immediately knew the feeling.

It was the same ache she’d felt in her heart ever since she’d lost her memories. She’d thought it would go away when they eventually resurfaced, but the hurt seemed to grow as her recollections turned from a misty trickle into a steady downpour.

She remembered Jacks again. She remembered visiting his church and meeting him for the first time, thinking he was horrible. Then realizing who he was—that he was actually the Fated Prince of Hearts, and then still thinking he was awful.

Every time she met Jacks, Evangeline thought he was a little worse. He was always eating apples and taunting her, and even when he was rescuing her, he was wretched. She remembered the night she’d been poisoned by LaLa’s tears. He’d held her like a grudge. His body had been rigid and tense, as if he really didn’t want her there, and yet his arms were tight around her waist as though he had no intention of ever letting her go.

She’d still thought he was awful then, but as Evangeline relived that night, something inside her shifted. It happened again when she relived spending the following night with him in the crypt.

Suddenly she understood why thinking of Jacks made her think of biting. There were other memories of biting as well—of wanting to sink her teeth into him when she’d been infected with vampire venom, and then actually biting down on his shoulder when she’d been in excruciating pain

—the night that she’d killed Petra.

Evangeline remembered it all in a backward rush. How she and Petra were both prophesized keys capable of opening the Valory Arch. Evangeline had been trying to find all four of the arch stones to do so, and Petra had tried to murder her in order to stop her.

Evangeline had killed Petra in self-defense. Jacks had found her afterward, covered in blood. Then he’d taken Evangeline to the Hollow, and she’d finally admitted to herself that she was hopelessly in love with him.

She’d been in love with him for quite some time. Evangeline wasn’t sure if that part was a memory or just a thought she was presently having.

Her memories didn’t feel so much like her past as they felt like their story. The story of Evangeline and Jacks. And it was a beautiful story, her new favorite story. She hated that she’d forgotten it. That it had been lost and Apollo had tried to rewrite it, to tell her that Jacks was the villain.

Although, to be fair, from Apollo’s standpoint he was: Jacks had put a love spell on him; then he’d put Apollo in a state of enchanted sleep. Jacks hadn’t put the mirror curse or the Archer’s curse on Apollo, but Evangeline wondered if Apollo knew that.

Even though her memories were returning, there were still a number of things she didn’t know. She still didn’t know what all was locked up inside the Valory.

No one had been able to tell her because of the story curse. But she had found she had stopped caring about the Valory’s contents as soon as she learned that Jacks didn’t actually want to open it; he had just wanted to use the Valory Arch stones to turn back time, in order to be with the girl who’d made his heart beat again. Donatella.

Remembering this part felt like reliving it again.

Evangeline’s heart shattered as she remembered Jacks saying, I want to erase every moment you and I have spent together, every word you’ve said

to me, and every time I’ve touched you, because if I don’t, I’ll kill you, just like I killed the Fox.

She’d tried to argue with him. I’m not that fox!

But Jacks had been resolute in his belief that there was no happy ending for the two of them. He’d told her he was the Archer.

And she knew, suddenly, that this was the reason her heart had broken when Madame Voss had first mentioned The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox. Not because of the name Archer, but because it was Jacks’s story and Evangeline knew how it ended. She knew that Jacks had killed the Fox and that he believed that he would someday kill Evangeline as well.

He’d believed this with so much unwavering conviction, he planned to turn back time to pursue a girl he didn’t love and make it so that he and Evangeline had never met, effectively erasing her memories and their story.

She remembered being hurt and furious and fighting with him about it after she’d opened the Valory Arch. She’d begged him to go with her, but he’d chosen to let her go instead. He’d told her, I just want you to leave.

And she had done just that. She had left.

But it was a complicated sort of leaving. Deep down she knew Jacks cared for her. She believed he wanted her. But she also knew that he was so afraid of killing her, he was never going to choose her. He believed he’d already found his true love and it wasn’t Evangeline.

But Evangeline had also never told him she’d loved him. He’d been scared, but she had been, too. She had said that she wished their story could have had a different ending, but she should have told him how she loved him. Love was the world’s most powerful magic.

But love had failed her that night. It hadn’t been enough.

She was still in love with Jacks, and yet both past and present Evangeline felt as if they’d lost him.

Past Evangeline felt so naive to present-day Evangeline as she remembered rushing to find Jacks, believing that if she could just tell him that she loved him, it would fix everything.

Clearly it hadn’t.

And yet, a part of present-day Evangeline envied her former self’s effortless belief in hope and the magic of love.

Evangeline could still hope, but it hadn’t felt quite the same since that night. She wondered now if it was because that was the night she’d lost Jacks, despite believing and hoping and chasing.

When she’d raced back to the room with the Valory Arch, to tell him that she loved him, Jacks hadn’t been there.

She didn’t think he’d turned back time, because she could still remember him. She could also see all four of the magical Valory Arch stones.

But there was no Jacks, only his blood staining the wings of the stone angels who guarded the Valory Arch.

Then Apollo was there. She’d thought he’d let her leave. All she’d done was cause him pain. He was better off without her, but he wouldn’t let her go.

Evangeline had actually never been one to believe in fate, but for a second it was hard to believe in love as she finally remembered Apollo ripping away her memories.

He’d stroked her hair as he stole each memory one by one. Evangeline had tried to stop him. She had struggled and begged and cried.

But he had just kept calmly saying, “It will be better soon.”

“You bastard!” Evangeline had wanted to hit him, hurt him, but all she managed to hit was the mattress as she finally woke from the dreamlike state her memories had plunged her into.

She found herself returned to the present. To the forest-green bed that Jacks had laid her down upon last night.

Only now there was no Jacks.

Evangeline could feel his absence the way she used to feel his presence before she’d lost her memories. It was a prickling chill all over her skin that left her cold and afraid.

She told herself not to panic.

But she was still reeling from the merging of her past and her present. She couldn’t just remember Apollo stealing her memories, she could feel it. Now she understood why her heart had beat out danger, danger, danger, that first night with Apollo on that rooftop. But she hadn’t listened to her heart; instead she had kissed him.

Was this why Jacks had left her? Did he think she was in love with Apollo?

The idea made her so sick, it was difficult to push herself out of the bed. But Evangeline needed to find Jacks. She needed to explain that she had remembered. And she had to tell him that she loved him.

When she looked at Jacks’s actions, most of them seemed to say he loved her, too. He kept coming back, kept protecting her. But he also kept

leaving her.

Nervously, she reached for her discarded dress. That was when she saw it on her arm.

There was a wide glass cuff encircling her right wrist. It was cool to the touch and crystal clear, and when Evangeline tugged, it wouldn’t come off.

There didn’t appear to be any type of clasp, and it was too narrow for her to slip over her hand. Someone must have welded it on somehow.

What had Jacks done?

Because she knew it was Jacks. It had to be Jacks. He’d planned to bring her here and put her to sleep with the gold dust. It must have been so that he could put this cuff on her. But why?

Evangeline studied the uncanny glass object. It had appeared at first glance to be plain, but now she could see that it was etched with delicate cherry blossoms that curled around the cuff as if they were flowers stretching out from a tree.

She tried to remember if she’d ever heard a story about a bracelet like this, but she couldn’t recall anything. And cuff or no cuff, she needed to leave. She had to find Jacks before Apollo found her.

By now Apollo no doubt knew she was missing and had probably sent half the army to search for her.

Evangeline wriggled into her dress. Then she grabbed her cloak, threw it around her shoulders, covered her hair with her hood, and started for the door. She hadn’t really paid much attention to it upon entry, as she’d been more wrapped up in the fact that she’d been wrapped up in Jacks’s arms.

Now she noticed that it was a prettyish door. Instead of a simple rectangle, the door came to a dramatic point at its top. It was a slightly faded green with a lovely gold patina. The doorknob might have been a little bit lovely as well, but Evangeline couldn’t properly see the handle beyond the splashes of blood. Deep red blood sparkling with flecks of gold covered the entire doorknob.

She flashed back to the night she’d opened the Valory Arch, when she’d found Jacks’s blood all over the stones.

“No, no, no . . . this can’t be happening again.”

It was almost worse that Evangeline could remember everything so clearly now. That she knew this had happened before. That Jacks had chosen to push her away, and then he’d disappeared and she had never managed to tell him that she loved him, and love had lost instead of won.

Evangeline’s hands shook as they turned the bloody knob. And then they shook even harder. There was more blood outside the room, staining the floor in the hall.

“Jacks!” she cried desperately. “Jacks—”

She broke off as she remembered that Jacks was a fugitive. She wanted to find him urgently, but she didn’t want to alert anyone else that he might be near.

Without another word, she raced down the stairs. Now that she’d stopped shouting, she could hear rain pounding on the walls outside, but everything else was eerily quiet for an inn with a tavern. Wrong quiet. Too quiet.

Her final step down the stairs sounded like a clap of thunder. She knew something had happened even before she found the bodies.

There were three of them. Three lifeless, unmoving forms. Evangeline saw that much before her vision tunneled, going black around the edges and filling with dancing spots in the center.

She grabbed the banister for support, legs buckling. Something inaudible escaped from her throat. A scream—a curse. She didn’t know what words came out of her mouth or how long she stood there.

Numbly Evangeline forced herself to check for any life. The barkeeper, whom Evangeline approached first, was lying so close to the door, it looked as if she’d been trying to flee before her throat had been ripped out. The other two bodies were by the fire, and Evangeline imagined they’d been caught unawares.

It looked as if a wild animal had attacked them, but Evangeline knew better now that she had her memories all back.

A vampire had done this.

She must have been spared because of Jacks—but then, where was he? Why was his blood in her room? His body wasn’t among the others, but her mind spun with a million questions as she stumbled out of the tavern. Was he injured? Dead? Had he been bitten?

Evangeline vowed she’d return to cover the bodies with sheets and cloths, but first she desperately needed to find Jacks.

Outside, the rain was still falling in unrelenting sheets. She couldn’t see more than a few feet down the path, but she thought she could hear someone coming.

A familiar bird cawed, and Evangeline immediately froze.

A second later, a figure moved toward her through the rain. A figure who was definitely not Jacks.

Garrick of the Guild of Heroes was mostly obscured by his cloak and hood. But she recognized him from the awful bird perched on his shoulder.

She started to back away, toward the inn. But the path was slick. Her foot slipped.

“It’s all right, Princess. I’m not here to hurt you.” Garrick grabbed her arm, as if to steady her. “I’m here to rescue you.”

“I don’t need to be rescued.” Evangeline tried to shake free of him. But Garrick held her fiercely, like he didn’t care if he hurt her, fingers bruising in their grip. “Sir, let me go.”

“You’re soaking wet,” he grunted. “You need to get back inside.” Evangeline took one step, but then she remembered she wasn’t just

Evangeline Fox, she was Princess Evangeline Fox. “You need to let me go now,” she demanded. “I order you to release me.”

The hero cursed under his breath and added something that sounded like

useless royalty. “Sorry, Princess, but you’re coming with me and my men.”

He snapped his fingers twice and more figures strode forward through the steady fall of rain. There were at least half a dozen men, all concealed by cloaks like Garrick’s, yet Evangeline could easily tell that all of them were larger than her.

She could not fight her way out of this. But maybe she could reason with them to let her go.

“You don’t understand.” She dug her heels into the muddy ground. “It’s not safe inside that inn. Go and see for yourself. But please don’t take me with you. I can’t go back in there.”

“Don’t worry,” Garrick said, “there’s no safer place than with us.” “Then why do I feel like your captive?” she protested.

Garrick sighed behind his hood. “Fine, you’re a captive. But that doesn’t mean I won’t keep you safe.”

Evangeline continued to argue, but Garrick easily ushered her inside, followed by his gang of heroes.

The air smell fetid, metallic with blood and thick with death.

The barkeeper lay frozen on the ground in the same awful position Evangeline had found her.

Garrick’s fingers dug into Evangeline’s arm a little harder. It was the only indication that he might have been affected by the bodies.

He lowered his hood. It was the first time she’d seen him without a mask. He had a ruggedly handsome face entirely devoid of emotion.

But then he was barking out commands. “Leif, Raven, Thomas—you three go up and check the rooms. See how many others are dead.”

The men quickly marched up the stairs, making the wood shake as Garrick turned back to Evangeline. “Did you see who did this, Highness?”

“If you want me to answer your questions, unhand me.”

“We don’t need her. It must have been Lord Jacks,” said one of Garrick’s remaining men.

“No,” Evangeline said immediately, shooting the man a glare. “This wasn’t Jacks.”

“My wife is clearly stunned,” said a voice that immediately made Evangeline’s skin crawl.

Apollo was there. She could hear him, striding up beside her. Then she felt the brush of his hand on the small of her back.

Evangeline spun to the side and slapped him hard across the face. The sound of her hand hitting his cheek echoed through the inn, loud, cracking, and satisfying.

You loathsome, conceited, cowardly worm of a prince, she thought as she watched his skin turn an inflamed shade of red.

She didn’t tell him she knew everything that he’d done. She didn’t tell him that she knew what he really was and that she would never be his. She wanted to. But she wasn’t that foolish. Not when Apollo was surrounded by guards and heroes who could effortlessly subdue her if she picked a proper fight with the prince.

“Oh, Apollo!” she exclaimed instead. “You startled me.”

The prince rubbed his cheek. “I didn’t know you could hit so hard, my sweet.” The words were teasing, but she swore his eyes narrowed. Evangeline told herself that he couldn’t have known that she’d regained her memories.

And she realized then that he could never find out.

She needed to keep pretending, and not just because his guards and heroes for hire were there. If Apollo knew her memories were back, he might simply take them away again. Now she understood why he’d had physicians check on her every day. To ensure that if any part of her past started coming back, he could just erase it.

He was horrible. Evangeline knew he was horrible, but the depths of his deception hit her harder and harder. She wanted to slap him again, to yell and scream and rage, rage, rage, but she had to be more careful.

And she had to do it now.

She tried to make herself smaller. Garrick had finally released her after Apollo had appeared. She hugged both her arms to her chest and tucked her head, as if she were shaken up and frightened, which she should have been, but it was so hard to feel it through all the anger pulsing through her.

It was even harder to make her voice tiny as she said, “I didn’t realize I could hit so hard, either. It’s just all been so upsetting. The bodies, the blood. And did you know that Lord Belleflower killed Hale and tried to murder me?”

“I heard about that.”

Apollo wrapped his arms around her, but his hug felt too tight.

Suffocatingly tight. “It’s all right, I’m here now.”

Evangeline told herself, Keep pretending. Just keep pretending. She needed to hug him back and act relieved, but she wasn’t sure she could. It was hard enough just to breathe regularly with his body pressed so close to hers.

Finally Apollo pulled away, but he continued to touch her. He draped a heavy arm around her shoulders, keeping her close. She wondered if he could sense that she wanted to escape. She tried to relax, but the next words he said made it impossible.

“I’m going get Evangeline out of here,” Apollo said to Garrick. “You need to find Jacks before he murders again.”

“Jacks didn’t do this,” Evangeline protested.

Apollo tensed as soon as she said Jacks. She could feel his arm go taut around her.

But she refused to take the words back. She could pretend she’d lost her memories and she could endure a hug, but she wasn’t going to let Apollo blame Jacks for murders he did not commit. Not again. And not when there was another killer out there. “This was the work of a vampire.”

Apollo gave Evangeline a brief, unsettling look that seemed to ask, What do you know about vampires? Then he laughed. It was a soft chuckle, but it was enough to make her cheeks blaze with heat as he said, “My wife is clearly addled after all that she’s been through.”

“My head is perfectly clear,” Evangeline protested calmly. “I saw a vampire in the Cursed Forest.”

Which was true. She hadn’t realized it at the time. But now that she had her memories again, even more things clicked together. The Handsome Stranger in the Cursed Forest was Chaos. He’d told her as much when they’d met, but Evangeline hadn’t remembered who he was, so she hadn’t pieced together that he was a vampire and until recently he’d worn a helm that prevented him from feeding.

Now she understood why Jacks had been so quick to incapacitate him.

Jacks had been protecting her. He was always protecting her.

And she needed to protect him.

“I know I sound mad,” Evangeline said. “But I am certain of what I saw.

I saw a vampire and he looked nothing like Lord Jacks.”

She added the final Jacks just to watch Apollo flinch. But this time, he didn’t. His lips slowly moved into a smile that made Evangeline think of putting on a mask. “All right, my sweet, I believe you.”

“You do?”

“Of course. I was merely surprised. It’s not often anyone speaks of vampires, so forgive me for my initial skepticism.”

Apollo rubbed her shoulder as he looked back toward Garrick. “Lord Jacks is still your priority. But tell your men to search for Lucien, the impostor heir to the throne as well. Warn them that he’s a vampire and he has gone on a killing spree.”

Evangeline fought the urge to react. She tried to keep her face carefully blank, innocent, however she was supposed to look. She needed to look like a girl without her memories and not like a girl who’d just heard her lying, deceptive husband accuse her first love of murder.

“This heir,” Evangeline said softly, hoping she sounded merely curious. “What did he look like? I heard he was young and extremely handsome.”

Apollo scowled at the word handsome, but Evangeline went on as if oblivious. “My maids all talked about how devastatingly attractive he was. But the vampire who did this—the one I saw in the forest”—she shuddered

—“he was old and monstrous.” She felt a pang of guilt for this lie. But Evangeline knew if she tried to describe Chaos, Apollo would probably twist it around so that it still sounded like Luc, as both vampires were young, dark-haired, and handsome.

“Evangeline, darling,” said Apollo. “Vampires look different when they feed. I know you think the vampire who did this was an old monster, but vampires are quite rare. I’m sure if you truly saw a vampire, then it was the impostor heir. Unless you’re not certain it was a vampire?”

Bastard. Murderer. Monster.

I hate you, Evangeline wanted to say. But telling Apollo how she felt right now wouldn’t help either Luc or Jacks. Instead she said the only thing she could bring herself to say: “I’m certain it was a vampire.” And she desperately hoped that Luc was somewhere safe and far away.

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