Chapter no 11 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

The carriage was bumpy and knocked against her bad shoulder, causing her to wince. Evie had been lucky, too lucky, that the glow of the scar wasn’t visible beneath her dress. The pain from her ankle and head, like any pain, had lit the scar enough to knock someone out if they looked beneath the thick fabric. But Tatianna had worked efficiently, only getting to the parts where she knew Evie needed healing.

It was irresponsible to let a wound inflicted by magic sit untreated for so long, as she had her knife wound. But when one was trying desperately to move forward from something, it was quite annoying to be dragged bodily backward by useless limitations. If she had the wound treated, they would ask questions, and she wasn’t quite ready to face that. She would, she promised herself she would, when she was ready.

Evie’s little situation with her former employer was no more than what many young women experienced from leering employers who made inappropriate propositions. If she weighed it overall, she’d been quite lucky to escape that altercation with only a magical scratch to show for it.

That thought alone, that she should feel lucky for only a minor injury, not to mention that any woman should feel that way, was so horrifically ridiculous and unfair, it was like watching someone steal something precious from you and thanking them for it.

Anger pulsed through Evie so fast that she had to suck in a breath to keep from screaming. Cool afternoon air kissed her cheeks as she tilted her head back, calming her. She’d tell Tatianna when the wound was less raw, and her emotions as well. It was silly to feel embarrassed that she’d left herself in a vulnerable position. This was not her fault. And maybe it was time she asked for help.

Shaking her head, she pushed the wound from her mind and looked around for something else to focus her attention. The sleek, open black carriage they trotted down the road in was simple in design, not needing extra ornamentation to be striking—much like her boss.

The chirping of birds and other unfamiliar creatures sounded different from her morning walks to the manor—the forest was fully awake now.

After Tatianna had healed her ankle, berating Evie with a million questions, the boss had escorted her down to the front gate, where the carriage and horses awaited.

They hadn’t spoken since.

It usually took Evie about an hour each morning and each evening to take every hidden shortcut off the regular pathways to the hidden veil of The Villain’s castle. But they were taking the long way, down the dirt path, and Evie wanted desperately to fill the uncomfortable silence.

She hated quiet.

It was quiet the last time she saw her brother. It was quiet the day her mother left. It was quiet when her father got sick. The quiet had brought her so much pain. An instinctual part of Evie shrank from it, waiting for the next blow.

She distracted herself with the pull of the leather reins in his black gloved hands. He handled the vehicle with grim determination, his face focused on the road before them and the fast-setting sun.

Evie pulled her eyes away to look at Kingsley, who sat perched on a small stand that she was certain had been put there solely for the frog’s use. “Do you bring Kingsley for carriage rides often?” she asked.

Her boss didn’t look at her or their web-toed friend as he said, “Even I am not so evil that I won’t allow him a little…sunlight.” He paused, almost choking on the last word. “Anyhow, the more freedoms I give him, the fewer escape attempts the little nuisance makes.” There was a pointed look between The Villain and the frog. Kingsley broke first, turning his tiny body back to the scenery.

“Thank you for doing this, but my ankle is fine now; I could’ve walked.” Her braid was nearly undone, loose wisps of her black hair tickling her neck.

“I didn’t realize you don’t ride.” He didn’t look at her, and his grip on the reins tightened.

“I have. Once or twice, but there’s no way my family could afford a mount. Let alone a place to house the poor creature. Besides, I like to walk.”

He nodded, seemingly to himself. “Of course. Who doesn’t enjoy a two-hour jaunt every day.”

Evie couldn’t think of an appropriate response to that, or even an inappropriate one, which meant the situation was truly dire.

But he seemed to find the silence as intolerable as she did, because he spoke before she could blunder through another sentence. “Do you still keep that dagger in your boot?”

It took her a moment to process what he was asking and how he could possibly know about her one and only weapon, but then she remembered all those months ago. “Yes…I do, though not the same one. I never picked it up after—”

He was nodding before she finished. “Good. You shouldn’t be walking these woods alone, unprotected.” The Villain finally turned his head in her direction, a sly smile on his lips. “You never know what kind of menacing characters you’ll find.”

She’d meant to make a lighthearted joke, but the words came out far more serious than she’d intended. “Oh, I don’t know. It worked out well for me the first time.”

It was the wrong thing to say.

The smile slipped from his lips, and any levity between them was suddenly weighted with the events of the day. “I would hardly call nearly dying ‘well,’ Sage.”

With a light clicking from his lips, the horses trotted into a canter. He was eager to be rid of her.

Ah, but I didn’t die, so it worked out as well as one could hope—well, given the new job requirement and all. Good thing I was looking for employ, now wasn’t it?” Shut up, Evie.

He seemed to contemplate his next words very carefully, tilting his head to the side as if trying to make sense of them.

“If you would like to resign… It would be an extreme inconvenience for me. However, given your work performance and the dedication you’ve given the company, I would accommodate you.”

A roaring panic began low in her gut and bloomed up through her chest like a poisonous weed.

“I don’t want to resign!” In her rush to get the words out, she stood suddenly, nearly tipping over the edge when the carriage hit a large dip in the road. Kingsley made a gurgled sound of outrage as Evie wobbled.

Swiftly, The Villain grabbed both reins with one hand, reaching for her arm and pulling her down. “I didn’t mean to cause an upset. I was merely

giving you the option.”

“Well, you did cause an upset! I need this job, you selfish bastard.” His eyebrows shot high at her words, but she didn’t care; she was too upset, her heart racing at the idea of not being able to feed her family or afford medicine for her father.

“I would of course set you up with a fair amount of severance pay. Enough to keep you and your family comfortable for the next couple of years while you find other employment.” He said the words too casually, like they were something he’d practiced.

Which only made her angrier.

“I am not a charity case,” she said flatly.

“What did I do that gave you the impression that I am in the habit of charity?” He looked as offended as she felt. “I was giving you an option because you’ve done good work and have been loyal. You also saved my office and staff from a bomb today. It is not personal, so do not take it as such.”

The words did nothing to quell her anger, not only at him but at herself for denying the obviously generous and lifesaving offer. With the extra money, she might be able to afford a private tutor for Lyssa, perhaps even a specialized healer for her father, but she didn’t feel gratitude.

The thought of never enjoying the brisk air of the morning as she strolled through Hickory Forest, the irritating but familiar climb of the stairs, the clamor of the office space, Blade making every person in the office fall in love with him, Kingsley and his little signs. Even Becky hating, well, everything about her.

It was…home.

She needed it. It was hers. Everything else she had to share with her father and sister. But working for The Villain gave her the opportunity to do a little taking herself.

She wouldn’t give it up, selfishness be damned.

“No. I appreciate the offer, but I must decline.” Some cosmic force must have taken pity on her, because he didn’t question her choice any further, just exhaled a bit harshly and loosened his jaw.

“Very well.”

The familiar sounds of the bustling village square came into sharp focus as Evie pointed to the left of the small fork in the road. “Take that back way

—it leads right to my home, and we won’t be seen.”

He adhered to her wishes without question, pulling the carriage into the familiar drive that led up to the small cottage she shared with her family. The yellow tulips lining the front walk looked odd from her current position: being in a carriage…belonging to a glorified murderer.

Life was strange.

When The Villain pulled to the edge of the drive, it occurred to Evie that he had driven her home. Which was ridiculous, because she’d known this was happening the entire carriage ride, but for some reason her mind wouldn’t allow the absurdity of the situation to settle into her reality.

Oh, for the love of all that was good, her boss was looking at her house. Even worse, he caught sight of the clotheslines hanging from the side of her home, several of which had her undergarments blowing in the wind.

Her face burned red, and she turned to him, trying to pry his attention away. “What if you’re seen?”

He tilted his head toward her, his face looking younger as it softened into an expression of genuine amusement. “Nobody, save my employees, knows what I look like. If I’m seen by anyone, they will think me any ordinary highbrow noble.”


The word was so far from an accurate descriptor for him, Evie nearly busted out laughing. But before she could, a thought struck her. “What about those men who were pursuing you in the forest the day we met?”

His face didn’t lose any levity as he smirked and said, “They weren’t pursuing me because I was The Villain. They were pursuing me because they wanted Kingsley. Remember, magical animals sell for a high price. But I had miscalculated the sorts of weaponry they wielded.”

“Well, thank you for—”

“Evie! You’re home early!” Her little sister’s voice cut through the air, startling her.

Oh, for the love of—

Evie groaned as Lyssa came into view, black hair disheveled and covered in dirt. “Emmaline said she saw you in a fine carriage, and I said that couldn’t be you but—” Her sister stopped when she caught sight of the two of them side by side.

“Oh, hello.” Lyssa bobbed a curtsy, and Evie was beginning to wonder if she had died and this was some sort of torturous afterlife.

The Villain stood tall, stepping down from the carriage, turning back toward Evie to offer his hand. After both her feet were firmly planted on the ground, Evie said, “Um, Lyssa, this is my— I mean he’s— Um—”

“Trystan Maverine.” His deep voice was a calm, steadying sound, though hearing a name come from his lips was jarring. How did he make that up so quickly?

Bowing low, he continued. “I am your elder sister’s employer. She had a small accident at work, so I escorted her home.”

Lyssa’s brown eyes widened, then she dipped into a curtsy. “Oh! Yes, Evie has accidents a lot.”

How funny that her sister was about to have one as well…when Evie throttled her.

But her boss didn’t seem to be as annoyed by the presence of her ten-year-old nuisance as she was, because she could see a light upward tugging of his lips. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Lyssa didn’t slow. “Oh yes, she falls all the time. She fell down the well once! Can you believe it? An actual well! She was trying to save a bird and she fell right in. She was stuck there for hours, and when we finally got her out, she was soaked and pruning like dried grapes!”

Her boss slowly turned to her, a strange satisfaction on his face at hearing this piece of news.

“It was a very cute bird,” Evie said defensively. He nodded, unfazed. “I’m sure it was.”

“Are you a prince?” Honestly, had her sister found a pound of sugar before they’d arrived here?

“I am not.” His voice was flat. He somehow didn’t seem irritated by this interaction, but then again, she supposed, he was used to dealing with her ramblings every day.

Lyssa didn’t seem to hear him, staring at him with quiet wonder on her face.

Evie narrowed her eyes at her sister’s bedraggled clothes. “Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”

“It’s a holiday,” her sister said quickly, looking guilty.

“Oh, really?” Evie tapped her chin, crouching down to look her sister in the eye. “What holiday is that?”

“Your hair is a mess, Evangelina,” Lyssa said, scrunching her nose. “You’re changing the subject.”

“So? You do it all the time.”

“Not on purpose!” Evie threw her hands in the air, abruptly remembering their audience. The Villain, or Trystan, was eyeing them like a zoo exhibit, a faint twinkle in his dark eyes.

“We’ll discuss this later. Where is Papa?” She rubbed her temples, trying to stave off the beginnings of a headache.

“He went into the village to have a drink with some of his friends.”

“A drink?” Evie asked incredulously. His mood and health had been noticeably better the last couple of days, but he hadn’t had the energy or the will to venture into the village for anything other than visits to their local healer in years.

It wouldn’t last, and Evie wouldn’t let herself hope for it. But she could see the joy radiating from Lyssa, finally seeming to have one healthy parent, and she refused to be the one to take it away from her merely because of her suspicions. “That’s…wonderful.”

Lyssa nodded, tossing a wide grin at The Villain like a weapon. “Are you staying for dinner, Mr. Maverine?”

The magnificent horses with the carriage chuffed impatiently, drawing her boss’s eye toward them.

“I cannot, I’m afraid. There is much work to be done, and the day is not yet over.” He removed one of his black gloves and reached out a hand toward Lyssa. She immediately put her hand in his as he bowed over it.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Lady Lyssa.”

She giggled, and Evie felt like her chest was about to erupt for all the fluttering going on inside it.

A stray “ribbit” from the carriage caught Lyssa’s attention as she leaned past both Evie and The Villain to look. Her face scrunched, but her young eyes were delighted. “Is that frog wearing a crown?”

Evie and her boss turned back toward the carriage. Kingsley was holding another of his signs, this one reading HALP.

The Villain reached back, quickly ripping the sign from the animal. “Give me that, you little traitor.” His words came out on a growl, which morphed quickly into a cough when he saw Evie’s and her sister’s amused expressions.

After dipping into a small curtsy, Lyssa spun on her heel, then ran back toward the edge of the house, where two other little girls waited. All of them giggled as they ran off.

“She’s in big trouble,” Evie said grumpily.

“Go easy on her—she’s young,” The Villain said diplomatically.

Evie turned toward him, planting her hands on her hips, a look of mock outrage on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be evil?”

“Encouraging children to neglect their education fits under that bracket, does it not?” He tilted his head as if considering it.

Plucking a stray weed from the walkway and then another, Evie said, “Where did the name Trystan come from, anyway?”

“My mother, I imagine.”

Evie straightened like a rod, slowly dropping the weeds and coming to stand, staring at him with wide, unflinching eyes. “Are you saying…the name you just gave my younger sister…is your real name?”

Disbelief overrode her senses even further when he squinted in confusion. “There’s no need to overreact, little tornado. It’s just a name.”

“Like the deadlands it is!” she sputtered. Trystan. His name was Trystan Maverine.

“If you’re having some sort of episode, may I suggest you sit before you faint and crush the tulips?”

“You’re being far too casual about this. You just told a ten-year-old, who can barely lie about a fictitious school holiday, let alone the identity of my ‘employer.’” She began pacing up and down the walkway, trying to regain some of her equilibrium, but her frenzied brain was buzzing, keeping coherent thoughts out of focus.

“I shared a name. One that nobody else knows me by. My identity as ‘The Villain’ and as Trystan Maverine have never been connected.” His face was a mask of calm, his voice steady. “Nobody will know working for me means working for The Villain. Do not distress yourself.”

“I wasn’t worried about that,” she said. “I was worried about the danger it would put you in.”

His head reeled back as if she’d slapped him. “Do not take it upon yourself to worry about my safety, Sage. Your job is quite literally to ‘assist’ me in the areas I request. My protection, you will find, is not included on the list.”

“Fine. I won’t,” she huffed, turning in the direction of the front door, but her anger dissipated when she replayed his name once more in her mind. “Trystan?” She spun around.

Something about his name on her lips must have triggered an unpleasantness, because she caught sight of the fist of his ungloved hand tightening, his knuckles turning white.

“It’s really…Trystan?” She frowned.

“Do you dislike the name?” he asked dryly.

“No…it’s just…not what I expected.” She leaned back on her heels, noticing dark clouds coming over the horizon.

“I am going to regret this with an alarming intensity, but what were you expecting?” He had his head slightly leaned away, as if she was about to strike him.

Smiling crookedly, taking a step toward him, she dealt her first blow. “Fluffy.”

The response was beautiful.

His mouth gaped open like a fish. Opening and closing, trying to find the right words. But of course, there were none. She clasped her hands behind her back, waiting.

After a few moments of silence that for once Evie didn’t mind, he said, “Fluffy? You looked at me and thought to yourself, He looks like a Fluffy?”

The name in the rough gravel of his voice, which seemed to be getting higher pitched in his outrage, sent her tittering.

“Fluffy is a beautiful name. I had a dog named Fluffy once.” She nodded succinctly and then deadpanned, “He used to growl at lint.”

The noises coming out of him were not in any language she’d ever heard. “I suppose Trystan is a fine substitution,” she continued. “I am, however,

a little offended you trusted my sister with that information before you told me.”

He seemed to come back to himself then, shaking his head, looking a bit dizzy. “I didn’t think I needed to tell you. My real name is on a small plaque on my desk.”

Evie pursed her lips. “No it’s not. I would’ve noticed.”

He mumbled something under his breath that she couldn’t hear, but it sounded like, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

But then Evie replayed his office in her mind, recalling the layout of his desk. In her defense, it was hard to look at anything else when his presence demanded every ounce of her attention. But she did recall a little black rectangle in the back corner and…

“Huh, maybe it is there.”

“It’s not a maybe,” he said in disbelief. “It is.”

She waved a hand carelessly in front of her. “Yeah, yeah, sure.”

“I—” He paused and angled his body back toward the carriage. “I think I must leave before my head spins right off my neck.”

Evie nodded. Her work here was done. “Very well. Have a safe trip back. Thank you again for the ride home—oh, and the saving-my-life part as well.”

“I would accept your thanks if it wasn’t being employed by me that put your life in danger in the first place.” He hoisted himself up into the carriage, and Evie was surprised at the surge of melancholy that cascaded over her at seeing him leave.

“I’ll be at work bright and early tomorrow, sir, to make up for the day.”

“There’s no need, Sage. Take tomorrow off.” He pulled the loose glove back onto his hand, tightening his cloak around his neck.

“But why? I’m fine,” she argued.

“I’m well aware. However, the work I need your help with won’t be in the office but in the field.”

The words froze Evie in her tracks. “In the field? Are you going to make me light an empty cottage on fire? Steal a litter of puppies? Or something… grosser?”

He chuckled. “Relax, Sage. Nothing gruesome. You can wipe the lurid thoughts of blood and destruction from your mind.”

“I wouldn’t say my thoughts of blood and destruction are lurid,” she corrected, scrunching her nose.

“If you’re not opposed, I’ll need your help tomorrow evening at the Redbloom Tavern, eight o’clock.”

The Redbloom Tavern was not the seediest establishment around, but it was certainly no palace, either. Evie had gone once on a whim with a few girls in her village on her eighteenth birthday. The beer was stale, the wine tasted of vinegar, and the people were filthy and loud. All in all, she had quite enjoyed herself.

“Very well. But may I ask what you could possibly need, work-wise, at a tavern?”

He rubbed his jaw before taking the reins in both hands. “The bomb that was planted in my office.”

The mention of it brought back the smoke, the panic, the frantic beating of her heart, and she sucked in a breath.

“I recognized the timepiece. There’s only one man who could make and sell that sort of watch, the kind that can be hooked and aligned with explosives.”

“And he works at the Redbloom Tavern?”

His lips twisted downward, the dark clouds above casting a pallor of gray light on him. “He owns it.”

He looked to Evie once more with that wary sense of expectation. Like he was waiting, wondering if this was the request that would make her turn her back, would make her run.

But her stubbornness and lack of self-preservation had carried her this far. She stepped forward and nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, sir.”

A flash of relief shone on his face for just a moment before disappearing behind a mask of indifference. A sudden noise from his lips, urging the horses into action, and then he was gone.

Evie looked at the spot where his carriage had been. Where he’d just stood. Her front yard would never quite be the same place again.

And then it started to rain, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a very bad omen of things to come.

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