Chapter no 12 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

It was cold tonight.

Evie pulled her brown cloak tightly around her. Not the ivory one she’d treated herself to for her birthday but the one she’d had since she was sixteen.

Worn and patched over, it was essentially worthless. Which was the only wise course when entering an establishment like this. She pushed open the doors and glanced at the clock on the far side of the wall. She was early, but only by a few minutes.

The raucous yells from the table closest to her told her that someone had just lost a valuable hand of cards, and sultry laughter said that someone was about to get lucky in other ways.

Pulling out a chair on the farthest side of the room by the window, Evie seated herself and pulled the brown cloak from her shoulders. In addition to the cloak, she’d picked out her drabbest dress. The only pitfall being the corset had to be worn over it rather than beneath, pushing her small breasts up to high heaven.

Under any other circumstance, that would not bother her. She already had so little to work with in that department, it was always fun to wear a corset that gave her the illusion of it. But she was in a seedy tavern, drawing the salacious gazes of more than one person in the room, and she was trying to remain discreet.

This was a work excursion, after all.

Her heart rate increased when she saw a figure in a dark cloak enter the room, immediately exhaling when he tugged the hood down and it wasn’t her boss. She saw The Villain every day without having the nerves her body was currently throwing at her, but for some reason, this was different.

It was bad enough having the man in front of her house, but now they were in a place of laughter and alcohol. With couples having trysts in every darkened corner and—

Why was she blushing?

“Here all alone, love?” The voice was painfully familiar, and when Evie looked up, her suspicions were confirmed.

“Rick,” Evie squeaked, feeling her heart accelerate in her chest. Her face burned as her eyebrows shot to her hairline. “What are you doing here?”

He laughed in a way that made Evie cringe. Their short-lived relationship had been a youthful mistake born of loneliness that Evie had had trouble escaping since losing her mother and brother. It was a hard lesson to learn that sometimes it was better to remain lonely than to waste companionship and energy on someone undeserving.

“I could ask you the same thing.” He leaned an arm on the back of her seat, and Evie indiscreetly moved her body away from his. Rick was not unattractive. In fact, from an objective standpoint, he was very handsome.

But his personality seemed to negate anything the outward qualities might have saved. He grinned at her in a way she knew was meant to be seductive but instead made her want to gag. “Since when do you frequent places like this, Evie?”

Sighing, losing the last strands of her patience, Evie rolled her shoulders. “I’m meeting someone.” She kept her words clipped, hoping he’d hear the disdain in them and move away from her.

But to her disgust, her blatant denial seemed only to encourage him. “Oh, is that right?” He reached out and ran a finger down her cheek, then laughed when Evie slapped it away. “You didn’t used to have this much bite to you, did you?” he asked. “I would’ve extended our friendship a little longer.”

Evie didn’t point out that she had been the one to end their courtship after realizing what a selfish little ass he was. The physical aspects of their relationship had been unimpressive, nothing like the endlessly romantic scenes from some of her favorite books. After the initial euphoria of attracting such a sought-after man’s attention had faded, Evie was left feeling empty, hollow. She’d ended it with him quickly after that and was affirmed in her decision when he told her what a waste of his time she was.

“If life was built on regrets, we’d have monuments the size of giants.” The cheer of the crowd half drowned her words as another patron won another hand at cards.

Rick laughed, and Evie sneered, which of course he didn’t detect in the slightest. “You always say the most charming little things.” He looked at her like an amusing exhibit, one you stared at in wondrous curiosity while shoving fairy floss down your throat.

She needed him gone, preferably before her boss arrived. It really wasn’t necessary for The Villain to know her judgment had ever been that poor.

“Well, it was nice seeing you again, but like I said, I’m meeting someone.” Evie sounded firm and confident. It made her feel like a totally different woman from the one who had last spoken to Rick. Like she not only knew she deserved better but believed it.

She was calm, cool, collected.

That is, she would’ve been, if Rick would have stopped talking. “Not a… lover?” His eyes held an astonishment that made her chafe. “I must say, I’m surprised.”

“Why?” Evie’s tone was sweet, even docile-sounding. But someone who knew her better would hear the danger in the question, see the quick anger building behind her eyes.

“Well.” Rick angled his head at her, like the question had an obvious answer. “It’s you.” Such small, seemingly innocent words, but they had the force to knock the wind from her sails. They were pointed, with so many different interpretations, her mind began throwing words at her.

Irritating. Irrational. Failure.

If the arrogant ass would’ve just kept that little opinion inside, she wouldn’t have looked up with such vengeance. She would’ve ignored her boss walking through the doors, cloak pulled over his dark head. A strong attempt to get rid of Rick before The Villain arrived at her table would’ve been made.

But none of that happened. Rick had in no certain terms issued a label upon her that said she was too much a burden for a lover. And nothing much mattered to her pounding emotions besides proving him wrong.

When The Villain saw her, he nodded in greeting, lowering his hood slowly. Upon spying Rick staring down at her, he frowned. He began walking toward her with such purpose, her toes curled. Evie sucked in a sharp breath, gripping the table once, before nearly exploding from her seat.

She made it to her boss in two large strides and threw an arm around his middle, snuggling into his side.

He tensed all over, so quickly and rigidly that Evie thought for a moment she might have frozen him somehow. But she felt his head move down to her, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Even when he questioned slowly, “Sage… Might I ask why you’re clinging to me like a barnacle?”

She didn’t answer him, just looked back to Rick, whose jaw had fallen to the floor. Evie reached up and patted The Villain’s chest awkwardly. “This is, uh…my lov…er.” She stumbled over the last words, and her boss made an unearthly choking sound.

Evie did look at him then, and his face held a frank horror. His mouth was still open slightly and his brows were so furrowed that they touched. “This is Rick,” Evie said with wide, pleading eyes. “He is someone I used to see.”

The Villain searched her face, and Evie forced a smile, trying to mask the panic she felt. But when her boss tilted his expression back up to Rick, his face was a mask of cool.

“Hello.” Clear warning rang through the hollow edges of the greeting.

Rick sized The Villain up and had the common sense to let the cocky smile slip away. “Oh, hello.”

Her boss couldn’t decide what to do with the hand that was hovering over Evie’s shoulder. She resisted amusement when the arm fell stiffly around her. His lips thinned when Rick tracked the movement.

“Well, Rick, it was delightful seeing you, but you should go,” Evie pressed. “We have lots to do!” The look of scrutiny made her squirm. “Like each other!” She laughed, but she felt her boss jolt under her hands as if she’d slapped him.

Rick coughed before shaking his head and laughing snidely. He started to strut past them but stopped to clap a hand on The Villain’s shoulder. “Good luck.”

Evie felt such waves of embarrassment, she needed to sit. She walked back to the table slowly but whipped around when she heard Rick cry out in pain.

The Villain had his hand around her ex-lover’s shoulder, squeezing so tightly that she could see Rick’s face pinched and frightened as he tried to lean away. “Luck is something you will most certainly need if you ever bother her again.” The dark rasp to his voice sent the hairs on her arms standing on end.

Rick nodded furiously before tripping over himself to move in the other direction.

Evie sat slowly as the barmaid arrived. “Wine, whiskey, rum, whatever you have, bring it.”

“For me as well, whatever she’s having.” The Villain sat with a heavy sigh in the seat beside her.

Pulling a few loose strands of hair behind her back, Evie leaned forward, resting her head on her hands. “Good evening, sir. Thank you for that little rescue back there.”

His eyes widened, and he coughed into his hand. “Good evening, Sage.

Don’t…don’t mention it.”

Her brows pushed together in confusion until she noticed his gaze pulled to the ceiling, like he was avoiding looking at her.

“What—” But before she could finish the thought, she remembered how much her dress revealed and pulled herself backward in the seat so hard, she nearly knocked herself over, but the boss reached out quickly to grip her seat, helping the front legs meet the floor once more.

He let go of it as soon as it rested back against the ground on steady legs. “Thank you for assisting me with this. I’m sure you have plenty else to do on the evening of the week’s end.”

Evie snorted. “Sure. Lyssa was going to read me a new novel she’s composing called Trystan and the Lost Princess.”

“Sounds an intriguing tale.” He grimaced, taking the drinks off the barmaid’s tray and sliding one over to her.

“Oh yes, and then I was going to drink tea and settle down with a real book.” Evie smiled, remembering Lyssa’s sketches of her boss for the cover. Grinning wider when she recalled convincing Lyssa to give him a large, feathered hat.

“What sort of book?” The Villain asked, taking a sip.

“I don’t know. I like romances, usually the dirty ones.” And suddenly he was choking, spraying part of his drink across the table.

He brought another brightly colored handkerchief, this one yellow, to his mouth. “My apologies—I wasn’t prepared for quite such an honest answer.”

She shook her head at him, tsking with disapproval. “And yet you’re fully aware you’re conversing with me.

He nodded, looking resigned. “Fair point.”

Swallowing a disgusting mouthful of whatever was in the wooden cup, Evie began to search the room. “So where is this elusive tavern owner who daylights as a clockmaker…for bombs?”

“He’ll be here.” His mouth set in a grim line. “He always arrives a few minutes after eight o’clock.”

“You’ve been here before?” she said, voice tinged in surprise. “No, but my people have.”

Ah, his guards.

“Not that I’m complaining, but what use am I in this situation?” It had been gnawing at her all day. In truth, over the last few months, she’d discovered many hidden talents about herself. Conversing in a social setting was, unsurprisingly, not among them.

You’ve been here before,” he said pointedly.

“How did you— Never mind. So what?” she questioned.

“So an unfamiliar face arriving here alone to see the tavern owner would arouse suspicions, and I want no strings left untied.”

She thought he had to be exaggerating, but when she looked to the rest of the room, there were more than a few curious eyes on them, on him. Or it was possible that everyone else in the room was as obsessed with his face as Evie often was.

Don’t be obsessed with your boss’s face, Evie!

“But why me?” she pressed. “Surely others in your employ have frequented this establishment.”

Evie wasn’t certain why it mattered, but she was addicted to feeling useful. Without it, what value did she hold?

“Because there are very few I can trust right now, and you just so happen to be one of them.” Any flattery she would’ve felt at the statement evaporated when she saw his eyes flash to the gold ring tattoo on her finger.

He didn’t want to trust her—he had to. She wasn’t sure why it made an unpleasant difference, and yet it did.

Plastering a wide smile on her face, she took another life-altering swig of her drink. “So people see you with me and how ordinary I am and then poof! Disinterested.”

She chuckled to herself about the apt description but froze when she looked up and saw that his eyes had grown cold.

“You’re chronically underestimated by people.” He removed his cloak, finally, to reveal an off-white starched linen shirt. In contrast with his dark hair and eyes, the shirt was a clear effort to blend in that fell like a heavy wheelbarrow…over a cliff. “We’ll use that to our advantage.”

“You say that as if you’re not one of those people,” she said, nervously twirling a lock of hair around her finger.

“I would never make the mistake of underestimating a woman like you. It would be a fatal one.” His eyes were molten, his chin hard and unyielding.

Her heart pounded against her chest. It was the best compliment anyone had ever given her.

But she was snapped out of her reverie when The Villain’s back straightened, his entire body tensing. “He’s here.”

Evie’s head whipped around, despite him hissing at her not to, only to see a man so unlike what she’d imagined that she bit her lip to keep from expressing her shock. The tavern owner was young, with a friendly face and a dimpled chin. His smile was wide and open—he looked kind.

“That’s him?” Evie asked in disbelief.

“Call him over, as if you know him,” The Villain said, hard eyes not leaving the man across the room, who was now greeting and smiling at patrons.

“I don’t even know his name,” she hissed back.

“Malcolm,” The Villain said with absolute venom behind each syllable. “Just call him over casually, perhaps say—”

“Malcolm! Over here!” Evie yelled, standing slightly from her seat, cupping her hands around her mouth.

The Villain put two fingers to his temples. “I’m angry with myself for even trying.”

Evie ignored the people around her looking on with annoyance that she’d drawn their attention. She stuck her tongue out at one of them, and she thought her boss might faint.

Looking up from the group with twinkling eyes as they caught on to her, Malcolm picked up a pitcher of ale and made his way across the room.

He reached their table quickly, a jovial smile on his face as he said, “Good evening, my lady!” But it slipped when he caught sight of The Villain’s face. “Oh, for the love of the gods.” Malcolm’s eyes widened. “What the fuck are you doing here, brother?”

You'll Also Like