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Chapter no 37 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

One of the maps is missing from the cartography closet.” Evie’s boss didn’t even bother to look up from his own maps strewn haphazardly across the table in the small alcove at the end of the hall.

“Could it be because I am holding a few of them?” he asked dryly, still not looking up.

Rude.

“No, smartass. It’s one of the maps that details the Valiant Guards’ regular routes into the city. It’s not there—someone took it.” When she’d seen her boss coming out with a handful of maps that morning, an idea sparked. The Villain was getting hit through his shipments, so if any of the maps weren’t accounted for…

And they weren’t. Evie had spent her entire morning scouring the closet, checking each one off as she went until one box was left unchecked.

He finally looked up, brow furrowed. “I don’t understand. You need a key to get into that closet, and the only people who have one are you and me.”

Evie placed her hands on her hips and glared. “What are you implying?” “Be calm, little tornado—it wasn’t an accusation. Just an observation.”

His use of the nickname made her raised shoulders relax. “I have my key here. Where is yours?”

Evie pulled it from the pocket of her skirts and held it up, twirling it between her fingers. “And the lock wasn’t broken. Could it have been picked?”

The Villain shook his head, standing up from the chair he’d been sitting in. “That lock is unpickable—it’s warded with magic. I—” He paused, his face going white.

“What?” Evie practically yelled.

“There was a third key,” he said, squeezing his eyes shut and pinching the bridge of his nose.

Evie waited for him to continue, feeling as if she were about to spring outside her skin. But he didn’t speak, just stood there, not moving an inch. She waited one more beat before speaking, because really, this wasn’t a melodrama. “Hello! Who has it?”

He shook his head. “It matters not.” When she started to argue, he held out his hand. “Believe me, Sage. Let it go.”

Because she was so very good at doing that.

But she obliged anyway. For now. She was tired more than she was curious, and that was jarring enough that Evie took a step back.

It was nearing late afternoon, and she needed to go home. Needed to let family know she was well and assure that Lyssa was still being taken care of despite how much better their father was doing over the past few months.

Shaking her head, she held up her hands in surrender. “Sir, I’m exhausted. I need to go home. Make sure it’s still standing and all that, and then I need to take a nap, preferably with a toasty fire in the fireplace and the pitter-patter of rain against my roof.”

The surprise on his face melted into what almost appeared to be concern. But every reaction was always such a subtle shift of emotion, it was next to impossible to interpret some days.

“Yes. I suppose we can continue this the day after tomorrow.” There was no way to tell by his voice if he was angry or upset. It was too even, an almost practiced sort of steady. “I was going to announce at closing time that everyone has the day off tomorrow.”

Evie blinked. “But it’s the middle of the week. Why?”

“Until we find the person giving away our secrets, I’d like to have the office formally searched without anyone here to interfere. If the spy left even a scrap of a clue, I want to find it before they have a chance to get rid of it.”

She nodded and scanned the lines of stress across his face. He probably needed a nap as well, but that was hardly her concern.

“I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, I suppose.”

“Actually, Sage, now that I’ve considered it, you’re not getting the day off. I need your help in the search.”

Evie frowned, her brows furrowing as she said, “Why am I being punished because someone is trying to blow you up?”

The Villain lifted a brow, ready to respond, but his head whipped to the side. The sounds of whispered giggles came down the hall, and both Evie

and The Villain waited for a moment so they could greet the two wanderers. Until the echo of two voices reached them—one most likely a man and the other a woman.

“I wonder if the boss will give a reward to anyone who knows information regarding the mole.” Evie could tell by the tone that it was one of her least favorite interns.

“He might…” But Evie didn’t hear the rest because in her panic, she’d thrown open a panel of the wall that lay before one of the hidden rooms and threw her boss—who was apparently so shocked that Evie touched his person that he moved without protest—inside with her.

The space was not made for two people—in fact, it was hardly fit for one. Evie’s entire body was pressed tightly against her boss’s, his low voice hissing in her ear. “Why the deadlands did you do that?” he grumbled under his breath. “Little tornado.”

“Hey,” she warned, ignoring how close together their faces were. “That time ‘little tornado’ sounded like an insult.”

“When were you under the illusion it was a compliment?” he whispered back incredulously.

She held up a hand to silence him and nodded toward the wall.

Muffled words were being spoken, but Evie couldn’t quite make them out. Pressing her ear against the cold stone panel, she squeaked when the wall gave a little under the gentle pressure of her head. Before she could fall through it, making an absolute ass of herself, strong hands wrapped around her waist, bringing her back into him.

The wall stopped moving, and the continued conversation flitted through the crack, thankfully distracting her from the large male body pressed against hers.

“Whoever’s screwing The Villain over better be counting their calendar days.”

“Did you see the way he carried Ms. Sage in after the klutz almost got herself killed? If I knew being a charity case was all it took to get The Villain’s attention, I would’ve made up a far better sob story in my application letter.”

A cruel laugh followed the words, and Evie felt a numbness settle over her. It was freeing, in a way, that words such as those did not sting and fell her the way they used to. Despite her many moments of doubt, Evie knew

who she was. She didn’t always get things right, but she worked hard, and she always kept trying, even when she failed.

Those were good things to be, good things to have around.

And if Evie was able to choke down one more breath, perhaps she’d begin to believe that was true.

“Sage,” The Villain whispered.

“Shhh!” she shushed back, turning toward him and pointing her finger to the door. Listen, she mouthed at him.

“It has to be someone higher up in the company,” the man said.

“Oh, most certainly. I’m sure the boss already knows who it is. He’s just giving the fool time to sweat while he comes up with the perfect plan to dispatch them.”

Evie felt his hands tighten on her waist ever so slightly. She wondered if he was trying to figure out a polite way to get past her, but his fist tightened at the mention of his team. He was getting angry. She couldn’t see his face, but there was a palpable energy in the air.

“Could you imagine if it was Evangelina?” the male voice said, and they both cackled at that.

Evie clenched her fists so hard, she thought her bones might crack.

“As if that woman is capable of any kind of deception. She looks like she’d get lost in her own home.”

Embarrassed heat flooded her cheeks as she remembered who was currently pressed up against her—and how her boss was now hearing what the staff really thought of his assistant.

It occurred to her that many people would love to be in her position as the fly on the wall. Getting to hear the words people spoke of you when you weren’t around to defend yourself. But as it turned out, it was awful. Absolutely horrendous.

What a wonderful day I’m having.

“I’m going to—”

Evie whirled around, which caused her shoulder to graze The Villain’s chest in the cramped area, and put her small hand over her boss’s mouth before he could say another word.

“You’re not going to do anything,” she whispered. “Now hush, or we might miss something important.” It was quite literally torture to hear every disparaging word—but they’d stand here and listen if it meant saving Trystan’s life.

Evie couldn’t explain it, but she had the strong feeling something important was about to happen, like a large object was hovering overhead, waiting to drop. She just hoped they weren’t standing under it when it fell.

“Did you hear what the other interns were saying?” The woman’s voice was haughty.

“No, what?”

“They found a mask with King Benedict’s emblem on it. In a corner of the stairwell the day of the explosion.”

“What?” the male voice said, astonished. “Why didn’t anyone report it to the boss?”

“My guess is they didn’t want to give it to him and then be deemed a suspect for coming across it in the first place.”

“Makes sense.” The male voice chuckled. “Have you seen the way the man handles slights against him? Look at what he did to Joshua Lightenston.”

“Oh, no.” The female’s voice became a conniving whisper. “I heard he did that because of what Joshua said about Ms. Sage.”

Evie narrowed her eyes at The Villain, who’d gone rigid underneath her hand, black eyes looking everywhere but at her.

“We better stop this, Saline. Unless we want to be next.”

“All hail saintly Ms. Sage.” Saline chuckled as their footsteps faded into the distance.

Evie realized her hand was still over The Villain’s mouth, his soft lips a soothing contrast to the stubble tickling her fingers.

Dropping her hand back to her side, Evie awkwardly apologized. “Sorry, sir.”

Then she quickly shoved the hidden door back open and stumbled into the light, a burning sensation prickling along her skin.

“Is your hand bleeding?” His already low voice seemed to have dropped an octave. When Evie turned back to address his question, she enjoyed the sight of his back muscles stretching his shirt as he pushed the heavy wall panel closed.

“Um,” she mumbled, looking down to see her nails had scraped one of the blisters that still remained on her palm. “Oh, look at that. I suppose it is.”

“Is it from the burns you got last night?” He said it so casually, Evie nearly missed the implication of the sentence.

She exhaled hard, taking a step backward to have a better look at him. “How did you know about that? Did Tatianna rat me out?”

The Villain rolled his eyes, moving back to the table where his maps were. He took a seat and picked up the charcoal pencil. “Hardly. Tatianna is a vault. I knew about your hands last night.”

Evie was confused and tired and still a little wounded from being raked over the coals just now by people who were meant to respect her. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because you were quite obviously trying to hide it. I didn’t see a need to draw attention to it against your wishes.” He kept looking down, his voice about as emotionless as a brick.

Well, Evie seemed to have enough emotions for them both. “Well, it’s not from the burns. Not exactly,” she grumbled. “I squeezed my palms too hard, which happens sometimes when I’m feeling…stressed.”

This caused him to jerk his head up and look at her, too directly. “Because of what those nitwits said?” He looked in the direction they had walked, back to the office space.

“I prefer the word ‘nincompoops,’” Evie said thoughtfully. “Why?” The Villain angled his head at her.

“Because it sounds funnier.”

He sighed like he was exhausted. “I don’t have a response to that.”

“Excellent.” She nodded, itching to leave before his scrutinizing gaze burned a hole through her. But something occurred to her that gave her enough courage to look right at him as she asked, “What did Joshua Lightenston say about me?”

Evie tried not to flinch when his eyes darted away from hers and found something interesting out the window beside the table. “I don’t recall.”

“You don’t recall?” Evie said skeptically. “You, who recalled during an inventory the other day that you’d only fired seven arrows at some knight last year, can’t remember what an intern said a few weeks ago?”

She watched The Villain clench his jaw, and suddenly, she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. Because, whatever was said about her, it must be unbelievably bad if even someone with as evil a heart as Trystan couldn’t bear to repeat it.

“Never mind,” Evie said quickly, her stomach twisting. “I really don’t want to know.”

He sighed. “Joshua Lightenston was impertinent. Let’s leave it at that, Sage.”

“All right.” Evie swallowed, wringing her hands together.

“That’s it?” He looked at her suspiciously, and his knowledge of her notorious stubborn streak sent a pang of familiar comfort through her.

“That’s it.” Evie offered what she hoped was a convincing smile. This wasn’t the first time someone had said something mean about her. It certainly wouldn’t be the last. “I’m tired, sir. I think I’ll head home.”

All of a sudden, the exhaustion from the last several days nearly buckled her knees. The guvre, her injuries, the gossip. It all just seemed too much, and she wanted to go home. To go to sleep. As if to prove her point, a large yawn escaped her mouth as she rushed to cover it with her palm.

“I’ll take you home,” he said, stretching his shoulders.

“That’s not necessary, sir,” Evie said, feeling herself sway from the exhaustion.

He put a hand on her arm to steady her. “Yes. It is.”

As he gathered his maps and guided her away, Evie couldn’t help but remember why she’d sought him out in the first place. Someone had stolen a map.

And Trystan knew who it was.

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