Chapter no 13

Once Upon a Broken Heart

Don’t turn around.

Don’t turn around. Don’t—

Evangeline only meant to look for a second. Just to make sure he was really there, that the phantom cold covering her skin was not from some unseen ghost or breeze.

Her eyes went toward the arch first. Jacks was just beyond it, fog from the other side still clinging to the buckles on his boots as he cut across the clearing.

The ice at the back of Evangeline’s neck traveled around her throat and across her décolletage. What was he doing there?

Since the last time she’d seen him, Jacks had changed his hair to a striking shade of dark blue. If his sharp face weren’t so unmistakable, Evangeline might not have recognized him so quickly. But even his face looked colder than before. His lips were two wicked slashes, his eyes ice, and his perfect skin more marble than she remembered, pale and smooth and impenetrable.

In his church, there’d been a hint of twisted playfulness that softened some of his merciless edges. But all of that was gone. He’d lost something since she’d last seen him as if he’d been a touch human before but now he was not. Now he was all Fate, and she needed to make sure he didn’t discover her.

“Ah, you’ve spotted Lord Jacks.”

Evangeline quickly spun back to her new friend.

“He’s a close confidant of Apollo’s,” the girl said. “But he won’t help you win the prince.”

“I—I just thought he looked familiar,” Evangeline babbled. And she tried, she really tried, not to look at him again.

The last time she’d seen Jacks, he’d walked away as she’d turned to stone. She didn’t want to know what else he might condemn her to if he spotted her. But she was like the tide drawn by the tremendous force of the moon. It was no wonder waves were always crashing; they must have hated the pull as much as she did.

When she turned, Jacks was still cutting through the party, all cold- blooded grace and disinterest. Instead of a traditional doublet, he wore a loose shirt of gray linen, raven-black pants, and rugged leather boots, the same dark color as the fur-lined half cape casually slung over one of his straight shoulders. He didn’t appear to be dressed for a party—the buttons on his shirt weren’t even all done—but he captured more than just Evangeline’s attention. People looked away from Apollo, lounging across his balcony rail, simply to watch Jacks rudely ignore everyone who attempted to engage him.

No one appeared afraid of him the way they should have been. No one flinched or paled or ran. Evangeline had never found out exactly what sort of trouble Jacks had gotten into during the Week of Terror, but since then, he must have decided to conceal his true identity. Here he was just an insolent young aristocrat with a ruthless face and the ear of the prince.

Jacks walked straight toward the phoenix tree and was immediately given permission by the guards to climb the stairs winding around it. Not once did his gaze drift from his path or venture anywhere near her. Which was good. She didn’t want Jacks to notice her.

“Lord Jacks doesn’t really speak to anyone,” said Evangeline’s new friend. “There are rumors he’s recovering from a great heartbreak.”

Evangeline stifled a humorless laugh. Jacks didn’t look heartbroken to her. If anything, he looked even more unfeeling than the last time she’d seen him.

The safest bet for her would have been to run. To escape back through the arch while Jacks was out of sight. But if she left now, she’d also disappoint the empress and abandon her best chance at meeting Prince Apollo.

Evangeline looked back up at the balcony where the prince still lounged across the rail. His pose was outlandish, but it was also interesting and a little like something Luc might have done if he were a prince. Not because Luc was vain. Luc merely enjoyed attention. He was always teasing and entertaining, and Evangeline wondered if Apollo was like that, too. What if Apollo really was her chance at a happily ever after, and she ran away because of a different what-if named Jacks?

Just thinking about him made the scars on her wrist pulse. But Jacks hadn’t even noticed her.

“What else have you heard about Lord Jacks?” Evangeline asked. “Do you know why he’s here? Is he some sort of ambassador?”

“Oh no.” The other girl laughed. “I’m fairly certain Jacks would be an abominable ambassador. I’ve actually heard he ended up exiled here after getting into some nasty business with a princess from the south.”

It was said the way most people relayed common gossip, light and dry like sparkling wine. But the words gave Evangeline a feeling that was far from bubbly. She recalled how the empress’s sister, Donatella, had said something about causing a war if she ran into someone in the North. Could she have been referring to Jacks? Was this why Jacks had left the south, because he’d done something terrible to Princess Donatella? “Do you know exactly what happened?”

“It’s hard to really know with the way that stories get twisted around here, but I think the southern princess was the person who broke his heart.”

Evangeline tried to hide her skepticism. Princess Donatella was lovely and lively—Evangeline had liked her a great deal. But it was difficult to imagine any human girl breaking any part of Jacks.

“LaLa! Evangeline!” a voice interrupted from behind. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you two.”

Evangeline shot a glance over her shoulder.

A man who looked almost exactly like Kutlass Knightlinger, dressed in the same black leather and lace-lined shirt, was striding toward them.

“Kristof Knightlinger,” provided the other girl—who must have been the same LaLa that had been mentioned in The Daily Rumor. And it seemed they were both about to be mentioned again.

Evangeline’s stomach turned. Though Kristof had been kind to her in his writings today, she didn’t want to do another interview where all her words were twisted until she sounded like a penniless orphan scheming for a prince, or worse. “Is it too late to run?” she whispered.

“Probably, but I could always say I scared you away by threatening to chop off all your pretty pink hair if you talked to Apollo tonight.”

At first, Evangeline thought the other girl was joking, but that fiendish smile was back.

“Don’t look so horrified. I merely like being in the papers.” LaLa lifted her glass as if toasting herself. “Despite what The Daily Rumor says, I already know I have no real chance of marrying the prince, but I enjoy being a part of the fun. Now scamper off before I can’t save you.”

“I’ll owe you,” Evangeline promised before hurrying away.

Her skirt was too fitted to go very fast, and she wasn’t really paying attention to where she was going. She was so caught up in the threat that was Kristof that she’d forgotten about her other threat until she nearly smacked into his solid chest.

Evangeline tried to infuse her spine with mettle as her heart raced with panic.

She’d seen Jacks from far away, but this close was different. He was a thousand cuts happening all at once. Devastation made of hair as blue as dark ocean waves, and lips sharp as cracked glass that would delightedly cut her.

How could no one else here know that he was a Fate?

Evangeline could feel his inhuman gaze gliding over her skin, making her blood rush as his eyes raked over every silver line wrapping tightly around her hips, her waist, her chest. He stopped—gaze drifting off before meeting her eyes as if she wasn’t worth the effort to continue.

“What are you doing here?” He tossed a burnished gold apple with one hand. “I thought you’d already be married to that boy you loved by now.” His voice was even more pitiless than the last time she’d heard it, when he’d left her in the garden as she’d turned to stone.

Evangeline tried to stop herself from lashing out. She needed to get away from Jacks, not fight with him. But something about his lack of care made her care even more.

“You ruined any chances I might have had with Luc when you had him mauled by a wolf!”

Jacks stopped tossing his apple. “I’ve never had anyone mauled by a wolf. That’s incredibly messy.” He studied her for a beat, eyes finally meeting hers.

Before, she’d sworn his eyes were bright, arresting blue, but tonight they were pale blue ice and utterly soulless. One look and Evangeline felt cold all over. She thought about LaLa’s claim that he’d had his heart broken by Princess Donatella. But Jacks’s next words destroyed any sympathy Evangeline might have had for him.

“So you didn’t really love him in the end. Were the scars all over, or did you just take a look at his mutilated face and run the other direction?”

Evangeline scowled. Jacks would think the worst of her, because that’s probably what he would have done. But she didn’t correct him. She’d rather have the Fate think badly of her than know that he’d been right and the real reason she wasn’t with Luc was because he had chosen Marisol, and then he’d disappeared. But Evangeline wasn’t going to dwell on that. She’d come here to forget about Luc, to find a new happy ending, and she planned to do just that, hopefully with a very different prince from the one standing before her. “I’d rather not discuss this with you, and I think they’re calling everyone for dinner—”

“Oh no, Little Fox. We have unfinished business.” Jacks dropped his apple and took her neck, cupping her pulse with his cold palm.

“Jacks—” Evangeline gasped. “What are you doing?” And what had he just called her?

His other hand slid into her hair, mussing her curls. The touch was inappropriate and intimate as the too-familiar nickname he’d just given her.

She could feel her chances at happily ever after slipping further away as she heard the party chatter shifting to whispers. A hundred tongues all suddenly talking about the scandalous way Jacks was holding her right under the prince’s balcony. “Jacks, I told you I’d kiss three other people, not you.”

“Then why aren’t you pulling away?” he taunted. “I can’t fight you—you’re a Fate.”

“Liar. I’m not hurting you or kissing you.” He moved the hand at her neck to toy with her racing pulse, softly dragging his fingers up and down over the frantic beat-beat-beat, making her heart pound even faster. “I think this excites you.”

“You’re delusional!” Evangeline finally pulled away. Her heart was racing, but it wasn’t from excitement, she was sure. Although, maybe, there was just a tiny hint of it, but she couldn’t fathom why.

Jacks laughed under his breath. “Relax, Little Fox. I’m not trying to ruin you.” He stole her wrist and tugged her closer in a mockery of a dance.

She stepped back, and he stalked forward until her thighs met the hard table. “What are you doing, Jacks?”

“I’m trying to make you more interesting.” He leaned in closer. He didn’t touch her anywhere other than her wrist, but someone watching from afar might have thought they were on the verge of kissing from the intentional way he angled his body and canted his head. Only Evangeline could see that his eyes were dead. “Earlier, you were just a minor threat, one that people imagined might disappear if they chose not to look your way. But now that I’ve noticed you, there will be no disappearing.”

“You think too highly of yourself,” Evangeline hissed.

But people were definitely watching. At least half the eyes of the party were on them. From her peripheral vision, she could see that Kristof Knightlinger had taken out a pen and started jotting things in a notebook.

“If you’re lucky,” Jacks murmured, “Apollo is watching, too, and he’s already jealous.”

“I don’t want to make him jealous.”

“You should. It will make your job so much easier, since Apollo is the first person I want you to kiss.”

In one of his preternaturally quick moves, Jacks dropped her wrist, pulled a jeweled dagger from his boot, and pricked the tip of his ring finger. Dark red blood glittered with impossible flecks of gold.

Evangeline tried to lean away, but he moved faster. He brought his hand up to her mouth and marked the seam of her lips with the blood. Metallic and sweet. Incredibly sweet. She wanted to hate the taste, but it was more like a feeling than a flavor. It was the last perfect moment before a dream ends, drops of sunshine falling like rain, lost wishes that had been found. Evangeline wanted to lick—

“No.” Jacks lifted his hand quickly, closing her lips with his fingers. “Don’t lick it, you need to let the blood sink into your lips or the magic won’t work.”

Evangeline’s euphoria turned to cold, slick dread. When she’d made the deal with Jacks, she’d been nervous about kissing strangers—it had never occurred to her that her kiss could actually hurt them, that Jacks might paint her lips with blood and infect her with his magic.

“What did you do?” she asked. “What will happen if I kiss Prince Apollo?”

“When,” Jacks corrected flatly. “If you don’t kiss Prince Apollo before tonight’s party is over, you’ll die. Which would be a shame, since there are much better ways to go.” Jacks’s unfeeling eyes dropped to the mouth he’d just painted with his blood.

Then he strolled back toward the rest of the party.

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