Chapter no 26

Once Upon a Broken Heart

Little Fox,

If you were attempting to write a threatening or persuasive letter, your skills need work. I don’t have time to tromp through the woods with you, but you can meet me at noon tomorrow in Capricorn Alley.



Dear Jacks,

I was only trying to be polite. It’s a shame you’re so used to conniving and deception that you cannot even recognize courtesy. Not all of us rely on manipulation to get what we want.


Evangeline Fox


Of course Evangeline couldn’t send that message, but it had felt good to write it before sneaking out to meet Jacks on the following day.

She’d been a little worried as to how she’d manage it. After the incendiary scandal sheet article about her safety, Apollo had given her a pair of guards to make sure no one hurt her. But he also gave her absolute

freedom to do as she wished, and she used that freedom to gain information about Wolf Hall’s secret passages. There was one conveniently located in her room that she’d used to make her escape.

Evangeline didn’t know if anyone would notice she was gone. But she hoped they wouldn’t track her down to the narrow strip of fog and dark that was Capricorn Alley.

She huddled deeper into her fur-lined cape and rubbed her hands together, wishing she’d worn thicker gloves. Away from all the docks and shops, this alley felt like the sort of place a person would only find if they were lost. Snow had fallen across all of Valorfell overnight, but it seemed to have missed this uninviting spot, leaving its grim gray stones untouched. The only door had a ring of skulls emblazed upon it, which made her think the business done here was not the savory sort.

An unmarked black lacquered coach pulled up.

Her heart kicked out several extra beats. She wasn’t doing anything illicit or wrong. She was trying to do something right, something noble. But her heart must have felt a threat, for it continued to race as the door swung open and she slipped inside the carriage.

Jacks looked like a debauched stable boy who’d stolen his master’s coach. He lounged across one side of the carriage, one scuffed leather boot propped carelessly up on the cushions. A smoke-gray doublet was crumpled on the soft leather seat beside him, leaving him in a linen shirt with rolled- up sleeves and half-done buttons. Evangeline caught a hint of a rough scar on his chest, right as he set his jeweled dagger to a silver apple and began to slice.

“Do you stare at everyone like that, or just me?” Jacks looked up. Vivid blue eyes met hers.

It shouldn’t have made her blood rush the way that it did. It wasn’t even that much of a gaze, more of an idle glance before he went back to slicing the metallic peel off his apple, filling the air with crisp sweetness.

Evangeline decided to get straight to the point. “I need you to undo whatever you’ve done to Prince Apollo.”

“What’s the matter?” Slice. “Has he hurt you?”

“No, I don’t think Apollo would harm me. He practically worships me

—that’s the problem. I’m all he thinks about. He gives me bathtubs of jewels and tells me that I’m the only thing he needs.”

“I fail to see how that’s an issue.” Jacks’s sullen mouth settled somewhere between a frown and a laugh. “When you first came to my church, you’d lost your love. Now I’ve given you a new one.”

“So this is your doing?”

Jacks’s eyes met hers, returning to ice. “Leave, Little Fox. Go back to your prince and your happily ever after, and don’t ask me that question again.”

In other words: yes.

One by one, the tiny bubbles of hope inside of Evangeline broke. Pop.

Pop. Pop.

She had known it was all too much to be true. She sensed that she was living in an illusion and if she looked closely, she’d see that everything she’d thought was stardust was really just the burning embers of a wicked spell. Apollo didn’t love her; for all she knew, he didn’t even like her. He’d once said she was his dream come true, but she was really his curse.

“I’m not leaving this carriage until you fix Apollo.” “You want him to fall out of love with you?”

“Apollo doesn’t actually love me. What he’s feeling isn’t real.”

“It feels real to him,” Jacks drawled. “He’s probably happier than he’s ever been in his life.”

“But life is about more than happiness, Jacks!” She hadn’t meant to yell, but the Fate was absolutely maddening. “Don’t pretend you’ve done nothing wrong.”

“Wrong and right are so subjective.” Jacks sighed. “You say what I’ve done to Apollo is wrong. I say I’ve done him a favor, and I’m doing one for you as well. I suggest you take it—marry the prince and let him make you a princess, and then a queen.”

“No,” Evangeline said. This was not as bad as when Jacks had turned an entire wedding party to stone, but Apollo’s condition wasn’t something she could live with. She wanted to be someone’s love, not their curse. And if

Apollo knew what had been done to him, she imagined he wouldn’t want to live with it either.

She also didn’t believe for a second that this was some sort of favor. Jacks wanted this wedding to happen. She still didn’t know why, but he’d gone to a lot of trouble for it.

“Fix Apollo, or I’ll call off the wedding.”

Jacks smirked. “You’re not going to break an engagement with a prince.”

“Try me. You didn’t believe I’d drink from Poison’s goblet either, but I did it.”

Jacks clenched his jaw. She smiled, triumphant.

Then the coach started rumbling ahead.

Evangeline clutched the cushions to keep from falling forward into Jacks’s lap. “Wait—where are we going?”

“Your next assignment.” Jacks’s gaze landed on her wrist, and the two remaining broken heart scars started to burn. Prick. Prick. It was like hot teeth digging into her skin.

Evangeline gripped the cushions tighter, suddenly feeling queasy. She was still dealing with the consequences of her last kiss. She wasn’t ready for another one. And she was engaged, at least for now.

Jacks’s blue eyes twinkled as if he found her worry amusing. “Don’t fret, Little Fox. This will be a different sort of kiss. I’m not about to ask you to do something that could put this wedding in jeopardy.”

“I already told you. There’s not going to be a wedding if you don’t fix Apollo.”

“If I fix Apollo, there also won’t be a wedding.” “Then I guess I’m canceling my engagement.”

“Do that, and you’ll be the one destroying him, not me.” Jacks stabbed his apple with the knife. “If you don’t marry Apollo, he’ll be more heartbroken than you can imagine. And it will never heal with time, it will only grow and fester. Unless I will it, Apollo will never get over his unrequited love for you. He will spend the rest of his life consumed by it until it eventually destroys him.”

Jacks finished with a smile that bordered on downright cheerful, as if the idea of leaving someone forever brokenhearted put him in a better mood.

He was terrible. There was no other word to describe him—except maybe heartless or depraved or rotten. The way Jacks seemed to enjoy pain was absolutely staggering. The apple in his hand probably possessed more sympathy than he did. This was not the same young man who’d practically bled heartbreak all over the knave of his church. Something inside of him was broken.

LaLa had said there was a rumor that Jacks had been heartbroken by the empress’s younger sister. Evangeline hadn’t believed it initially. Jacks hadn’t appeared sad her first night in Valorfell, just crueler and colder. But maybe that’s what heartbreak did to Fates? Maybe it didn’t leave them hurt and lonely and horribly unhappy. Maybe broken hearts just made Fates even more inhuman. Was that what had happened to Jacks?

“Are you feeling sorry for me?” Jacks laughed, harsh and mocking. “Don’t, Little Fox. It would be a mistake for you to tell yourself that I’m not a monster. I’m a Fate, and you are nothing but a tool to me.” He brought the tip of his dagger to his mouth and toyed with his lips until he drew several drops of blood.

“If you’re trying to scare me—”

“Careful with your threats.” Jacks shot across the carriage and pressed the bloody tip of the dagger to the center of her mouth.

Evangeline might have gasped if she’d not feared he’d slip the blade between her lips. His blue eyes were back to bright as he taunted her with the blade, pressing it to her closed mouth until she could taste the disturbing sweetness of his blood.

“The only reason I’m entertaining this conversation is because, as you’ve realized, I need you to marry Apollo. So, I will give you a wedding gift. I promise to restore the prince and erase all his artificial feelings for you after you marry him.”

The coach rocked to a sudden halt. But Jacks didn’t move, and neither did Evangeline. She didn’t even look out the window to see where they’d stopped. She just kept her gaze on him.

Jacks had backed her into a corner. She had to marry Apollo to save him. And if she saved him—if Jacks erased Apollo’s feelings for her after they were married—Apollo would surely hate her almost as deeply as he thought he loved her right now.

The only person who’d truly win would be Jacks.

Cautiously, she leaned back until Jacks’s knife was no longer at her lips. But she could still taste the sharp of his blade, the cold of the metal, and the sweet of his blood still staining her lips. She felt as if she’d taste it forever. “At least tell me why you want this wedding.”

“Just accept the gift. What I want isn’t going to hurt anyone.”

She eyed the jeweled dagger he’d just pressed to her lips. “I don’t think you and I have the same definition of hurt.”

“Be thankful for that, Little Fox.” Jacks gave her a smile that was all sharp edges. A drop of blood fell from the corner of his mouth, and something godforsaken washed over his expression. “Hurt is what made me.”

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