Chapter no 27

Once Upon a Broken Heart

Evangeline’s mother once told her that there were five different types of castles in the North. The fortress castle, the enchanted castle, the haunted castle, the ruined castle, and the storybook castle. Evangeline had yet to see all the different types of castles. But she immediately thought the words storybook castle as she stepped out of Jacks’s carriage and took in the lovely structure before her.

Made of sparkling purple bricks, gabled blue roofs, and pink-lined windows with golden light blazing through, Evangeline imagined this was the place where fairytales were formed. Then she immediately hoped she was wrong, given that Jacks would only ruin whatever was inside.

“Did you bring me here to destroy someone’s happily ever after?” she asked.

Jacks glared at the castle, eyes like daggers, as he started down the cobbled path. “You will not find any happy endings here. The matriarch of House Fortuna lives inside these ridiculous walls. She likes to pretend she’s a loving storybook grandmother, but she’s about as sweet as poison. If you want to get through this visit alive, when you meet the matriarch, you’ll kiss her cheek or hand as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Evangeline asked. “What do you want from her?”

Jacks gave her a look that said he couldn’t believe she actually thought he would answer.

She didn’t, of course, but she had to try. “Will this hurt her?” she pressed.

A frustrated sigh. “Once you’ve met the matriarch, you won’t worry about hurting her.”


“Little Fox.” Jacks brought a cool finger to her mouth, quieting her protests with more gentleness than he’d used in the carriage. As if she could have been tricked by it. “Let’s skip the part where we argue about this. I know you don’t want to do this. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone and that your sensitive human heart is trying to make you feel guilty. But you will follow through with this to fulfill your debt to me, and if you don’t, you’ll die.”

“If I die, I can’t marry Prince Apollo.”

“Then I’ll find another person to do the job. Everyone is replaceable.” He stroked her lower lip once before pulling away and striding carelessly down the cobbled path to the house.

She would have loved to have turned and gone the opposite way. She didn’t completely believe she was expendable. But she also couldn’t forget the way Jacks had walked away when she’d turned to stone. She might not have fully believed she was replaceable, but she did believe Jacks would allow her to get hurt or worse if it got him what he wanted.

“I now understand why you ignore everyone at parties,” Evangeline huffed, practically jogging to catch up with him. “If anyone actually spoke with you, they’d stop whispering about how mysterious you are and talk about how much they can’t stand you.”

Jacks speared her with a sideways glance. “Meanness doesn’t suit you, Little Fox. And I don’t ignore everyone. The other night, I had a lovely conversation with your stepsister.”

“Stay away from her,” Evangeline warned.

“That’s funny. I was about to tell you the same thing.” Jacks’s lips curved like a crescent blade, waiting for her to take the bait. To ask why he’d warned her away. The question was on the tip of her tongue. But Evangeline didn’t want to doubt her stepsister again. Marisol was not the one who’d turned a wedding party to stone or bewitched a prince so he would love her. She was a cursed reputation she didn’t deserve, and exactly

what Evangeline might have been if she’d been raised by Agnes instead of her parents.

“I’m guessing you’re ignoring me because you already know she’s jealous of you.”

“Stop it,” Evangeline said. “I will not let you drive a wedge between us.”

“The wedge is already there. That girl is not your friend. She might tell herself she wants to be, but she wants what you have even more.”

“That’s not true!” Evangeline snapped. And she could have kept arguing. She could have continued fighting with Jacks until the end of Time. Luckily for Time, the path to the Fortuna cottage was short, and they’d already reached the door. It was the soft purple of frosted plums, with a cherub-shaped knocker buried in its center.

Jacks took the cherub’s ring and gave it two quick raps.

Evangeline swore the knocker frowned, and she understood how it felt.

She wouldn’t want to be touched by Jacks either. Not again. Her lips still tingled from where he’d touched her, and if she licked them, she knew she’d taste his blood again. He’d marked her. Now he planned to use her.

Nerves writhed inside her as the door before her opened. She wondered once more at what Jacks really wanted and what her kiss would do to the Fortuna matriarch.

As a servant led her and Jacks inside, she tried to figure out what he could possibly be after. It became immediately clear that the Fortunas were very wealthy. Everything in their storybook castle was twice as large as the items inside of the house where Evangeline had grown up. Even the carpets were thicker, swallowing the heels of her boots with every step. But Evangeline doubted Jacks was simply after wealth.

She watched him closely, specifically his eyes to see if they landed on any particular objects. The servant led them past a line of portraits of people with white-blond hair and painted smiles before finally settling them into a warm sitting room with two crackling marble fireplaces, a polished quartz piano, and a large bay window. There was a charming view of a snow- covered garden, where a fluffy snow cat pounced after a merry blue dragon laughing sparks.

Jacks didn’t even glance at the scene or any of the lovely things in the room. He stopped at one of the fireplaces, leaned an elbow against the mantel, and watched her with shameless intent.

Don’t worry, Little Fox. You might even enjoy this.

Before she could think too much about how Jacks’s lazy voice had made it into her head again, the door to the study swung open.

“I’ll give you one minute to get out of here before I let Jupiter and Hadez attack.” The older woman, who must have been the Fortuna matriarch, stormed into the room, flanked by a pair of steel-gray dogs that came up to her waist. “It’s not their dinner yet, but they’re always hungry for the meat of my enemies.”

“Tabitha,” Jacks sighed, dramatic as his pose. “There’s no need for over-the-top threats.”

“I assure you, my threats are genuine.” One wrinkled hand brushed over the dog to her left, and it bared a set of gleaming teeth. “You now have forty-two seconds. I meant it when I told you that I’d kill this little upstart if I ever crossed her path.”

The matriarch’s gaze swung over to Evangeline. With two circles of rouge painted on her cheeks and her dusky-lavender dress belted with a hanging gold chain, the older woman looked like a very expensive doll. The type that people had nightmares about coming to life and killing them in their sleep.

“Clearly, the papers have exaggerated your looks,” she said. “I can’t believe Apollo chose you over my Thessaly. Although after you’re out of the picture, I’ll make sure he fixes that.”

Evangeline wanted to hope the woman was joking. She had to be joking. People who lived in sparkly purple castles didn’t threaten to feed guests to their dogs.

Evangeline shot an uneasy look toward Jacks. He glared at the standing clock in the corner, tick-tick-ticking away.

Not joking, then.

“You have eight seconds,” said the matriarch.

The dogs both snarled, gray lips pulled back over canine teeth, as their owner toyed with the short fur on their heads.

Evangeline’s breathing turned shallow.

She told herself they were only dogs, and it wasn’t as if she needed to kiss their muzzles. She just needed to kiss the woman who was petting them.

“What pretty animals you have,” chattered Evangeline, heart racing with every word. She moved as if to pet the beasts, but she grabbed the woman’s shoulders instead and pressed a kiss to her papery cheek.

The Fortuna matriarch stiffened and squawked, “How dare—”

Her words were cut off by the yip and the bark of the dogs as they both jumped. Strong paws hit Evangeline’s torso. She tried to step back, but the hounds—

—were licking her?

One wet tongue smacked a sloppy dog kiss to Evangeline’s cheek, while the other lapped her neck affectionately.

Across from her, the Fortuna matriarch now wore a soft smile on her gently lined face, suddenly looking as sweet as her pretty purple castle.

“Jupiter! Hadez!” she commanded. “Stand down, my loves. Leave our precious guest alone.”

The dogs obeyed immediately, returning to all four legs.

Then the matriarch was giving Evangeline a hug as warm as fresh- baked cookies and knitted blankets. And for the first time, Evangeline was actually thankful for Jacks’s magic, because this was clearly his doing. The kiss had turned the matriarch from Killer Doll into Doting Grandmother.

“Forgive Jupiter and Hadez. They only act naughty like that when they’re exceptionally excited to see someone. You’ll have to pardon my deplorable behavior as well. I wish I would have known you were visiting today. I’d have had Cook make you some hobgoblin fudge.”

Jacks laughed and covered it up with a cough that sounded a lot like

hobgoblin fudge.

“The fudge is my Thessaly’s favorite,” the matriarch prattled on. “Have you met her yet? We thought Prince Apollo might actually propose to her, and even though she was rather upset he didn’t, I think the two of you would be dear friends. I could send a carriage to have her brought here right now.”

“That won’t be necessary, Tabitha.” Jacks shoved off from the fireplace and sauntered to Evangeline’s side with insouciant grace. “I believe what Miss Fox would really love is to see the Fortuna vault.”

“No.” The older woman’s silver head shook, wooden but insistent, as if she didn’t want to say no, but something stronger than Jacks’s magic compelled her. “I don’t let anyone in the vaults. I’m—I’m sorry.” Her shoulders sagged, and the lines in her face stood out more starkly as she turned back to Evangeline.

The expression was uncomfortably reminiscent of Apollo. Whenever he thought Evangeline unhappy, it was as if his heart forgot how to beat and the rest of him began to fail along with it.

“I don’t like this,” Evangeline muttered to Jacks.

“Then help me end it,” he whispered. “The sooner I get what I want, the sooner she gets her nasty temperament back.”

“There are other places I could take you,” the matriarch went on. “What if I give you a tour of the house and show you portraits of all my favorite grandchildren?”

“As interesting as that sounds, Jacks is right.” Evangeline felt a pang of guilt for willingly aiding Jacks, but this wouldn’t end until he achieved his goal. This was also her chance to figure out what he was after, and why he wanted her to marry Apollo. “I would like to see the vaults.”

The Fortuna matriarch gnawed on her lip and squeezed the broken skeleton key dangling around her neck. She didn’t want to do this, not even a little. There must have been something very precious—or dangerous—in her vaults. But since this request came directly from Evangeline, the enchanted woman seemed unable to fight it. She was doll-like again, lips forming a jolly smile that was completely at odds with her shaking limbs as she turned and led them toward the vaults.

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