Chapter no 44

Once Upon a Broken Heart

If Jacks decided he wanted to break free of his prison, Evangeline doubted it would take much effort.

She needed to find a way to distract him.

She could question him about something he found interesting. She wanted to ask him more about the lock and why her blood had opened it. But he’d already shot that subject down. She also wondered if she already knew the answer—if her ability to magically open the lock had something to do with the Valory Arch. When Apollo had told her about the prophecy that had locked the arch, he’d said that once every line of it was fulfilled, it would create a key that would open the arch. What if she was that key?

Could it be possible? Or was it just that all the wild events of tonight were finally getting to Evangeline and giving her delusions of magical wonder? Only it didn’t feel like a delusion as she thought back to every time she’d stepped through an arch. All of them had whispered to her— words that made much more sense if she was this prophesized key.

We’re so pleased you found us. We’ve been waiting for you.

You could have unlocked me as well.

An uncomfortable thrill kicked through her. She didn’t want anything to do with the Valory Arch. She definitely didn’t want to be its key, even if this ability had helped save her life just now. Although, if she wanted to stay alive, she had to keep Jacks occupied.

Fortunately, Evangeline was not at a loss for questions. There was one in particular that had been gnawing at her for a while.

“Tell me what happened between you and the princess from the Meridian Empire, the one Chaos and LaLa mentioned earlier. Donatella.”

“No.” Jacks’s voice was pure vitriol. “I don’t want to talk about her.


This subject would be perfect.

Earlier, Jacks had merely flinched and then quickly masked his expression whenever the princess was mentioned. But either he was having issues with control or the vampire venom was making his emotions even stronger. Evangeline could once again feel the pressure of Jacks’s glare, but it was no longer on her neck or her pulse. It was dancing heat all over her.

“Tough luck, Jacks.” Evangeline folded her arms across her chest as he prowled back and forth inside his cage. “You need something to distract you, so you’re going to talk about Princess Donatella. I don’t care if you tell me how much you hate her or how much you love her. You can sing verses about how pretty she is or the color of her hair.”

Jacks made a strangled sound that might have been some estranged cousin of a laugh. “She’s not the kind of girl you sing about.” And yet something in his voice shifted, softened, and Evangeline had an oddly uncomfortable sensation that he actually would have sung songs about this girl.

“The first time I met her, she threatened to throw me from a sky carriage.”

“And you liked her for that?” Evangeline asked.

“I’d just threatened to kill her.” He said it as if they’d been flirting. “This is a terrible love story, Jacks.”

“Who said it was a love story?” His tone turned back to acid. Evangeline thought he might even stop talking. To her surprise, he continued. “When we met again, I kissed her.”

The way he said I kissed her was like the way someone else might have said they’d stabbed a person in the back. There was nothing longing or romantic about it, confirming Jacks had a misshapen definition of love. And yet somehow the thought of Jacks kissing the princess made something

painful wrench inside of Evangeline. “Did you kiss her because you thought she was your true love?”

“No. I needed something from her, and I told her that my kiss would kill her unless she got me what I wanted.”

“Wait—are you saying that your kiss isn’t deadly if you don’t want it to be?”

“Careful, Little Fox, you sound curious. But you shouldn’t be.” Jacks stopped pacing and drummed his long fingers against the iron gate, tapping a staccato sound. “I lied to Donatella. My kiss is always deadly. I slowed her heart so that it didn’t kill her immediately, but it should have ended her life in a matter of days, whether or not she did what I wanted.”

“Then why didn’t she die?”

“Probably because my heart started beating,” Jacks said flippantly, as if it were a small detail that could have easily been left out of the story, when there were entire stories dedicated to Jacks’s unbeating heart and the mythical girl that would finally make it beat again—his one true love.

Evangeline felt that terribly painful something churning inside her once again. Not that the idea of this girl being Jacks’s true love should have pained her. She didn’t even like Jacks. She shouldn’t have been bothered that another girl had made Jacks’s heart beat. She should have been happy the princess hadn’t died. Maybe Evangeline was just feeling sorry for Jacks because she already knew that this story didn’t end well.

“What happened then?”

“According to the stories, she was supposed to be my one true love,” Jacks confirmed. His voice was mocking, but it didn’t hide the pain clipping his words or hardening the edges of his features. “Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, that didn’t work out. She never forgave me for that first kiss. She fell in love with someone else, and then she stabbed me in the heart with my own knife.”

Evangeline took a shuddering breath, unable to imagine how such a thing would feel, especially for Jacks, whose entire driving force as a Fate was to find his one true love.

Evangeline could understand that drive. In fact, she understood it far better than she wanted to admit. She wanted to say she’d never risked

killing someone for love. But she had made a deal with Jacks that had turned a wedding party to stone, cursed a prince, and ultimately led her here. She kept thinking it was fate or Jacks that was toying with her life. But it had been her own questionable choices that had started her on this path.

With Luc, she’d told herself that she was acting out of love. But she wasn’t, not really. She wasn’t making loving choices, she was making compromising choices because she wanted love. Luc wasn’t her weakness

—love was. Not even just love but the idea of it.

This was why parts of Jacks’s story had twisted so painfully inside her. It wasn’t because she wanted Jacks. She didn’t want Jacks. She just wanted someone to want her the way Jacks had wanted this girl. And she didn’t want it to be because of a spell or a curse. Evangeline wanted a real love powerful enough to break a spell, which was exactly what Jacks wanted, too.

He leaned his head against the dark iron gate, and Evangeline would forever remember the way he looked just then.

He was still indescribably breathtaking, but it was all the tragic beauty of a sky where every single star was falling. His hair was a storm of broken gold. His eyes were a mess of silver and blue. The deadness she’d seen her first night in Valorfell was gone, but now she understood why it had been there, why he seemed so unable to give comfort or kindness. The girl who was supposed to be his one true love had literally stabbed him in the heart.

“I’m sorry Donatella wounded you so badly,” Evangeline said. And she meant it. She imagined Jacks was probably leaving a few things out, but she believed his hurt was genuine. “Maybe the stories have it wrong and there’s another true love waiting for you.”

Jacks laughed derisively. “Are you saying this because you think you can be her?” He eyed Evangeline through the bars, gaze bordering on indecent. “Do you want to kiss me, Little Fox?”

Something new and terrible knotted up inside her. “No, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“You don’t sound too sure about that. You might not like me, but I bet you’d like it if I kissed you.” His eyes went to her lips, and the heat that

swept across her mouth felt like the beginning of a kiss.

“Jacks, stop it,” she demanded. He didn’t really want to kiss her. He was just teasing her to deflect the pain. “I know what you’re doing.”

“I doubt it.” He smiled, flashing his dimples as he ran his tongue over the tip of a very sharp and long incisor, looking suddenly thoughtful. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay like this. I rather like these.”

“You also like daylight,” Evangeline reminded him.

“I could probably live without the sun if I could trade it for other things.” He cocked his head. “I wonder … if I were to become a true vampire, perhaps my kiss wouldn’t be fatal anymore.” His fangs lengthened. “You could let me bite you and we could try it out.”

Another piercing lick of heat, this time right beneath her jaw, then her wrist, and a few other intimate places she’d have never thought anyone would bite.

Evangeline blushed from her neck down to her collarbone. “We’re not talking about biting,” she said hotly.

“Then what should we talk about?” Jacks’s eyes returned to her lips, and more heat slipped between them as they parted.

Evangeline sucked in a sharp breath. Maybe she’d been wrong earlier. Maybe he did want to kiss her. But it didn’t mean anything. He was clearly still fixated on Princess Donatella. And LaLa had said that Jacks’s curse was his kiss—if there was even a sliver of attraction, he’d be tempted to kiss. But it didn’t mean he possessed any real feelings for the person.

“I’m curious,” she asked. “If you have the ability to control people, why didn’t you just use it to make the princess love you?”

Jacks’s taunting smile vanished. “I did.” “What happened?”

“I think my turn is over,” he said sharply. “Your turn now. And I want you to tell me about Luc.”

Evangeline winced. She really didn’t want to discuss Luc now, not after what had just happened, and not with Jacks, who had teased her about him since the moment she’d met him. “I’d like another question, please.”

“No. I answered your questions. You’re answering mine.”

“Why do you want to know about Luc? You just saw how the story ends.”

“Tell me how it started.” Jacks gave her one corner of a falsely cheerful smile. “Your tale clearly began on better footing than mine. What made you fall so madly in love with him that you were willing to pray to me?”

Evangeline took a deep breath.

“Stop stalling, Little Fox, or I might remember how much pain I’m in because all I can think about is tasting your blood.” Jacks’s eyes lowered.

The wave of heat attacked her chest, directly over her heart, and this time it felt like a bite, not a kiss.

“Fine—Luc was there for me when my father died.” “This was why you fell in love with him?”

“No … I think I loved him before that.” She was tempted to say that she loved him the first time she saw him, but Jacks would definitely mock her for that. “At first, I thought he was handsome. I still remember, the bell outside the shop door rang a full two seconds before the first time he walked inside, as if it, too, thought he was special.”

“Or it was trying to warn you away from him,” Jacks groaned. “Do you want me to keep going or not?”

Jacks mimed sealing his lips shut.

Evangeline doubted it would last. But he surprised her by making a genuine effort to listen politely.

She noticed that Jacks’s knuckles were white from clenching his fists, and his jaw appeared uncomfortably tight—he was struggling more now that he wasn’t talking—but he hopped atop one of the stone coffins and sat cross-legged like a child being told a story.

Evangeline wondered if she should stay standing in case she needed to run. But maybe it would put him at more ease if she mirrored his lead. Carefully, she sat down on the cold damp ground, giving her tired legs a rest.

“I grew up working in my father’s curiosity shop. I loved it—it felt more like my home than any other place in the world. But I spent so much time there that I didn’t really have close friends outside of it until I met Luc. At first I thought he just liked oddities. Then one day, he came in and he

didn’t buy anything. He said he just wanted to see me and he wasn’t too proud or afraid to admit it.”

“And…,” Jacks prompted.

“That was when I knew I loved him.”

“All he did was tell you he liked you?” Jacks sounded disappointed. “That was his grand gesture? Haven’t any other boys been nice to you?”

“Plenty of young men have been nice to me, and Luc made other grand gestures.”

Jacks scowled. “Tell me about these grand gestures.”

Evangeline squirmed against the cold ground and tried to tuck her legs more comfortably beneath her. Jacks would think that every relationship needed some magnificent gesture to validate it. “Not every love needs to make a great story, Jacks. The start of my romance with Apollo had the makings of an epic love tale, but you saw how badly that ended.”

“So you’re saying you’d settle for a boring romance if it ends well?” “Yes. I would gladly take an uneventful happily ever after.”

Jacks smirked. “No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t have been happy with Luc, and definitely not forever. The two of you aren’t well suited. He’s not half as strong as you—he didn’t even hesitate before he tried to bite you. And he wouldn’t have turned himself to stone to save you.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do. There’s always a way to break a curse. As soon as you drank from Poison’s goblet, it refilled. I didn’t stay to explain the rules, but they would have appeared on the side of the cup. Luc could have saved you if he wanted.”

Evangeline’s hands started trembling. No one had told her this. “That doesn’t mean anything. Luc was under a love spell from Marisol.”

“He could have broken it,” Jacks said bluntly. “If he had really loved you, the spell could have been broken. I’ve seen it happen.”

“Stop it, Jacks!” Evangeline shoved up to her feet. It was bad enough to know that she’d done so much for love; she didn’t want to hear that Luc had never really loved her.

“I’m not trying to be cruel, Little Fox, I—”

“No, Jacks, that’s exactly what you’re doing. It’s what you always do.” It was also what she’d expected, but she was too tired to take it anymore. She might have made questionable choices for love, but Jacks hurt people on purpose, for fun. “You know, maybe the real reason Donatella stabbed you in the heart and chose to love someone else wasn’t just because of that almost-fatal first kiss you gave her. Maybe it was your inability to understand any emotions that are remotely human.”

Jacks flinched. He was quick to cover it up, and it was hard to fully see, even with all the torches, but Evangeline would have sworn his cheeks had filled with streaks of color.

She felt a stitch of guilt, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. “I bet you never even apologized for kissing her. And that’s probably not even the worst thing you did. I mean, isn’t your idea of romance kissing a girl and then waiting to see whether or not she dies? I know the stories say that your kisses are worth dying for, but how can they say that if everyone dies? Who wrote those stories? Did you write them to make yourself feel better?”

Jacks wiped his face of all emotion, slid off the coffin, and stalked up to the bars. “You sound jealous.”

“If you think I’m jealous because someone else got to stab you, then you’re right.”

“Prove it.”

She heard the thump of his dagger as it fell at her feet. It was the jeweled one he carried everywhere. So many of the gems were missing, but the knife’s hilt still glittered in the torchlight, pulsing blue and purple, the color of blood before it was spilled.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“You might want to use it, Little Fox.” The corner of his mouth twitched as he slowly slid his pale hands through the bars of the gate and broke the lock in half. It could have been a twig, a piece of paper, or her.

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