Chapter no 51

Once Upon a Broken Heart

Evangeline had thought Marisol had betrayed her before, but she hadn’t, not really. Bewitching Luc wasn’t betrayal. There’d been nothing to betray. Evangeline and Marisol had lived in the same house, but they weren’t really sisters. They’d never shared secrets, they’d never shared heartaches, and they had never been as honest as they’d been with each other tonight. But Evangeline should not have been so truthful.

“Marisol, don’t do this,” Evangeline pleaded.

Marisol’s only reply was to sink to the ground and hug her knees, making herself look small and vulnerable as the door to her suite flung open.

Evangeline frantically searched for an escape, but there was only the balcony. She wouldn’t survive a jump, and there wasn’t enough time. Two guards, quickly followed by another pair, rushed into the room in a clatter of drawn swords all pointed at her.

“She just confessed to murdering Prince Apollo,” Marisol lied.

“That’s not true—” Evangeline was cut off as several soldiers converged, grabbing and restraining and cutting off her words.

“My heart! My heart! Are you all right?” Tiberius burst through the open doors. He sounded just like his brother, when he’d been cursed, as he rushed into Marisol’s arms, and Evangeline felt utterly stupid once again for believing her stepsister had not bewitched him. Marisol might have confessed some things, but clearly she hadn’t been honest about everything. She was really behind all of this.

“Put Evangeline in my chambers,” Tiberius ordered.

“Darling, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Marisol latched on to his arms, doing an excellent impression of a helpless maiden. “Shouldn’t you take her down to the dungeon? Lock her up where she can’t hurt anyone else?”

“Don’t worry, my heart.” Tiberius pressed a kiss to Marisol’s forehead. “I just need to question her. Then I’ll make sure she’s put somewhere she can’t hurt anyone else ever again.”



The guards used little care as they dragged Evangeline into Tiberius’s chambers and tied her to one of the chairs. After they relieved her of Jacks’s dagger, her ankles were roughly secured to the legs, and her arms were stretched behind her. Her hands were bound at the wrists and then tied again with a rope that went all the way around her midsection, cutting into her ribs and making it uncomfortable to breathe.

Tiberius didn’t spare her a glance as it was done. He didn’t acknowledge it when she repeatedly cried, “I swear, I didn’t kill your brother!”

Tiberius simply stared into a great black stone hearth and ran a hand through his long copper hair, watching as one of his guards started a fire.

He no longer looked like the impish rebel prince she’d met at her wedding. Lines that had not been there before bracketed his mouth, and his eyes were full of red. He didn’t appear bewitched right now; he looked as if he were in mourning. Which was one good thing. If Tiberius were really mourning, if he really loved his brother as she believed, then he would want to know who the real killer was.

All Evangeline had to do was to stay alive long enough for Tiberius to see the blue bottle of Fortuna’s Fantastically Flavored Water containing the antidote she’d made. It was sitting on the low center table across from her, next to his other bottles of liquor. If he just saw it and drank it, all would be right in the world.

Evangeline would have tried to bring the bottle to his attention, but she imagined mentioning it would only make them all suspicious.

She sensed how each of the soldiers in the room had felt about Prince Apollo from the way they regarded her. Disgust. Anger. Loathing. There were no hints of pity. Although Havelock—his personal guard, who’d also been there the night that Apollo had died—looked regretful. He probably felt as if he’d failed his prince.

Tiberius continued staring into the fire. He picked up a fireplace iron shaped like a trident, placed its tip in the burgeoning flames, and watched as it turned red.

Evangeline started sweating, skin going slick against her bonds. She didn’t know if Tiberius was planning on torturing her with the fire iron or killing her, but she feared either option.

“Your Highness,” Havelock said softly, “now that we have Princess Evangeline in custody, we should delay tomorrow’s wedding. This news may—”

“No!” Tiberius’s voice was slightly unhinged.

The soldiers did a good job schooling their expressions, but Evangeline swore at least two went wide-eyed, and she wondered if they suspected something was amiss with the young prince’s engagement.

“I can handle this from here.” Tiberius tore the heated iron from the fire and blew on the tip until it went brighter. “You can leave us. All of you.”

“But—” Havelock again. “Your Highness—”

“Careful,” Tiberius seethed. “If you’re about to imply that I can’t handle one tied-up female, then I’m going to either be offended or think you’re incompetent at tying knots.”

The soldiers filed toward the door.

“Wait!” Evangeline begged. “Don’t go! He’s been bewitched by Marisol


“Do not besmirch my love!” Tiberius whirled around and brought the

fire iron down on the low center table, shattering one of his liquor bottles.

Glass flew like arrows. Liquid sizzled.

Evangeline sucked in a gasp as she watched the bottle of Fortuna’s Fantastically Flavored Water totter back and forth.

It fell on its side.

Thankfully, it didn’t break.

That had been close. Evangeline would have to be more careful. Mentioning Marisol was clearly out of the question unless she wanted to risk her only chance of surviving. There was also the hope that Jacks might make a perfectly timed appearance and come to her rescue once again, but she couldn’t rely on that. For all she knew, he was still asleep on his sofa.

The soldiers all left the chamber.

Tiberius stalked closer, boots pounding on the broken glass—

He stopped abruptly and eyed the tipped-over bottle of antidote with a scowl. “How did this get in here? I hate these things.” He picked up the bottle with two fingers and brought it toward the fire.

No! No! No! She wanted to scream.

But instead of throwing it in, the bottle worked its magic. Tiberius stopped, took another look at the concoction, popped the cork with his mouth, and drank.

Evangeline felt her hope grow bright.

But after only a few seconds, Tiberius wrenched the bottle from his lips. He shuddered and gave the drink a foul look. “Once I’m king, these drinks will be the first thing I outlaw.”

Tiberius weighed the fire iron in his hand as if deciding how he wanted to do this.

Evangeline could only take shallow breaths. She needed to buy more time for the antidote to work. She doubted begging would help, but maybe she could get him to talk without triggering a violent reaction. “The last time I saw you, you said that when we met again, you’d tell me why you had disappeared.”

A bitter laugh.

Another drink.

Followed by another wince.

“I left after my brother and I fought about you,” Tiberius said grimly. “I told him you weren’t the savior everyone claimed. I told him you’d be the death of him.”

“Why would you think that?”

“All that matters is, I was right.” The prince pointed the fire iron directly at Evangeline’s throat.

“No—I didn’t do this.” She rocked her chair, urgently hoping by some miracle it would fall hard enough to shatter the arms and legs and set her free. But the chair was too heavy. She couldn’t even get the seat to budge. “I didn’t kill your brother—”

“I know,” Tiberius said. “I’ve known it the whole time.”

“Wh—what—” Evangeline sputtered. He was telling her what she’d hoped to hear, but the young prince still looked as if he had no intention of letting her go. His freckled face was that of a stubborn soldier with an order he was determined to carry out.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “If you know I’m innocent, why are you doing this?”

“It’s too dangerous to let you live.” Tiberius shook his head, expression determined, and yet Evangeline sensed he didn’t get any pleasure from this. He took another drag from the antidote bottle and then pulled down the neck of his striped doublet, revealing a dark black tattoo of a broken

skeleton key. “Do you know what this is?” Evangeline shook her head.

“This is the symbol of the Protectorate.”

The Protectorate. She had heard the name before. But where? Her heart quickened as she tried to think. Then her heart stopped altogether as she remembered.

Apollo had told her about the Protectorate the night he’d shared the stories of the Valory Arch. They’d been in the first version of the story, where the Valors had made something horrible. Apollo had said the Protectorate was some sort of secret society responsible for protecting the broken pieces of the Valory Arch and making sure it would never be opened again.

Evangeline looked again at Tiberius’s broken key tattoo. The Fortuna matriarch had worn a chain with a similar key around her neck. She must have been a member of the Protectorate as well, and as soon as she’d suspected that Evangeline was the girl mentioned in the prophecy that kept the Valory Arch locked, the matriarch had tried to kill her.

Evangeline’s hope crashed and died.

Tiberius took another swig from the bottle in his hands. Even if the antidote worked and cured him of his artificial love for Marisol, Evangeline knew that she was never getting out of this room alive. Not if Tiberius believed she was part of a prophecy that once fulfilled would allow the Valory Arch to open and release the Valors’ terrible creation into the world.

“I’m sorry, Evangeline.” Tiberius’s voice hardened, and his hands gripped the fire iron tighter, knuckles turning white. “From the look on your face, I’m assuming you know what the Protectorate is, so you know what I have to do and why.”

“No,” Evangeline said. “I don’t know how you can kill someone because of a story that’s twisted by a curse. Your brother told me there are two different versions. In one, the Valory—”

“It doesn’t matter which version of the story is true!” A muscle popped in his jaw. “The Valory Arch can never be opened, which is why you have to die. I knew it as soon as I saw your hair. You’re the prophesized key. You were born to open it.” Tiberius lifted the iron once again, bringing it dangerously close to her skin.

Evangeline’s breathing hitched.

She was running out of chances to talk him out of this.

Sweat beaded at his brow and dropped onto the broken glass near his boots. But she was looking at the other glass—the almost-empty glass bottle in Tiberius’s hand. He’d nearly finished the antidote. It didn’t seem as if the truth serum was breaking Marisol’s spell, but Evangeline wondered if the side effects of her potion were kicking in: fatigue, impaired decision- making and judgment, dizziness, the inability to tell a lie, and the urge to reveal any unspoken truths.

Tiberius was definitely experiencing the inability to tell a lie, or she doubted he would have told her he didn’t believe she was guilty. Maybe if she pushed him enough, she could somehow lead him to confess the truth to his soldiers. Or she could finally get him to tell her what the entire prophecy was. Then maybe she could prove she wasn’t the girl in it. Maybe it was just a coincidence that she sounded like this girl.

“At least tell me what the Valory Arch prophecy says. If you’re going to kill me because you think it mentions me, don’t I deserve to know the entire thing?”

Tiberius swished the blue remains of the bottle, appearing torn between drinking, talking, or ending all of this right now. But her theory about the antidote’s side effects must have been correct—it appeared he couldn’t stop himself from spilling secrets. After a moment, he began to recite:

“This arch may only be unlocked with a key that has not yet been forged.

“Conceived in the north, and born in the south, you will know this key, because she will be crowned in rose gold.

“She will be both peasant and princess, a fugitive wrongly accused, and only her willing blood will open the arch.”

Evangeline sagged against her bonds. It was so short. And almost every piece of it fit her. She had heard the line about her being crowned in rose gold and being both peasant and princess from the Fortuna matriarch. It hadn’t been true at the time, but now it was. She was also a fugitive wrongly accused, thanks to whoever had killed Apollo. She didn’t know where she’d been conceived; her parents had always joked that they’d found her in a curiosity crate. Now she wondered if there was a reason why they had concealed the truth—if they had known about this prophecy. Had they seen her rose-gold hair and her origin as a sign that it could be true someday?

But there was one line of the prophecy that she could ensure never came to pass. She just had to convince Tiberius of this. “You just said only my willing blood will open the arch, which means I have to want it open, and I don’t.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Tiberius gave her a bleak look. “Magic things always want to do that which they were created to do.”

“But I’m not a magic thing; I’m just a girl with pink hair!”

“I wish that were true.” His voice was torn. “I don’t want to kill you, Evangeline. But that arch must remain locked. The Valors had too much power. They weren’t evil, but they did things they never should have done.”

He finished off the remnants of his drink, and this time, he pointed the iron at her heart.

“Wait!” Evangeline cried. “Can I have a last request? I don’t think Apollo would want you to murder me.”

“I’m sorry, I really am, but you’re not leaving this room alive.”

“I’m not asking you to spare me.” Her voice cracked. If this didn’t work, these could be her last words. “I’m just asking you to call in your soldiers. Tell them my crimes, and then let one of them kill me. Your brother wouldn’t want you to murder his wife.”

Tiberius frowned. But she could see another bout of indecision ghosting across his face. He sensed this was a bad idea, but his judgment was impaired from the antidote; he wasn’t certain.

“Please. It’s my last request.” Slowly, Tiberius lowered the poker.

The soldiers were called back in, but Tiberius didn’t waste time with pleasantries.

“I need you to kill her.” He shoved the fire iron into the hand of the closest guard, a tall woman with a heavy braid and fury in her eyes.

“Wait,” Evangeline breathed, hoping she hadn’t just made a terrible miscalculation. “You need to tell them my crimes first.”

“Evangeline Fox,” Tiberius ground out, “you have been sentenced to death for the crime of…” His jaw seemed to stick. He opened and closed his mouth several times, but no words came out.

“You can’t say it, can you?” she asked. Her antidote might not have worked as exactly as she’d hoped, but it was working. Additional effects of serum for truths may include … the inability to tell a lie.

Evangeline could have cried with joy. Although Tiberius looked as if he really wanted to kill her now.

“What have you done?” He glowered at the empty bottle in his hands. “Did you poison me?”

“I gave you a truth serum, which is why you can’t honestly say that I killed your brother. Ask him,” Evangeline begged the female guard with the iron. “Ask him who killed Apollo.”

“End this,” Tiberius ordered the guard. “She—she—”

The guard had lifted the iron, but she hesitated at the prince’s stammering.

“Can’t you see—she’s fed me some sort of magic,” Tiberius growled, sweat beading on his brow. “She’s obviously—” But he couldn’t call her anything untrue.

“He keeps breaking off because he can’t lie,” Evangeline said, “and he knows that I’m innocent. I had no reason or desire to kill Apollo—I was the person with nothing to gain and everything to lose, and Tiberius knows that.”

“She’s—she’s—she’s telling the truth—” The prince’s face turned red. “Evangeline didn’t kill my brother. I did.”

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