Chapter no 10

The Ballad of Never After (Once Upon a Broken Heart, 2)

Everything burned for one sharp moment. Evangeline fell back against the bed.

Then … the pain dissolved. Not just from the bite but from her wounds, which healed almost instantly.

She blinked, and it was as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes.

When she’d first woken up, the room had been dim—a suite of smoke and shadows. But now it sparkled with glittering candlelight. It was the prettiest shimmer she’d ever seen. Everything in the room seemed to glow—the gilded portrait frames, the polished legs of the table, even the awful manacles on the wall.

Then there was the bed, which felt even more luxurious. Her pillow, the mattress, the sheets wrapped around her body were so much softer than before. They were silk and white, and Evangeline swore she could smell the color— crisp and clean and bright, like sunshine streaming through an open window after a mist of rain.


Jacks took a bite of his apple, drawing her attention to the foot of the bed, where he stood, looking like eternal heartbreak. His fair skin faintly glowed, his eyes shone like

stolen stars, his hair was spun gold, and the cruel plains of his face filled her with a longing so deep it felt like an ache.

She wondered if Jacks always looked like this and her human eyes weren’t capable of taking him in, or if he somehow dampened his appearance, but now that she had the venom surging through her, she could see what he really was, despite any of his efforts to try to hide it. Just one look set her blood on fire, and she liked the way it burned.

She tried to take a deep breath, but when she inhaled, all she could smell was the dark sweetness of him, and she wondered how he’d taste. Would he be cool on her tongue? Would brushing her lips over his neck stop her blood from burning and her heart from racing?

Jacks took another bite of his apple.

Her incisors immediately lengthened. She pushed her tongue against them, trying to shove the sharp points back in and stop the sudden throb in her mouth. She really didn’t want to bite him—his blood was human enough, and if she bit Jacks, she would change. But just thinking the words bite and Jacks sent a shudder through her that wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

“Careful,” Jacks drawled. “You’re not looking at me as if you hate me right now.”

“I do,” she said. But it came out all wrong, hoarse and breathless—and hungry.

Her fangs sank into her lip, hard enough to draw blood. Jacks’s eyes latched onto the drop.

Something unreadable flashed across his perfect face. And then his voice was in her head. Do not forget what happens if tonight goes badly. You do not want to become one of them.

Jacks’s thoughts were full of disdain. He might have been friends with Chaos, but it seemed the Prince of Hearts still

didn’t like vampires.

He dropped his black apple on the floor and stalked toward the rounded door.

“Don’t leave!” Evangeline growled, the words coming out before she could stop them. She knew it was better if he went—without blood, she couldn’t turn into a vampire. But she couldn’t believe that he was simply walking out the door.

When he’d been infected with vampire venom, she’d stayed an entire night with him to make sure he didn’t bite a human and change. But tonight he’d only spared her a few moments.

She gripped the bars of her cage tight enough to dent them. Then, horrified, she pulled away. She hadn’t even realized that she’d moved. Even now that she’d released the cage, her hands were clenched into white-knuckled fists as if her body still wanted to break free.

In a flash, Chaos was right in front of her, leaning against the bars that her hands still wanted to grab.

“For vampires, control requires time,” Chaos said. “Part of why we move so fast is because our physical forms are guided by instincts that humans do not have.”

Like Jacks, the vampire appeared more dangerously immortal. She hadn’t noticed his clothes before, but now she saw that, for once, Chaos wasn’t dressed like a soldier. He wore tailored black pants, a fine black shirt, and his cursed bronze helm, which had more detailed carvings than she’d ever noticed. The spikes that jutted out over his cheekbones were covered in tiny thorns as they pointed toward his hypnotic eyes.

She usually tried to avoid his eyes—vampires took direct eye contact as an invitation to bite or a means to control. But right now, Evangeline didn’t have full control of herself. It was just as Chaos said—any thought she had turned into

movement. She thought about his eyes, and suddenly, their gazes locked.

But Chaos’s eyes were not the same eyes she remembered. She would have sworn they were emerald green, but now they were pure shadow. They were dark and endless, and devouring. This didn’t feel like looking into a pair of immortal eyes; it felt like locking eyes with Death itself.

Chaos is a murderer, LaLa had once said. And Evangeline

now saw it in his gaze. His helm might prevent him from biting, but it didn’t prevent him from killing.

Evangeline tried to back away and instantly felt her spine slam against the other end of the cage.

Chaos laughed, low and silkier than she remembered. “You’re not in danger from me, Princess. In fact, I’m here to make sure nothing happens to you tonight.”

She caught a whiff of apples then, sweet and briskly cool. It was the fruit Jacks had dropped onto the floor. He’d left the room, but just the thought of him brought a new, exquisite ache to her mouth, a burn that she knew in her soul only one thing could stop—

“You’re growling,” Chaos warned.

Evangeline wrapped her hands around the bars of her cage, the ones right in front of Chaos. Again, she didn’t even remember moving across the bed. But this time, she didn’t let go of the bars. Pressing her hands against the metal— feeling it dent under her strength—helped take her mind off the throbbing in her mouth and the pain in her gums as her fangs lengthened again.

“Careful there.” Chaos’s hands clamped down on Evangeline’s. He might have broken her fingers with his powerful grip if not for the venom surging through her. But that didn’t mean his hold didn’t hurt.

“Let me go.” She yanked against him, fighting to pull free until her breathing turned ragged.

Meanwhile, Chaos wasn’t even winded. If anything, his shadowy gaze was ablaze with something like excitement as he squeezed her fingers even harder. “I could stay like this all night, Princess.”

Evangeline’s instincts took over then. Chaos might be stronger, but that didn’t mean he possessed all the power.

Her lip had stopped bleeding, but after another quick nip from her teeth, there was fresh blood. Leaning forward, she pressed her mouth to the cage and said, “Please open.”

The bars lifted immediately.

A flash of surprise lit Chaos’s dead eyes.

Evangeline felt a rush of victory, right before he flattened her to the bed with the full force of his body.

The air squeezed from her lungs as she fought in vain against him. He was so heavy and hot atop her. And she swore he burned even hotter the more she struggled. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to stop the fight. She wasn’t sure if it was the venom or just her human instincts reacting to the fact that she was pinned to a bed by death incarnate.

She tried to claw at his helm, but Chaos effortlessly grabbed her wrists and pinned her arms above her head. “Why are you doing this?” she wheezed.

“Jacks asked me to keep you human.”

“I don’t need you to keep me human! I have no desire to change.”

“But you’re not in control of your body.” “Because you’re on top of it.”

Chaos lifted some of his weight, though his hands continued to trap her wrists, and his legs still pressed firmly against hers.

Dimly, she knew this was for the best. He was right, she wasn’t in complete control, but she’d never felt more

trapped in her life. She thought she had been uncomfortable inside the cage, but now it was even worse. With Chaos pressed against her, it wasn’t just her mouth that burned, her entire body was on fire. Her skin was flushed, her heart was racing, and the heat pouring off Chaos only made it worse.

She thought of Jacks and the way his cool skin would instantly soothe hers. She remembered how he’d touched her that night in the crypt—his mouth on her neck, his chest pressed to hers. He hadn’t bitten her, he’d just touched her. That was all she wanted.

“Jacks won’t care if you let me go,” she insisted. “As long as I’m still a key capable of opening things, he isn’t concerned about anything else.”

“You’re wrong about that, Princess. Jacks doesn’t want this life for you.” Chaos met her eyes again, flames mingling with the shadows of his deathlike gaze.

Evangeline paused her struggling. For a moment, she wanted to believe the vampire. She liked the idea that Jacks cared what happened to her. But it was far more likely that Jacks just wanted her to think that he worried as another way to manipulate her.

“Did Jacks tell you to say that?”

“Jacks doesn’t tell me what to say.”

“But he told you to keep me human.” She attempted another kick.

Chaos pressed the full force of his weight against her once more. “I’m doing this for Jacks out of loyalty. But that is not the only reason I’m here.”

“Then what’s your other reason?” she needled.

“I’m disappointed you have to ask.” Chaos angled his head. The bronze jaw of his helm brushed her cheek, briefly searing her skin.

Sweat beaded against her brow as the words she’d noticed earlier, the ones inscribed upon the helm, began to glow. The tongue was an ancient script she’d seen before, one she recognized but couldn’t decipher—the language of the Valors.

“What does it say?” she asked.

“It’s the curse that prevents me from removing the helm.”

And Chaos wanted the helm removed. No wonder he was so hot against her—so hungry. She didn’t know how long the helm had prevented him from feeding, but Evangeline imagined it had to be agony for a vampire to live without blood. She had only been infected with the venom for a short period of time and she already felt a little mad.

“Let me guess—you want me to unlock your helm with my blood.”

He made a sound too damaged to be called a laugh. “Your blood unfortunately isn’t capable of breaking this curse. But … every curse has … a back door.” Chaos said the last set of words haltingly, as if he’d intended to say something else but the words had magically twisted.

It made Evangeline think of when LaLa had tried to tell her what she believed the Valory Arch contained, but the story curse had prevented her.

Suddenly, Evangeline knew what Chaos wanted. He wanted the same thing as Jacks. That was why the two of them were working together. “You want me to open the arch. You think that the Valory holds the key to unlocking your cursed helm?”

“I don’t think. I know it does,” Chaos said, something like pain seeping into his voice. He took a deep breath, and his chest moved against hers, turning her skin violently hot again.

“What the hell are you doing?” Jacks growled.

Evangeline turned toward his voice, sweat trickling down her cheek, as she found him standing in the doorway. A vein throbbed furiously along the line of his smooth, marble neck. His skin looked so cool, and she was so hot. All she wanted was to press her mouth to his throat and maybe lick it just once. Her blood rushed faster at the thought, and her fangs started to lengthen.

“Jacks, get out of here!” Chaos ordered. “Unless you’ve changed your mind about her becoming a vampire.”

Chaos gripped Evangeline’s wrists tighter, pressing them

—along with her—more firmly to the bed. She writhed against his grip; he was crushing her again with the full weight of his body.

Something loud cracked in the doorway.

Her eyes shot back to Jacks, who was fisting the now splintered edge of the door. Had he done that with his hands?

He certainly looked livid enough. His silver-blue eyes turned midnight dark as he watched her struggling under Chaos.

Evangeline dimly knew that she should stop her thrashing. If she broke free from Chaos and managed to bite Jacks, the life she had—the life she wanted to keep—would be over. But she also wanted this. She wanted Jacks to stop her struggling. She wanted him to rip Chaos off her chest so that he could pin her to the bed instead.

Evangeline took a rasping breath, and her gaze collided with Jacks’s once more.

He scrubbed a hand over his jaw. With Evangeline’s heightened senses, she could hear it clench under his palm. Then she heard the scrape of Jacks’s boots as he sharply turned and disappeared down the hall.

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