Chapter no 12

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

Jacks tugged her back into the forest, lifting her feet off the ground as he pulled her farther from Apollo.

Let me go! she thought angrily. Just because she was in danger from Apollo didn’t mean she was safe with Jacks. Her slippers fell to the dirt as she squirmed in his grip.

Not interested in biting me anymore? Jacks taunted in her head.

Evangeline’s cheeks went suddenly hot, but she didn’t let that distract her from slamming the back of her skull into Jacks’s face.

His hold briefly slipped, but then it tightened again, securing her more firmly against his chest.

Stop fighting me, or he’s going to kill you, Jacks projected into her thoughts. He used the hand on her mouth to turn her head as Apollo rode through a patch of distant moonlight. He looked like a fairytale come to life, a dashing silhouette—until she glimpsed the light from his eyes, now glowing red. The same awful color they’d turned the last time he’d attacked.

Evangeline ceased her struggle. She knew she wasn’t safe in Jacks’s arms, but in that moment, he seemed to be the lesser of two terrifying evils. What did you do to him?

You think did this? Jacks thought. She could feel his rushing heartbeat against her back, a livid symphony to his angry words.

Don’t sound so outraged, she thought back. You’ve repeatedly told me that you’re a monster and warned me that if I didn’t do what you wanted, I would come to hate you.

Jacks crushed her harder to his chest, and this time, his words weren’t just in her thoughts. “I’ve told you, you have to be alive to hate me. I did not curse your husband to hunt you down and kill you. I admit,” he said tightly, “one of your early wounds was partly my fault. I threw a knife at Apollo’s shoulder to stop him from shooting you. I could lie and say I wasn’t thinking of the mirror curse, but I knew full well that any injury inflicted on him would also hurt you. I just thought being stabbed would be preferable to being dead.”

Jacks released her roughly.

Evangeline staggered forward. He caught her arm, steadying her, but then he quickly dropped it.

“This curse isn’t my fault, but I know what the curse is,” Jacks growled. “And I think you might know it, too.”

Her gaze flashed back to Apollo, and this time, she didn’t just see his red eyes, she saw the entire picture of him— astride a horse, bow in one hand, quiver at his back, determination setting his jaw. He was dressed once again like the Archer from her favorite childhood story.

Evangeline had always adored The Ballad of the Archer

and the Fox because she, too, was a fox, albeit a very different sort from the girl in the tale. But she was still a fox, and suddenly, she knew why Apollo was hunting her.

“Apollo is the Archer,” she breathed.

“No,” Jacks said sharply. “Apollo is not the Archer. But it seems someone has resurrected the Archer’s curse and placed it on him. That’s why he is trying to kill you, and he

will continue to try until he succeeds. Someone wants you dead. I swear, Little Fox, that someone is not me. But if you don’t believe me, by all means, continue tromping through the forest.”

Evangeline felt a rush of blood to her ears, yet she could still hear a tiny voice telling her she was about to make a mistake. But what was the mistake—trusting Jacks or running from him?

You know I’m right, Little Fox.

But did she?

It was so tempting to believe Jacks. She knew he didn’t want her dead. But she reminded herself that Jacks had tricked her before. And even if Jacks had not arranged this, she had vowed to never trust him after all he’d done.

She took a step deeper into the trees, away from both Apollo and Jacks.

Jacks’s eyes flashed. He looked as if he wanted to stop her. But he just stood there with his hands clenched into fists.

It was painful walking without her slippers. But Evangeline pressed forward, farther away from both young men. She continued through the densely forested part of the cemetery, where there were only sleeping dragons and twigs, and—


Something louder than a twig broke under her foot.

Then everything happened at once. Evangeline didn’t see Apollo turn her way; she just heard the sound of his horse fiercely galloping toward her.

Run, Little Fox!

But she was already running, as fast as her poor battered feet would take her, which wasn’t fast enough. She could hear Apollo approaching.

“Evangeline!” His voice was resonant and deep, more like a plea than a threat.

She wondered if Apollo knew that killing her would kill him, too.

She paused for a fraction of a second, glancing over her shoulder just long enough to see him give her a broken look and aim an arrow right at her heart.

Evangeline ran faster.

The arrow whooshed past her, but she felt it scrape her cheek.

And she was headed in the worst direction, toward the impending cliff face, with the furious waves crashing beneath.

“Jump!” Jacks yelled. Out of nowhere, he was suddenly right beside her.

“I can’t swim,” she cried.

“Then hold on.” He wrapped a strong arm around her waist, and together they fell.

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