Chapter no 29

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

LaLa stepped into view.

She was a bright contrast to all of Jacks’s dark, dressed like a mermaid in a sequined teal skirt that fit through the knees until it flared out around her feet. Her arms were covered in sequins as well, all the way from her fingers to her shoulders, where they attached to the pearl straps of a seashell top.

Her brown stomach was decorated in more pearls and gems for a truly glamorous effect. She looked all Fate and magic. She also looked as if something was very, very wrong. In one hand she held a crumpled piece of newsprint, in the other a goblet that she took a long drink from.

“Why aren’t you at your party?” Jacks drawled.

“I read something you should see.” LaLa thrust the newsprint at Jacks’s fisted hand.

He flicked it a dirty look. “I don’t read the scandal sheets.”

“You should read this one.” LaLa took another nervous sip of her drink. “Kristof wrote an article that says Evangeline is here. He didn’t use her name, but he described a certain pink-haired princess.”

Evangeline’s stomach wrenched with dread. She leaned closer, fearing what else the article might say. She hoped it

didn’t mention the tryst, but it was bad enough that it had revealed her location. If they stayed, Apollo would surely arrive, but if they left, they might not find the youth stone, which she was certain had to be here.

“There’s also a Wanted post warning that Tiberius has escaped the Tower,” LaLa went on. “I would guess he’s probably on his way here right now, along with Apollo.”

Jacks shot LaLa a murderous look. “Whose fault is that?” “I did what I had to do.” LaLa’s voice took on a hard

edge. “She wasn’t going to open the arch.”

Evangeline staggered back. She must have misheard them. LaLa was her friend. LaLa couldn’t have been the one to place the Archer’s curse on Apollo.

But LaLa had told Evangeline to open the arch. And Jacks had asked LaLa to break the spell on Apollo. Maybe this was why—because LaLa was the one who’d cast it?

Evangeline looked down at her fox-girl costume. Perhaps it hadn’t been by chance that LaLa had given her this gown. Maybe it had been an intentional push?

She didn’t want to believe that LaLa would betray her. Then she remembered the day she’d visited LaLa’s flat. At one point, LaLa had taken Evangeline’s hand and spoken words of gibberish. Evangeline had thought it was the story curse, garbling her speech, but what if that was when LaLa had cursed her and Apollo?

Evangeline watched through the cracked door as Jacks turned and faced the fire. For a second, all Evangeline could see was the angry roll of his shoulders as he spoke into the flames. “If she dies, it’s your fault.”

“She won’t die if you get her out of here now.” LaLa finished off her glass of wine. “Can you keep her safe?”

Jacks shot her a glare.

“Don’t look at me like that. I saw the way you looked when you arrived here with your arm around her shoulders.”

“How did I look?”

“Like you would kill for her.”

“I would kill for a lot of things.”

“Just be sure you don’t kill her,” LaLa said. “I’ve also seen the way you two look at each other. Last night when I walked into the dining hall, I was half-terrified you were going to kiss her in the middle of the party.”

“I thought you knew me better than that.” Jacks’s glare slowly dissolved into a smile, and then his eyes flashed with the same primal look he’d given Evangeline last night. “I’m just giving her what she wants. But don’t worry, she is not what want. All I want is for her to find the stones.”

“And you think I’m cruel.” LaLa’s shoes clacked angrily against the floor as she turned toward the door to leave.

Evangeline staggered back another step, and then she fled before either of them could discover she’d been listening.

If there was any mirthful magic in the stone around Evangeline’s neck, then it wasn’t working, because it hurt— everything hurt. She had believed LaLa was her friend. She thought LaLa cared, but it seemed LaLa was just like Jacks— all she wanted was to open the arch.

Evangeline’s chest was heaving by the time she reached the Slaughterwood ballroom.

At the open doors, servants handed out goblets of dark red wine and sweet mead. It would have been wiser not to take one—she needed to find the truth stone and the youth stone before Apollo or Tiberius found her.

But Evangeline just wanted to drink until it felt better or until she didn’t care that it was all suddenly worse—that there really was no one she could trust.

She grabbed a goblet and downed it quickly. Then she replaced it with another full drink to make sure she had enough.

Tonight, the goblets were wood, their stems twined with aged bronze vines and trumpet flowers that smelled of apples and blood.

Her footsteps faltered.

The scent made her think of the Prince of Hearts’ church, but thankfully, Jacks had not entered the woodsy ballroom yet. She really didn’t want to see him.

She was wounded by LaLa. But she didn’t even want to think about what Jacks had said.

I’m just giving her what she wants. But don’t worry, she is not what want. All want is for her to find the stones.

The words made her feel so naive. Repeatedly, she’d told herself not to trust him, she’d told herself he didn’t care. But a part of her had really started to believe that he didn’t want to keep her alive just because he needed her to open the arch.

Even now, after hearing him tell LaLa he didn’t care, that he didn’t want her—that killing her wasn’t a risk because he was only pretending to be attracted to her—she still wanted to think he was lying.

Evangeline took another deep drink from her goblet and wove her way deeper into the costumed crush, determined to disappear in it.

Thankfully, she was not the only fox tonight. There were a number of others dressed as foxes with pastel peasant gowns, or dressed as actual foxes with furry ears and tails attached to tawny dresses. The Archer costume was just as popular. Some of the other couples Evangeline didn’t as easily recognize, but she saw a number of Honoras and Wolfrics, Vengeances and Glendoras, mermaids—and a few mermen—along with captive sailors in billowing shirts who looked as if they’d been plucked straight from carvings of the gateway arch to the North. There was also a girl dressed as the Sun dancing with another girl dressed as the Moon.

And in the middle of everyone was a handsome young man costumed like a dragon who twirled a girl who looked like glittering treasure.

It might have just been all the wine coursing through her, but for a moment, Evangeline didn’t feel as if she were in a ballroom, she felt as if she were in the center of a hundred stories. Love stories and tragedies and tales with endings lost to time. And suddenly, her worries felt lost as well, swept away by a feeling that her life was one of those stories. She’d known it vaguely, but it wasn’t until then that the enormity of it hit her.

She’d married a prince, she was part of a prophecy, and right now, she was searching for magic stones that could change the fate of the world. Of course, people would tell stories about her—they were already telling stories—it had just never occurred to Evangeline that these stories were bigger things, pieces of history currently being formed.

But unlike some of the doomed characters around her, Evangeline still had a chance at finding a happy end to her story.

Never mind that the odds were not currently stacked in her favor, not with all the curses and betrayals and murderous, lying princes. None of that meant she was doomed. Evangeline still believed that every story had the possibility for infinite endings, and she was going to find one of the good ones—as soon as she found the next two stones.

Excited sounds wove through the ballroom.

“Look who’s here,” people whispered. Followed by words like young, attractive, unattached.

Then, loudly, “Eva!”

A second later, Luc was there, striding up to her with a feather in his cap and a quiver of gold-tipped arrows at his back. “I knew you’d be the Fox.”

Evangeline couldn’t help but smile. Luc was, of course, dressed as the Archer, a gesture that she’d have found terribly romantic months ago—and a part of her still had to concede it was very sweet of Luc. Even though Luc had been cursed by Marisol, turned to stone by Jacks, and then transformed into a vampire, he still held on to some of his humanity. Unlike Jacks.

“I believe you owe me a dance,” Luc said. “Not tonight, vampire boy.”

Evangeline stiffened at the sound of Jacks’s low voice. Then she shivered as he stepped into view, looking like an angel of death with the swords still strapped to his back. “This dance is already taken.”

“Yes, by me.” Luc flashed his fangs.

Jacks merely laughed. The sound was musical and very much at odds with the voice Evangeline heard in her head. I’ll give you a choice. Dance with me, or watch me use one of my swords to chop off his head.

Evangeline gritted her teeth and glared up at him. “Is this how you always get dance partners? By threatening to kill the other suitors?”

“Don’t test me tonight, Little Fox.” Jacks’s free hand flexed as if to grab a sword. But then he wrapped it possessively around her waist instead.

Her rib cage tightened and her pulse raced, but she knew it wasn’t Jacks. It was the wine, and the mirth stone, and the anger she still felt for the multiple ways he’d betrayed her. “You need to let me go.”

“That’s not an option.” His eyes flickered down to hers as if by accident, as if he meant to keep her at a distance, but he couldn’t help but pull her in. “You’re in danger again. We need to leave.”

“No, Jacks—I’m not going anywhere with you. I heard you and LaLa. I heard everything you said. I know what she did

to Apollo. I know you kept it from me. And I know—” She tried to say that she knew he didn’t want to be touching her right now. But she couldn’t manage those words. Instead, she pressed her hands to his chest and shoved.

And then she turned and ran.

You'll Also Like