Chapter no 42

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

The relief was sweet and instant. Evangeline’s shoulders relaxed, her eyelids closed, her chest felt as if she could finally breathe without all the weight pressing on it.

The wanting was still there. When she closed her eyes, she found herself straining to hear a knock on the door followed by Jacks’s low voice. But instead of falling apart at the silence, she felt a quiet sort of hope. She could not believe Jacks didn’t care for her. She couldn’t believe his feelings for her were only because of this stone. She—

She was being delusional.

Evangeline forced herself to put the lid back on top of the iron jar. Then she shoved it under her pillow so that it was out of sight. No matter how much she wanted to numb the heartache, living in a delusion was not the answer. It would be better soon. Once she opened the arch and broke the Archer’s curse, things would be different with her and Apollo

—that at least was a guarantee. But what kind of different would it be?

A shudder racked her body. It was tempting to reach under the pillow and take out the stone again. Just until it was time to use it. But maybe she needed to feel this pain to get over it.

Evangeline hugged her pillow as she closed her eyes.

Time moved in that slow sort of way when it seems as if it’s not moving at all. There was no change in the light or the temperature, until suddenly there was. The air thickened. A second later, she felt feather-soft fingers brushing her hair away from her cheek.

“Jacks—” Her heartbeat skipped and her eyes fluttered open—and she swallowed a cry.

Apollo leaned over her bed. His hand stilled at her cheek, or was it her neck? Was he about to choke her?

For a second, terror paralyzed her. Then she scrambled to her knees. She needed to get away.

“Don’t be scared—I’m not going to hurt you, Evangeline.” He said her name like a plea as he placed one knee on the bed, followed by the other, until he was kneeling before her. His eyes were liquid brown, not red. She knew how quickly his gaze could change, but right now he looked so haunted, so alone, so desperate, so wounded.

It felt a little like looking in a mirror and seeing her own emotions reflected back.

She knew she needed to run from him, but she didn’t want to hurt him more than he was already hurting.

Carefully, he cupped her cheek. She stilled, but she didn’t pull away. He kept his word. He didn’t hurt her. If anything, his touch dulled some of her pain.

He stroked her jaw.

His hand was warm and gentle. Although there was a slight tremble to his fingers, as if he was frightened, too.

The touch still felt good, but maybe it wasn’t a wise idea, after all. “Apollo—this isn’t safe.”

He laughed, loud but brittle. “Nothing has been safe since the moment I laid eyes on you. And yet I don’t want to look away.”

He kissed her then.

For a moment, she forgot how to breathe—she forgot how to kiss. But Apollo was patient. His lips moved reverently across her mouth, soft brushes over her lips until she began to relax and lean in.

She’d kissed him before, but never like this. When Apollo had been under Jacks’s spell, his kisses were like fever dreams, hot and hungry, as if he wanted to taste more than just her mouth. This kiss was more like an invitation to dance.

And Apollo was a very good dancer. Slowly, his hand slid into her hair, tilting her head as she parted her lips. Butterflies moved inside her, and she wrapped her arms around the back of his neck.

He smiled against her mouth.

“You don’t know how much I’ve wanted this.” He took her lip between his teeth, kissed her again and then bit down, rough enough to draw blood.

“Sorry,” he murmured.

“No—it’s good.” It reminded her of Jacks. But she pushed that thought away. She nipped Apollo back. He grinned again and kissed her harder as his hands worked off her golden cloak.

Her breathing hitched as the garment fell away.

She knew this was a bad idea, but Apollo felt so good. Each touch felt as if he worshipped her. Once her cloak was gone, he started to undo the ribbons at her chest as he pressed her back against the bed. “Tell me if I go too fast.”

He kissed her gently, once on the lips, then on the jaw, trailing warm kisses down her neck as his hands grabbed her breasts and then her throat.

Instantly, her eyes flashed open.

“I’m sorry,” Apollo rasped. This time, he didn’t follow it with a kiss.

The terror inside her grew wings as his eyes turned from brown to red and his hands began to squeeze.

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