He looked at her as if she should be asking him an important question. This beautiful blonde man had swept her from the hall so easily that it didn’t feel like a kidnapping. But all she felt was piercing terror that she shouldn’t be alone with him. Not fear of him, but fear of what might happen next.
King Apollo Acadian was quite jealous, after all.
“Please,” she whispered, ignoring the burning sensation that wrapped around her wrist along with his hand, “let me go.”
The young man blinked slowly at her, as though processing her reaction carefully. “Little Fox,” he started, then paused, looking into her eyes like a book that held the instructions to a complicated problem, “you were right, there is another solution, we need to—“
“Little… Fox…” she repeated, interrupting his rapid explanation, testing the nickname tenderly on her soft lips, “I’m afraid you’re confused, sir.” She said so quietly, cautiously, suddenly concerned by how little she feared a strange man who had just somehow pulled her from her own royal hall so close to her rooms.
She pulled against his grip on her wrist. The way his fingertip was tracing her scar felt alarmingly intimate.
“Evangeline.” He said impatiently. As though she was trying to irritate him with her naivety. Sudden anger bubbled to life in her chest. But he went on, ignoring her glare, “I shouldn’t have said those things, but you had to stay away from that chamber. I couldn’t lose you.” His long, cool fingertips relaxed and smoothed along her forearm and she gasped, ripping her hand free. He flinched, rejection clear on his magnificent face. Rejection, and a cocky flare of amusement.
It was horrifying. She was married. She shouldn’t feel this way for some handsome stranger.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about. You have no right to corner me like this. If Apollo found us like this he’d—“
“As if you’ve ever truly cared what your so-called husband thinks of us.” The man looked down at her with both brows slightly lifted, arrogantly dismissing her concerns.
Her heart clattered in her chest as she blushed furiously. “There has never been an us, you’re delusional! I don’t know you. You have me confused for someone else, and if you don’t go right now I’ll scream.”
He rocked back on his heels as his gaze slid between her eyes, a small crease appearing between his own as he judged her honesty. His head cocked a little to the side.
“Go on. Do it.” A smile, or perhaps a predatory snarl, slipped across his lips. “I’d like to see your dearest husband’s face when he realizes he won’t be rid of me so easily.” So quickly she hadn’t the chance to escape, his hands wrapped around her waist and held her so close it would ruin her standing in court.
Her chin tilted high to meet his gaze and his hand went around her jaw as though he couldn’t help himself. Her face flushed red when she breathed in, her breasts plumb against his solid chest and the corner of his knife blade smile twitched, “go on then,” she felt his breath on her mouth and nearly moaned, “scream.”
And she did.
But when the guards rushed over they froze as soon as they came close. Ten of them, no, fifteen. Eventually all of the royal guards within earshot were frozen and looking dumbstruck standing around them in a vague circle.
The handsome young man looked as though she’d slapped him. As though her scream for help was an affront that she should feel guilty about. “That was… out of character Little Fox. What’s happened?”
Surprised tears slid free from her eyes and he was growing frantic the longer he examined her. His eyes slid between hers, then suddenly stilled. He grew terrifyingly cold as another icy tear rolled over her cheek and dripped from her chin to slide into her bodice.
She was so confused, so afraid. Why had she done that? Why did she scream? For a moment, she didn’t recognize herself.
The man shook his head wearily, not once looking away from the tears spilling down her face. “What has that idiot king done to you?”
For a moment, his hands around her felt so familiar. So familiar and so perfect that she wanted to run away with him right then. She knew he’d explain everything. He knew more about her than she did. It was a level of comfort and ease she’d never once felt with Apollo. She always felt as though she was one step behind. She felt awkward and rushed with the king. And he grew frustrated by her reluctance. She was never quite willing enough or excited enough or happy enough. But right now, between this stranger’s hands, she felt right.
“You don’t have any idea who I am.” He whispered, hatred overtaking the chill in his tone.
Her confusion and frustration and terror overcame her then. She didn’t want this man to hate her. She didn’t even know who she was! It was so unfair. She just wanted to be there with him, safely in his arms. She was so lost, so broken and scared.
Her voice came out in a ragged cry, “I don’t remember anything! My life is gone! Not my parents faces, I don’t even recall how I grew up! Nothing at all! Nothing of my life before him.” At the mention of Apollo the man’s expression darkened. She paused to breathe or risk fainting from the lightheadedness. She was losing it.
“I’m…” she gasped for air as he pet her head gently, soothing away the tremors that overtook her in waves. “I feel like a book with blank pages. With a few chapters filled in but the plot isn’t congruent. I’ve gone along with it, he told me there was an accident, that I’d regain my memories with time. And I’ve lived this way thinking it would come back together somewhere along the line, but it’s not working!” Her face fell hard into the curve of his shoulder, she needed comfort right now. She was past caring if Apollo found her like this.
No one had asked what she needed in so long that she was willing to give anyone a chance to help her. She cried into his chest. “I’m so scared Jacks, I don’t know where I begin or where I end. I’m a character moved from one book to another without a purpose. I feel as though I’ve already died with no one to mourn me.”
His lips brushed her hairline, the gentle pressure felt like a promise. “You’re safe.” But his voice had an edge, like he was contemplating a very specific murder. “We can work together to fill in the missing pieces.” And I will kill whoever did this.
The words weren’t spoken aloud. She heard them in her head. She inhaled sharply. Could he hear her thoughts as well?
“Yes.” He answered, but he sounded strained now. The guards around them were beginning to regain some of their awareness, some of them shifting in their armor, others tensed their brows as if they wondered how they got there. “We have to leave. Now, Little Fox.” He said so without room for argument, but something suddenly welled inside her. A potent desire to be disagreeable.
She hadn’t been irritable or disagreeable in a long time. “I can’t just leave, I’m the queen. Apollo will hunt us down and behead you himself.” She argued, though the conviction was lacking when she got to the beheading part. Somewhere inside she knew no mortal was powerful enough to kill Jacks.
Jacks. His name. How did she know it?
Dread chilled her veins.
Her memories had to have been altered. She did know this man, and he knew her. Quite intimately if the way he held her was as real as she believed it was.
He looked down on her with cool irritation. “Ideally he’ll come find me so I can dissect that vulture. Your dearest husband, who I suspect has removed the vast majority of your memories, is clearly not who we thought he was.” The statement was leading, she bit her lower lip thoughtfully and his fingertips wrapped more securely around her, as though he never intended to let go again.
Evangeline asked suddenly, hoping the guards couldn’t hear her, “Is there somewhere we can go? Somewhere he won’t find us?”
His eyes lit with some errant thought. “Yes, but I will need to acquire something quite valuable from the library first. Though your husband will be loathe to let it go easily.” He looked at her, gaze softening, “The Mirth Stone.”
The Mirth Stone. The name echoed in her head. She recognized it, a stone that was used for a quest. A quest she’d succeeded in completing. She swallowed tightly, a distant memory warming the edges of her mind in a painful way. Her eyes found his ice blue pair.
He wasn’t human. He couldn’t be. He was too beautiful to be real. Pain bolted through her heart suddenly. Something was warning her in the recesses of her heart.
A burning memory was trying to reform itself when she looked at him, she didn’t know how, but she understood then: “You hurt me.”
She tested the words and was not at all surprised to find pain blooming in his pretty eyes.
“I have.” He said softly, “and I cannot promise that I won’t hurt you again.” His lips fell at the corners and she wanted to lift her hands around his face to comfort him.
His hand wrapped around hers when it slipped around his ear, her thumb gently smoothed over his cheek. He shook his head. “I can’t promise not to hurt you. But I can promise to help regain your memories so you can decide what kind of ending this story will have.”
It was then that she realized her choice. She could go off with this beautiful stranger, a vengeful, dangerous stranger who wished to kill her husband. Her heart twinged anxiously. The horrible husband who wished to keep her tame and polished like a diamond in an unbreakable safe, hidden and secluded and forgotten. Did she want to discover that her memories were taken, only to learn that it was for her own good? What was so horrible that Apollo would take it away? Maybe she’d begged him to save her from something terrible, but she wasn’t sure.
Anxiety nibbled at the corners of her heart. Why wouldn’t Apollo tell her he’d done such a thing? At least then she might be able to rest. If she knew that he’d taken her memories to save her from pain, she would have believed him.
The small scar on her wrist burned delightfully.
Or maybe she wouldn’t have believed him at all. She smiled ruefully.
Jacks was looking at her like he would raze this whole castle for her right then. She’d never felt so wanted, not that she could recall.
She was afraid of what Jacks might do, regardless of whether she went with him or not. Even if she left right now and pretended this never happened, he would still have murder on his mind, but she wouldn’t be there to help stay his hand. Maybe she could convince him to let Apollo explain himself. Maybe he had an explanation. She hoped he did.
No matter how she thought of it, she wasn’t staying here in this castle. None of her plans at that moment involved Apollo and his constricting affection.
No… the moment Jacks touched her, she knew.
Her life was once so much grander than this castle and the loveless, dutiful marriage she had resigned herself to. Her world was larger and more exciting than any crown could provide.
She squeezed his hand and he shifted ever so slightly to hold her closer than anyone ever had. Nothing in her chaotic world felt right until he pulled her into this dark alcove.
She glanced at the guards, wondering how he planned to get them out of this mess, then realized she didn’t care so long as it meant they were together.
Her eyes met his, all of her trepidation was gone with the illusion that she was alone in the world. Apollo might have tried to keep her like a pet, but she was not going to be held captive by anyone.
Jacks smiled like he knew exactly was thinking as she told him, smirking because she knew exactly what he needed to hear: “Let’s go find our happily ever after.”