If she told him about her curse, she knew he would insist that they complete the process right away. But she also knew if she saw in his gaze that he was doing it because he pitied her—-
She would never be able to do it.
Even if it was foolish and stupid, she just couldn’t do it.
For Soleil, it was all or nothing.
He either loved her…or he did not.
Ilie sensed the sudden change in his heartkeeper’s mood, saw the way her shoulders drooped ever so slightly, and asked right away, “What is it?” Her thoughts, he realized with a start, were also completely shielded from him at that moment, and Ilie’s frown deepened. “You’re hiding something from me.”
Her smile was forced when she looked up at him. “A lady must never be without secrets to maintain her mystery and allure, milord. Have you never heard of that?”
He wanted to demand an answer from her, but the carriage had already slowed down and Ilie knew Soleil would not forgive him if he insisted on a discussion now. That she cared for her work was more than evident, and right now Soleil’s first priority was her new student.
Climbing out of their respective carriages, the two couples met in front of the sprawling gates of Academie Nu Exista.
Zari peered doubtfully around her. “Where is the school?” Behind her was an open field, and in front of her were just…weeds. Rows upon rows of weeds, and none of them tall enough to hide anything as large as a school for people like her.
I do not like your tone when you describe yourself, pet, Alexandru murmured silkily in her mind.
Zari’s face didn’t change as she answered, I meant wannabe superheroes like me.
“I assure you that the school exists and it’s right in front of us,” Soleil said gently. “It’s only that your eyes haven’t been made to see it…yet.”
“But you all do?”
Ilie and Alexandru nodded.
“I s-see.” If the school couldn’t be seen, and she was inside of it, then—-
Having seconds thoughts?
The hunter stiffened imperceptibly. It was completely unlike his pet to admit to any weakness. Turning to the other woman, he asked abruptly, “Is there any chance that I would be permitted to enter the school?”
“I’m sorry.” It pained Soleil to deny the request, seeing the hope die in her new student’s eyes, but those rules weren’t hers to change. “Only the Duke of Brimstone and his Galere are allowed immediate entrance on the school’s premises. Unless Lord Alexandru has been able to request for permission beforehand, he will not be granted entry.”
“Oh.” Zari managed a smile. “I understand.” She did her best to clear her mind even as a part of her was crying out that it was too soon.
A large hand touched the small of her back, and Zari’s eyes drifted closed. It was silly, surreal, and terrifying, the way such a simple contact could allay her fears and calm her down.
“May you excuse us for a moment, milady?” she heard Alexandru say.
THE VAMPIRE HUNTER and his pet walked towards the open field and away from gazes that had already been averted to give them a sense of privacy. Alexandru halted upon walking past an oak tree, its sturdy ancient trunk large enough to hide the two of them.
He turned to Zari, whose eyes were haunted. His chest constricted at the sight but his voice was light and teasing when he asked her, What’s with the face, pet? Were you not the one who said you wanted to learn to be strong enough to save the world?
Save myself, Zari corrected him grumpily. I said I wanted to be strong enough so that no one would have to… A painful sliver of memory slashed into her mind and she mentally stumbled. You know why I have to do this. They both did, only now that it was happening, she couldn’t stop her heart from breaking.
Her master picked a lock of her hair. I wonder how this would look if we dyed it black.
Zari blinked. What for?
To make you look like Wonder Woman. Is that not what—-
A helpless smile broke over her face. Jerk.
He smiled back at her. While you’re an idiot. Alexandru flicked her forehead. I love you, pet. It will not change.
But I’m terrified.
As I am.
He cupped her face. Two years with you is but a second. Time is never long enough when I am with you, but if you are not beside me-—He took a deep breath. I am terrified they’ll make you realize you’ve been blind all along.
She didn’t answer right away, causing her master to tense.
Then she was shaking her head, causing his hands to drop. She reached up—-
A flick on his forehead, the pet chastising the master.
Who’s the idiot now?
His eyes narrowed.
Her lips formed a wobbly smile. I promise you, milord. I will teach them. I will make them see not all demons are alike.