When he raised his head, both of them heard the audible sigh that went through the crowd.
They grinned at each other.
“Was that romantic enough for you, milady?” he teased.
She scowled. “Fleur told you about that, didn’t she?”
Instead of answering, he told her, “You enchant me.”
Ah. He really did have the most amazing way with words. Swallowing, she managed to ask in a lighthearted voice, “Enchanting enough to fall in love with me?”
His lips twitched. “You won’t get those words that easily from me, milady.”
Her heart started to break.
But she told herself it was not his fault – or hers.
It was just the way things were meant to be.
When she excused herself to go to the powder room, the marquis automatically offered, “Let me accompany you—-”
Soleil shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Thank you, milord, but no. Stop treating me like a damsel in distress—-”
“How about,” he said under his breath, “I turn you into a damsel in acute arousal—-”
He let out a low sigh. “I shall wait here then.”
“You may wait for a long time,” she warned. “I need to fix my hair a bit. All those whirls and twirls…”
Ilie frowned. “It looks fine to me.”
“Oh, but you’re a gentleman and so you do not know better.” She curtsied to him and made her way to the powder room.
Inside, she waited for the other ladies to leave before locking the door.
She looked around her and almost laughed. The powder room…was decorated in shades of blue. Her gaze fell on the mantel clock above the fireplace.
Five minutes before midnight.
Soleil closed her eyes.
She saw her life flash before her eyes. Every precious moment with her Papa and her sisters, but oh, how curious, she thought. Every once in a while, Ilie’s image would drift across her mind, like he meant more to her than everything – even if she knew they were only together for a short while.
And then she felt it—-
Something inside of her starting to crack, like a monster about to come into the world and its sole purpose was to devour her.
Slowly, Soleil fell to the carpet.
She closed her eyes just as she heard the door behind her crash open.
Her sister’s screams—-
Her Papa bellowing for help—-
And then she felt him.
Outside, wolves began to howl, a cacophonous sound of despair.
The marquis had dragged her into his lap, shaking her. “What the fuck’s wrong with her? Tell me!”
“She’s cursed,” Fleur was crying.
Oh, Fleur. Always too impetuous for her own good.
“She needs a heartkeeper or she’ll die,” Aurora said in a rush, tears choking her voice.
And of course, Aurora, always thinking she needed to save the world just because she happened to be smarter than most.
“Open your eyes, damn you.”
He shook her, again and again, and still she wouldn’t have given in if she had not heard him speak again—-
“Damn you. Open them for me, please.” His voice broke.
Ilie’s chest exploded in painful relief as he saw Soleil’s eyes flutter open. The permanent wound over his heart blazed, his brothers in blood asking him what was wrong.
In the distance, the clock chimed.
Three minutes until midnight.
“Damn you,” he raged down at her. “Be my heartkeeper now.”
She smiled, and the sight broke his heart because it was like she was saying goodbye to him.
And now he remembered what Fleur kept telling him—-
Almost like God sending a damn message—-
A hopeless romantic.
Soleil was a foolishly hopeless romantic.
He whispered rawly, “You bloody fool.”
“Your w-words, m-milord.” She laughed then choked, and coldness wrapped around his heart when he saw that she had choked out blood without knowing it.
“Who the fuck cares?” he hissed. “Because it’s goddamn true. You’re a bloody fool, and you’re bloody selfish, to curse me like you’re cursed—-”
“Yes,” he snarled. “You’ve cursed me.”
She was crying inside of her, but she was unable to make a sound because it was already as if the monster inside of her had taken control.
A tear slipped from the corner of Soleil’s eye, together with a drop of blood.
“Stop it,” Fleur screamed. “Stop making her—-”
The clock chimed.
“If you go, then you’re cursing me to an eternity without happiness and love,” Ilie said harshly. “I’m half-demon, Soleil. Do you fucking know what that means? I’m a half-demon, and so the words that you want to hear will not come easy—-”
Tears and blood continued to mingle.
God. He could feel her life seeping out of her, and outside, the wolves in the kingdom went berserk at the pain Ilie was feeling.
I think…I could have made you say the words…if I had more time.
The words seemed to take everything from her, and Soleil’s eyes drifted closed.
He shouted in his mind, Listen to me, goddamn you. You don’t need more time because you already have it.
And it was true.
Now, he knew it was true.
I would never admit it if this didn’t happen—-