And maybe that was why you had to be cursed—-

Why God, who fucking knows everything—-

He knew it was the only way I would know.

Ilie drew her up.

The clock chimed.

One minute.

He pulled her tightly to him. She felt lifeless, but he refused to believe she would leave him. Be my heartkeeper, ma lisse.

Take my heart.

Share your soul.

Spend eternity with me.

He rocked her in his arms, and he, too, bled tears of blood.

I love you, Soleil.

Be my heartkeeper.

Seconds away from midnight—-

The monster’s jaws snapped open.

Soleil choked out, Yes. I will be your heartkeeper.

The clock struck twelve.

And pain engulfed both of them.

Chapter Nine

Do you know you are causing a commotion in the entire world? But Adrijan sounded more amused than anything.

Commotion is a vast understatement, Mihail commented mildly. Scientists all over the globe are going crazy, trying to figure out the reason behind the howling phenomenon.

Is that what they have been calling it? Silviu chuckled. A howling phenomenon? And just because le Marquis di Lunare has deigned to fall in love—-

Fuck off. But even he was hard pressed to hold on to his anger as the demon duke and the rest of the Galere laughed. Even with his body still blazing with pain, struggling as it was to accept his heartkeeper’s soul, Ilie welcomed every damn bit of his discomfort.

After all, this pain was proof that Soleil was his.

More importantly, it was proof that she was alive.

Sensing the sober change in the marquis’ mood, Silviu asked, Are there any complications with the process? Little was known about heartkeeping, with most of the information either deliberately destroyed in previous wars or guarded zealously in the libraries of Sulphur.

Only that it hurts like the bloody hell.

Silence.

Ilie bristled. What?

You almost sound like you enjoy the pain, Adrijan marveled. As Mihail and Silviu politely coughed to cover their amusement, Adrijan continued, It is unlike you to be masochistic—-

Fuck you.

But it is true, my friend, Silviu interjected. You almost sound mellow, even though I know from experience that the pain of heartkeeping is unimaginable.

Ilie didn’t bother to answer, disgruntled at the way they could so easily see through him. Instead, he asked, How long will this pain last?

According to Maricha, it varies from case to case and would be mostly dependent on how, err, sinful you have been.

Pause.

Then in unison, the three other men said, You are fucked.

Ilie grimaced. You don’t have to sound so damn certain. But in truth, even he thought the same thing. Of the four of them, he had most likely committed the greatest sins. Silviu, despite having been sired by one of Hell’s most sadistic demons, had also been tempered by his mother’s angelic blood. Mihail had always been too noble to commit any obscene wrongdoing while most of the time, Adrijan was too cold-blooded to even care to sin.

But Ilie?

Sin had always been his favorite pastime, but apparently heartkeeping was the moment when he had to atone for them.

Lie low for now, and that is a command, Silviu didn’t hesitate to add, knowing how stubborn the shapeshifting marquis could be.

Ilie scowled. If you have need of me—-

I do, and my greatest need is for you to take care of yourself. You will be much stronger, but only when the process has been completed. Until then, you will not possess even a tenth of your power. You may even find yourself deaf to your heartkeeper’s thoughts.

But it did not happen to you and George, Ilie protested.

Silence again.

What? Did it?

No, it did not. But this time, the demon duke had opted for a private thread of thought, one that was only between him and Ilie. Do you know, Ilie? This is the first time that you spoke of George without pain.

Ah.

No, he said slowly. I had not noticed, but I am unsurprised.

Because that moment he had thought his heartkeeper would die on him—-

I have loved my heartkeeper all along, and yet I had been blinded by my fear without being aware of it.

But you are not afraid now?

I am, but of something different. I am afraid of ever losing her.

Ah. I am well acquainted with that fear. And I have bad news for you, milord. Silviu smiled. That fear will be your faithful companion for the rest of your life.

The sound of footsteps reached Ilie, and he said to Silviu and the others, I must go.

The permanent wound over his heart eased, and the presence of the Galere and the demon duke retreated from his mind. Outside, he heard the Orpheline sisters still chatting, but their voices were softer and sleepier now.

The younger sisters sounded hoarse, too, he noted, and that was no wonder, with all the crying they had done downstairs.

While waiting for Soleil to come up, he had been content to listen to them and had thoroughly approved of the way the youngest sister had berated his heartkeeper.


Tags: Marian Tee Fantasy
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