Over her head, she heard him murmur, “Tell me about your curse.”
Her eyes drifted. “My demon sire – or mother – offloaded it on me, but I hadn’t known about it until I attended LSL and my former adviser Crystal saw it during a checkup. Since then, she devoted her time to discovering all she could about the curse. It was her who showed me how the curse was fashioned after an aneurysm, her who told me that heartkeeping could save me—-”
His lips tightened. “And yet you neglected to let me save you until the last minute.”
This time, Soleil opened her eyes. Looking up at him, she said simply, “It was too unfair.”
“Are you fucking serious—-”
“I’m sorry.” She reached up to cup his cheek, calming him down with her touch. Soleil said gently, “But it is the way I am, and I think…you would not like me any other way.”
“I want you alive,” he snarled, “that’s what I want the most.” But his damn stubborn heartkeeper only smiled and shook her head.
Lowering her hand back to her side, she told him, “The curse is nullified by heartkeeping, but it is not completely gone. Whoever chooses to end the union will reactivate the curse and die, and that’s why,” she told him helplessly, “I could not bind you to me until I am certain you…”
“Love you?” he supplied silkily when she suddenly felt too shy to say the words.
She said awkwardly, “Yes.” Turning on her side to avoid his gaze, she murmured, “Ilie…may I ask a question?”
“What is it?”
“I am your only heartkeeper, am I not? I mean, I’m the only one who could be?” She felt his hand on her head still.
After a moment, he said, “Of course.”
When Soleil woke up the next day, there was no sign of the marquis ever being in her room except for a handwritten note on her bedside table. His handwriting was bold and elegant, just like the man himself.
Always a thought away.
As soon as she had read it, she heard his voice in her mind, almost like he had been there the entire time, guarding over Soleil in her sleep. Good morning, ma lisse.
She couldn’t help blushing at hearing it. The words felt forbidden and intimate, but even so, she stammered, G-good morning.
I apologize for not being there, but I had to make haste for Brimstone.
Soleil was instantly worried. Why? What for?
To recuperate. I am not at my strongest and I worry that if I stay there, it would draw even more attention to you. I do not want you to encounter trouble while I am too weak.
I see. She bit her lip. How long do you think that would take?
It is hard to tell, but I beg of you—-
Do not miss me too much.
She said feelingly, Jerk.
He laughed. You are too easy to vex.
Now, now, ma lisse. Do not hate me too much or I will not be able to share with you my good news.
Fine, you’re forgiven, she said with ill grace. Now, tell me your good news.
It is the other reason why I am here in Brimstone. I have commissioned a ring for your finger.
I d-don’t know what to say. It was true. She hadn’t even allowed herself to think that otherworlders like Ilie would know, much less care, about such traditions.
It will be a ring that only you possess, for the gemstone being crafted as we speak is one that belongs only to the royal family of Lunare. It is befitting for a remarkably unique girl like my heartkeeper.
Do you know, she whispered, I would have never imagined you could be so impossibly sweet.
There was a pause before the marquis said, I’m certain you mean well, milady, but your words make me sound like a…boy who had just pleased his Mama.
Oops. Swallowing back a giggle at the faint distaste in his voice, she said, Sorry.
He sighed. You could have simply gushed about my manhood, you know.
Another sigh. Ilie, ma lisse. Can you not be more used to calling me that?
She bit her lip. I’ll t-try. Ilie.
Her toes curled hard. Oh dear God, how was it that simply hearing the marquis murmur her name was such an undeniable pleasure?
Even after mentally bidding each other farewell, the pleasure remained with her. In the shower, it was the same, Soleil unable to stop replaying the sound of his voice in her mind.
And so it continued for the rest of her morning. Over breakfast or while riding the carriage to ANEX, her thoughts were completely consumed by the marquis.
She only consciously pushed them to the back of her mind when she entered Crystal’s office. This woman deserved her complete attention above all else.
“I owe you my life, Crystal.” Soleil hugged the older woman tightly. “I don’t know how to make it up to you, but whatever you need, I promise…”