Crystal’s gaze locked with hers.
Listen closely, those crazy eyes whispered playfully. And then out loud, she asked the marquis, “What is the lie about, milord?”
Ilie’s lips compressed.
“Don’t dare me—-”
He said tightly, “That I have met another heartkeeper before her.”
Soleil jerked in her seat.
The knife slid sharply to the right.
Pain exploded inside of her.
The marquis roared, “No!”
“Oh, dear. That wasn’t even me.” But Crystal’s eyes were alight with joy as she watched Soleil’s blood gush out. “I apologize for the pain, but we are not yet finished.”
“Then what else do you want?” Ilie demanded. “Tell me, just stop hurting her—-”
Raising her voice, Crystal asked, “Was it not Georgina – the woman also promised to the demon duke – who is your heartkeeper?”
“Yes, damn you!” As he spoke, he watched tears start to streak down Soleil’s sleeping face. His chest constricted. “Soleil—-”
But his heartkeeper’s attacker was already asking him another question.
“Did you not continue to love that woman even when you had already met your second heartkeeper?”
“Yes!” More tears fell, and Ilie felt like each tear burned him alive. “I’m sorry, Soleil, but yes. It’s true.” He gazed down at his heartkeeper’s lifeless body. “So fucking let her go if that’s all you want to hear—-”
Crystal whispered to Soleil’s ear, “And there you have it. Live with that knowledge, and enjoy your happy ever after with your demon.”
Soleil closed her eyes.
When she opened them, she was back in her bedroom, and the marquis was staring at her throat.
Her lip trembled at the effort it took not to cry out loud. She touched her throat and didn’t feel any pain or laceration. The only thing that hurt right now was her heart.
The hurt worsened. How could it be that hearing her name on his lips hurt more than a stab in the heart?
Ilie reached for her, but she jerked away from his touch.
When he stiffened in shock, she had an even greater urge to cry. “I’m s-sorry,” Soleil whispered. “I know I owe you my life. I know I have no right…but just…”
“No, ma lisse—-”
And that…that hurt even more.
She shook her head, whispering, “Just…I just need…” She didn’t know what to say, what to think. He might not have loved her, but he had saved her life. “I’m not angry,” she whispered brokenly. “I don’t blame you. I just need…” But how could she ask him what she wanted when it was because of him she was still breathing?
In front of her, the marquis swallowed audibly. “Soleil—-”
Ilie clumsily slid to his feet.
She squeezed her eyes shut tightly.
His voice in her mind.
His footsteps fading.
The door closing behind him.
And finally, Soleil allowed herself to cry.
As Soleil came down to join her family for breakfast, Aurora turned towards her with a bouquet of lilies.
Her heart sank.
“Yes,” her sister said with a nod. “It is from the marquis again.”
She forced a smile. “How lovely.” She took the flowers and gave it to one of the maids. “Throw it away please.” Behind her back, the baron and his younger daughters exchanged looks of dismay.
Fleur waited for her oldest sister to take her seat before saying, “ANEX has also sent a missive. I have taken the liberty of reading it—-”
“And it says that your request has been approved,” Fleur finished. “What did you request? It did not state so in the missive.”
“When have you developed this interest in reading other people’s mails, Fleur? I am terribly disappointed.”
Fleur ignored that, asking again, “What did you request?”
Soleil said calmly, “Nothing that would affect anyone of you.”
Ah. The baron and his daughters had no trouble reading between the lines, knowing that meant it had to do something with the marquis.
The rest of the day proceeded as it had in the past month. It was like any other day for the Orpheline household – or what it used to be before anyone of them had become acquainted with the marquis.
Callers came during the day to be entertained, the sisters talked among themselves about the missions of Trois Belle Lames over supper, and afterwards the baron would retire while the sisters dressed up to attend a ball. It was near dawn when they returned home, and after bidding each other good night they went to their respective bedrooms.
Soleil took a shower, changed into her sleeping gown, and threw herself on her bed.
It was so, so silent.
She tossed and turned, knowing that she needed to come to a decision soon.
She closed her eyes, knowing that if she only opened her mind just a little bit, she would be able to hear him.
And she wanted to. Oh, how she wanted to hear his voice. But how could she ever listen to it, knowing that because of her curse she had unknowingly used his pity to force him into tying his life to her?
There was only one way to release him, and she had to make a decision about it soon.