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She thought about her family, remembered Aurora crying silently, Fleur talking excitedly about wedding plans, and her father earnestly offering a dowry to the marquis. They had all been happy. Relieved. Grateful. Because they knew about her curse, and they had thought she would die.

But then the marquis had come, wanting to marry her, and they had thought their prayers were answered.

But they weren’t.

She might still die, and she just didn’t have the courage to tell them that.

“Lady Soleil…”

“Yes, milord?” Even as she answered him, she didn’t open her eyes, didn’t stir from the warm, safe haven she had found in his arms.

“I was serious earlier.”

She stilled.

“I wish you to marry me and be my heartkeeper.”

She wondered why he was asking her this, and for a few moments, she used all her skills to sense if he was lying to her. But he was not, and she felt instantly ashamed for even having a single moment of doubt.

This was Ilie Marcovici, one of the men chosen to be the Duke of Brimstone’s Galeré. Demon or not, the half-angel duke would not have trusted the marquis if he was not honorable.

And more than that—-

Hadn’t she always known he was good?

Hadn’t that been the reason she had resisted for so long to meet him?

But fate had intervened.

Shouldn’t she take that as a good sign?

She heard herself ask, “Why?”

The marquis answered slowly, “You must know the answer to that. Heartkeeping is what ensures we do not completely turn.”

“And that’s it?”

“Should there be another reason?”

“You can have another woman as your heartkeeper, can you not?”

“Yes,” he allowed. “It’s true. But we also know any woman is different from the one that fate chose for me.”

The answer was more than she had hoped for, but…she wanted more. Was it silly and foolish of her to want everything?

“What answer do you want to hear, milady?”

She didn’t answer him.

Soon enough, they had reached her home, and he walked her to the door, holding an umbrella for her like an ordinary, courteous gentleman. She invited him inside, hoping he would refuse, but he didn’t.

She led him to the parlor, asking him to wait while she changed into something dry. By the time she came down, she had made her decision.

The marquis was crouched down in front of the fire, staring into the swaying flames like it was a beast he had lived with since birth. He had untied his hair, and the sight of those white-gold locks made her memories feel surreal.

Who was she to have touched those locks?

Had it really happened?

He looked up, his silver eyes instantly finding hers, and what he saw in her gaze made him slowly stand up. “You’ve come to tell me of your decision, have you not, milady?”

She nodded.

“Then what is it?” His voice was cool, giving nothing away, but his silvery eyes had turned feral, making her wonder absently if he would really take no for an answer.

“I will be your heartkeeper…if you fall in love with me.”

Part Two

Chapter One

Events here take place one week after PART ONE.

Woods of the Wraiths

Midnight was a magical time in Asphodel. Most often, it was a time when fireworks exploded in the skies, with lords of the manors battling it out on who had the most impressive aerial spectacle to entertain their guests. It was also a time when proposals were made and romance bloomed in the air, with gentlemen going down on bended knees as they presented heirloom rings that had been passed down from generation to generation to the women they wished to spend the rest of their lives with.

But for the three exquisitely beautiful ladies of Trois Belle Lames, midnight was, more frequently than not, the time for blood and mayhem.

Trois Belle Lames stood for Three Lovely Blades, a name that Soleil and her two younger sisters hid behind so that no one would know they weren’t exactly spending their free time knitting and painting flowers when they weren’t attending any of the parties they had been invited to.

Once the sun had set and darkness embraced the world, the Orpheline sisters transformed into soldiers, ditching their corsets and ball gowns for the less restrictive military greens and boots. Rather than practicing their steps for the waltz, they worked on their marksmanship and stamina, and instead of looking for eligible catches to trap in matrimony, they hunted for otherworlders that preyed on the weak—-

Like now, only this time it was a fellow human that was their prey.

Soleil, the curvy blue-eyed blonde leader of the Trois Belle Lames, studied the fading footprints they were tracking with an unreadable gaze. “What can you say about this, Aurora?”

After almost half a month, they had finally been given a worthwhile lead, pinpointing the whereabouts of the traitor responsible for their last operation, which had been nothing but a setup for an ambush aimed to kill them.