It meant Ilie was part-wolf, part-demon, which in turn made the marquis one of the most ruthless creatures of the world.
“Baron?” The marquis set his cup down, his movement so elegant it was hard to imagine that his blood DNA would make him a monster in human standards.
Not at all intimidated, Charles said pleasantly, “It depends.”
The marquis frowned.
“On what your intentions are towards my daughter,” Charles finished.
Interesting, Ilie thought.
Most otherworlders upon meeting him the first time were either obsequious or terrified out of their wits. But the Baron, a mere human, and an old one at that, was speaking to him like they were equals.
It was a surprise Ilie welcomed. It would not be fun, after all, to have a toad as a prospective father-in-law.
Leaning forward, he said gently, “May I now dispense with the formalities?” At the older man’s nod, he continued, “You are aware she’s my heartkeeper, Baron?”
“For quite some time now,” Charles answered truthfully.
This was yet another surprise, but not as pleasant, and Ilie demanded, “Why didn’t she tell me?”
“Why did you have to be told?”
“Touché.” Ilie leaned back against his seat, his expression grim. As the demon in need of a soul, he was the one who should have sensed it first, the way—-
Ilie didn’t allow himself to finish the thought. Instead, he forced himself to concentrate on more important matters, like claiming his heartkeeper.
“You have no objections if I claim her?”
“As long as she doesn’t object to it,” Charles answered.
Ilie frowned. “You are not the usual kind of Chalysian father. Why is this?” Both humans and otherworlders would have jumped at the chance of having an essential connection to the Marquis of Lunare, but so far, the baron was treating him no different from the usual suitor.
Charles smiled. “You really don’t know?”
Ilie raised a brow.
“I love my daughters like they’re my flesh and blood,” Charles answered simply. “So if you, a half-demon, is who she wants, then I’ll be more than happy to walk her down the aisle.”
Ilie relaxed. “In that case, she will be my heartkeeper.”
Charles laughed at the marquis’ confidence. Poor man. “My daughter is presently at ANEX. You may still catch her there if you leave now.”
Ilie’s eyebrows shot up. “I thought that school was only for otherworlders.”
“She and her sisters are special,” Charles answered briefly, not willing to say more than what was necessary. “It’s why they became who they are now.”
“Ah. Les Trois Belles Lames, yes?” The Three Lovely Blades, the Baron’s daughters were called. “You don’t mind that they constantly put their lives in danger because of their work?”
Charles shrugged. “I mind, of course. I hate it terribly, but I also know that I would hate it even more if I stand in the way of their happiness. And that, believe it or not, milord, is what make my girls happy.”
“Foolishly risking their mortal necks going after otherworlders who could eat them alive?”
“You could put it that way, I guess.” Charles laughed. But his smile soon faded as he said, “Or you can also think of it as their vow not to let history repeat itself. I’m sure you’ve done your research about me before coming here.”
“Yes.” Ilie saw no need to deny this.
“Then you know I’m their adopted father?” At Ilie’s nod, the baron continued, “The Orpheline bloodline – my bloodline – is entirely made up, one where an ex-soldier like me is given a fake background to raise orphans left by their otherworlder parents.”
Ilie was stunned. “My heartkeeper isn’t entirely human?” But he had been close enough to her, he thought. Shouldn’t he have sensed this?
“She’s completely human. She and her sisters are what your kind calls…” Charles’ lip curled in disgust. “Ludifia.”
A freak of nature, the word meant in Chalysian language. Otherworlders mating with humans were not uncommon, and in rare cases when these pairings produced offspring who were purely mortal, the hapless babies were thrown away in the Woods of the Wraiths to be eaten.
“It was your job to rescue them, wasn’t it?” Ilie guessed tautly. His fists were tightly clenched, the realization that his heartkeeper had been treated in such a way making him murderous.
“Yes.” Charles’ tone was harsh as he remembered the day he had found the infant Soleil, looking half-starved to death.
And even then, she wasn’t crying, Charles thought.
“Thank you,” Ilie said quietly, “for looking after my heartkeeper.” He stood up, and when the older man came to his feet as well, Ilie bowed. “I am in your debt, Baron.”
“You have nothing to thank me for. She and her sisters have given me a reason to live.” Charles hesitated. “If she will have you, I think you’ll be a good match for my daughter. She’s always been too selfless, too practical. She needs someone—-”
“As selfish as I am?” Ilie asked drily. “Is that what you’d like to say, milord?”