Home > The Ballad of Never After (Once Upon a Broken Heart #2)

The Ballad of Never After (Once Upon a Broken Heart #2)
Author: Stephanie Garber


Words of Warning



She finished writing the letter to herself with a deep breath. Then she sealed the note with a thick dollop of golden wax and wrote the words In case you forget what the Prince of Hearts has done and you’re tempted to trust him again.

It had only been a day since she’d learned of Jacks’s most recent betrayal—poisoning her new husband, Apollo, on the night of their wedding. The duplicity of it all still felt so raw, it seemed impossible to Evangeline that she might ever trust Jacks again. But Evangeline knew that her heart longed to hope for the best. She believed that people could change; she believed that everyone’s life was like a story with an ending that was not yet written, and therefore everyone’s future held infinite possibilities.

But Evangeline could not allow herself to hope for Jacks or to forgive him for what he had done to her and Apollo.

And she could never help Jacks open the Valory Arch.

The Valors, the first royal family of the Magnificent North, had constructed the arch as a passageway to a place called the Valory. No one knew what the Valory contained, since the stories of the North couldn’t be fully trusted, thanks to the story curse that had been placed on them. Some tales couldn’t be written down without bursting into flames, others couldn’t leave the North, and many changed every time they were told, becoming less reliable with every retelling.

In the case of the Valory, there were two conflicting accounts. One said the Valory was a treasure chest that held the Valors’ greatest magical gifts. The other claimed the Valory was an enchanted prison that locked away all manner of magic beings, including an abomination that the Valors had created.

Evangeline didn’t know which account she believed, but she had no plans to allow Jacks to get his cold hands on either magical gifts or magical monsters.

The Prince of Hearts was already dangerous enough. And she was furious with him. Yesterday, after suspecting Jacks had been the one to poison Apollo, Evangeline had thought five words: I know what you’ve done.

Guards had then removed him from Wolf Hall. To her surprise, he had left without a fight or a word. But she knew he would be back. He wasn’t done with her yet, though she was done with him.

Evangeline took the letter she’d just written to herself, crossed the length of her royal suite, and placed the note atop the fireplace mantel, waxed side out—making sure she’d see the words of warning if they were ever needed again.




A Cruelty of Curses




There is a door deep inside the royal library of Wolf Hall that no one has opened for centuries. People have tried to set it on fire, break it with axes, and pick its lock with magic keys. But no one has so much as left a scratch on this stubborn door. Some say it mocks them. There is a wolf’s head wearing a crown emblazoned on the door’s wooden center, and people have sworn the wolf smirks at their failed attempts, or bares its sharp teeth if a person even comes close to opening this unopenable door.

Evangeline Fox had once tried. She had pulled and tugged and twisted the iron knob, but the door would not budge. Not then. Not before. But she hoped it would be different now.

Evangeline was very good at hoping.

She was also rather good at opening doors. With one drop of her willing blood, she could undo any lock.

First, she needed to be sure she wasn’t being watched or followed or stalked by that deceitful, apple-eating scoundrel whose name she wouldn’t even think.

Evangeline checked behind her shoulder. Her lantern’s ocher glow chased the nearby shadows away, but the bulk of Wolf Hall’s royal library stacks were nebulous with night.

She fidgeted nervously, and the lantern flickered. Evangeline had never been afraid of the dark before. Dark was for stars and dreams and the magic that took place in between days. Before losing her parents, she had constellation-watched with her father and listened to her mother tell stories by candlelight. And Evangeline had never been frightened.

But it wasn’t actually the dark or the night that she feared. It was the spider-thin prickle crawling across her shoulder blades. It had been with her since the moment she’d stepped out of her royal suite on a mission to unlock this door, in the hopes it would lead her to a cure that would save her husband, Apollo.

The uncanny sensation was so subtle, at first she let herself think it was merely paranoia.

She wasn’t being followed.

She’d heard no steps.

Until …

Evangeline peered into the library’s dark, and a pair of inhuman eyes stared back. Silver blue and brilliant and broken-star bright. She imagined they shone just to taunt her. But Evangeline knew that even if they sparkled now, even if these eyes lit up the dark and tempted her to lower her light, she couldn’t trust them. And she couldn’t trust him.

Jacks. She tried not to think his name, but it was impossible not to as she watched him saunter out of the dim, indolent yet confident and handsome as ever. He moved as if the night should have been afraid of him.

The tingling of her shoulder blades slid over her arms, an unsettling caress that went down to her one remaining broken heart scar. The wound stung, then throbbed, as if Jacks had sunk his teeth into it again.

Evangeline clutched her lantern like a sword.

“Go away, Jacks.” It had only been two days since she’d had the guards remove him, and she’d hoped he would have stayed away longer—forever would have been ideal. “I know what you did, and I don’t want to see you.”

Jacks shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers. His smoke-gray shirt was loosely tucked in, with sleeves shoved up lean arms and buttons missing at the throat. With his tousled hair now golden instead of seductive midnight blue, he looked more reckless stableboy than calculating Fate. But Evangeline knew she could never let herself forget what Jacks truly was. He was obsessive and driven and entirely without morals or conscience.

The stories said his kiss was deadly to all except his one true love, and as he’d searched for her, he’d left a trail of corpses. Evangeline had once been naive enough to believe that meant the Prince of Hearts understood heartbreak because his heart had broken over and over as he looked for love. But now it was crystal clear—he was the one who did the breaking, because he didn’t know how to love.

Jacks spoke softly. “I understand if you’re upset—”

“If,” Evangeline cut in. “You poisoned my husband!”

Jacks lifted his shoulders in an insouciant shrug. “I didn’t kill him.”

“That’s not something you earn points for.” She fought to keep her voice from cracking.

Until then, Evangeline hadn’t realized that a part of her still held on to a sliver of hope that Jacks was innocent. But he wasn’t even trying to deny it. He didn’t care that Apollo was little more than a corpse, just as he hadn’t cared when Evangeline had been turned to stone.

“You need to stop holding me to human standards,” Jacks drawled. “I’m a Fate.”

“That’s exactly why I don’t want to see you. Since I met you, my first love was turned to stone, I was turned to stone, then I was turned into a fugitive, multiple people have tried to murder me, and you poisoned my husband—”

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