Severin’s cat ears flattened. “She defended Emele?”

Burke smugly cleaned his slate and wrote, Defended and protected. Mademoiselle Emele says the boy threw a rock at her, but our honored guest intercepted it.

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“How?”

She used the same tool with which she knocked the boy from the tree. Her crutch.

“How is Emele bearing it?”

With the highest admiration for her charge.

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Severin tapped his thick fingers on the table until he realized his claws were scratching the smooth surface. “Did the village urchin leave?”

The footmen combed the gardens and did not find him. Mademoiselle Emele and our guest insist the boy fled.

“The gardens are unharmed?”

The hedge at which the boy made his exit is less than perfect, they are otherwise untouched.

Severin licked his chops. “Send for Marc. I need to speak to him of security measures on the chateau grounds. I was inclined to ignore the peasants of Belvenes, but they have forgotten who I am and have overstepped their bounds. It is not necessary for my servants to take brutalities for their stupidity.”

Burke bent at the waist in a bow.

“Do not let my brother hear of this report, Burke,” Severin said.

Of course, Your Highness.

Burke bowed again and turned on his outlandish high heeled shoes to leave.

“Burke,” Severin said.

The fashionable valet turned back to face Severin.

“The intruder. What is her name again?”

Burke’s mask twitched, and he struggled to suppress the smile on his lips. Elle.

Severin waited until Burke had quitted the room before he exhaled a deep sigh. The skin between Severin’s eyes ached, and Severin pinched it, careful not to jab himself with his claws.

He hadn’t wanted to ask Burke what the girl’s name was because he knew it would raise false expectations among his staff. Burke was usually dependably silent about touchy matters, but Severin had no doubts the courtly dandy was searching out Bernadine and Heloise this very moment to share his new intelligence.

“She chased off a fellow villager. That is nothing to preen over—she’s only here in the first place because she trespassed,” Severin said to his empty study. “This changes nothing.” But Severin knew it would change everything in his servants’ eyes. Rare was the individual who was not terrified of them.

Severin stood and walked to the full length mirror that was leaned against the wall. It had an impressive, golden frame that was obnoxiously ornate, and it was quite large but otherwise utterly ordinary.

“Show me Elle,” Severin ordered.

The reflective surface of the mirror rippled like a pond before Severin’s reflection and the study faded to black. After a moment a new image crawled to the surface.

It was the girl, Elle. She was sitting on a couch, playing with the Papillon mongrel Lucien had given Severin when he first moved to Chanceux Chateau.

The loathsome dog barked playfully at Elle before he hopped on her lap—disappearing in the poof of skirts.

Elle patted down her skirts to unearth the mongrel. She picked it up and held it to her chest. The dog wildly twirled his tail, rewarding Elle with a kiss.

“Emele can’t we please open a window at night?” Elle asked.

Emele fluttered past her, carrying sewing materials.

“It is sweltering in this room when I wake up in the morning,” Elle added, setting the mongrel down when it wriggled in her hands.

“Enough,” Severin said to the mirror.

The image disappeared to darkness, and within moments Severin’s ghastly reflection returned.

Severin retreated to his desk, thankful for the mirror—even if it hadn’t revealed anything particularly startling about his servant’s false hope.

The magical mirror was a useful tool for an army commander to have. On more than one occasion it had saved Severin from making bad decisions, it was one of the only reasons why Severin was comfortable leaving Lucien unguarded, and it had even saved Severin’s life once before.

It was only because of the magic mirror that the enchantress Angelique was at the palace the day Severin was attacked, after all. She wanted to inspect his mirror—which she got the chance to do after returning Severin to his right mind. She seemed disappointed when she saw it, but thanked Severin for allowing her to see it before she left.

Severin hadn’t seen her since.

Severin grimly tucked himself into his desk and pulled papers towards him. He looked up when he heard the clattering of shoes down the hallway. They didn’t stop outside his door—as he expected—and instead the footfalls continued down the hallway until they disappeared entirely.

Severin shook his head. The intruder girl might not be as stupid and ignorant as Severin first thought, but her presence was not a good thing. It gave his servants hope. False hope.

After all, Severin had tried breaking the curse before, and it hadn’t worked.

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