فصل 11

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CHAPTER

11

“What the hell happened to you?” Rhysand said before the Night Court had fully appeared around us.

“Why don’t you just look inside my head?” Even as I said it, the words had no bite. I didn’t bother to shove him as I stepped out of his hold.

He gave me a wink. “Where’s the fun in that?”

I didn’t smile.

“No shoe throwing this time?” I could almost see the other words in his eyes. Come on. Play with me.

I headed for the stairs that would take me to my room.

“Eat breakfast with me,” he said.

There was a note in those words that made me pause. A note of what I could have sworn was desperation. Worry.

I twisted, my loose clothes sliding over my shoulders, my waist. I hadn’t realized how much weight I’d lost. Despite things creeping back to normal.

I said, “Don’t you have other things to deal with?”

“Of course I do,” he said, shrugging. “I have so many things to deal with that I’m sometimes tempted to unleash my power across the world and wipe the board clean. Just to buy me some damned peace.” He grinned, bowing at the waist. Even that casual mention of his power failed to chill me, awe me. “But I’ll always make time for you.”

I was hungry—I hadn’t yet eaten. And that was indeed worry glimmering behind the cocky, insufferable grin.

So I motioned him to lead the way to that familiar glass table at the end of the hall.

We walked a casual distance apart. Tired. I was so—tired.

When we were almost to the table, Rhys said, “I felt a spike of fear this month through our lovely bond. Anything exciting happen at the wondrous Spring Court?”

“It was nothing,” I said. Because it was. And it was none of his business.

I glanced sidelong at him—and rage, not worry—flickered in those eyes.

I could have sworn the mountain beneath us trembled in response.

“If you know,” I said coldly, “why even ask about it?” I dropped into my chair as he slid into his.

He said quietly, “Because these days, all I hear through that bond is nothing. Silence. Even with your shields up rather impressively most of the time, I should be able to feel you. And yet I don’t. Sometimes I’ll tug on the bond only to make sure you’re still alive.” Darkness guttered. “And then one day, I’m in the middle of an important meeting when terror blasts through the bond. All I get are glimpses of you and him—and then nothing. Back to silence. I’d like to know what caused such a disruption.”

I served myself from the platters of food, barely caring what had been laid on the table. “It was an argument, and the rest is none of your concern.”

“Is it why you look like your grief and guilt and rage are eating you alive, bit by bit?”

I didn’t want to talk about it. “Get out of my head.”

“Make me. Push me out. You dropped your shield this morning—anyone could have walked right in.”

I held his stare. Another challenge. And I just … I didn’t care. I didn’t care about whatever smoldered in my body, about how I’d slipped into Lucien’s head as easily as Rhys could slip into mine, shield or no shield. “Where’s Mor?” I asked instead.

He tensed, and I braced myself for him to push, to provoke, but he said, “Away. She has duties to attend to.” Shadows swirled around him again and I dug into my food. “Is the wedding on hold, then?”

I paused eating barely long enough to mumble, “Yes.”

“I expected an answer more along the lines of, ‘Don’t ask stupid questions you already know the answer to,’ or my timeless favorite, ‘Go to hell.’ ”

I only reached for a platter of tartlets. His hands were flat on the table—and a whisper of black smoke curled over his fingers. Like talons.

He said, “Did you give my offer any thought?”

I didn’t answer until my plate was empty and I was heaping more food onto it. “I’m not going to work with you.”

I almost felt the dark calm that settled over him. “And why, Feyre, are you refusing me?”

I pushed around the fruit on my plate. “I’m not going to be a part of this war you think is coming. You say I should be a weapon, not a pawn—they seem like the same to me. The only difference is who’s wielding it.”

“I want your help, not to manipulate you,” he snapped.

His flare of temper made me at last lift my head. “You want my help because it’ll piss off Tamlin.”

Shadows danced around his shoulders—as if the wings were trying to take form.

“Fine,” he breathed. “I dug that grave myself, with all I did Under the Mountain. But I need your help.”

Again, I could feel the other unspoken words: Ask me why; push me about it.

And again, I didn’t want to. Didn’t have the energy to.

Rhys said quietly, “I was a prisoner in her court for nearly fifty years. I was tortured and beaten and fucked until only telling myself who I was, what I had to protect, kept me from trying to find a way to end it. Please—help me keep that from happening again. To Prythian.”

Some distant part of my heart ached and bled at the words, at what he’d laid bare.

But Tamlin had made exceptions—he’d lightened the guards’ presence, allowed me to roam a bit more freely. He was trying. We were trying. I wouldn’t jeopardize that.

So I went back to eating.

Rhys didn’t say another word.

I didn’t join him for dinner.

I didn’t rise in time for breakfast, either.

But when I emerged at noon, he was waiting upstairs, that faint, amused smile on his face. He nudged me toward the table he’d arranged with books and paper and ink.

“Copy these sentences,” he drawled from across the table, handing me a piece of paper.

I looked at them and read perfectly:

“Rhysand is a spectacular person. Rhysand is the center of my world. Rhysand is the best lover a female can ever dream of.” I set down the paper, wrote out the three sentences, and handed it to him.

The claws slammed into my mind a moment later.

And bounced harmlessly off a black, glimmering shield of adamant.

He blinked. “You practiced.”

I rose from the table and walked away. “I had nothing better to do.”

That night, he left a pile of books by my door with a note.

I have business elsewhere. The house is yours. Send word if you need me.

Days passed—and I didn’t.

Rhys returned at the end of the week. I’d taken to situating myself in one of the little lounges overlooking the mountains, and had almost read an entire book in the deep-cushioned armchair, going slowly as I learned new words. But it had filled my time—given me quiet, steadfast company with those characters, who did not exist and never would, but somehow made me feel less … alone.

The woman who’d hurled a bone-spear at Amarantha … I didn’t know where she was anymore. Perhaps she’d vanished that day her neck had snapped and faerie immortality had filled her veins.

I was just finishing up a particularly good chapter—the second-to-last in the book—a shaft of buttery afternoon sunlight warming my feet, when Rhysand slid between two of the oversized armchairs, twin plates of food in his hands, and set them on the low-lying table before me. “Since you seem hell-bent on a sedentary lifestyle,” he said, “I thought I’d go one step further and bring your food to you.”

My stomach was already twisting with hunger, and I lowered the book into my lap. “Thank you.”

A short laugh. “Thank you? Not ‘High lord and servant?’ Or: ‘Whatever it is you want, you can go shove it up your ass, Rhysand.’?” He clicked his tongue. “How disappointing.”

I set down the book and extended a hand for the plate. He could listen to himself talk all day if he wished, but I wanted to eat. Now.

My fingers had almost grazed the rim of the plate when it just slid away.

I reached again. Once more, a tendril of his power yanked the plate further back.

“Tell me what to do,” he said. “Tell me what to do to help you.”

Rhys kept the plate beyond reach. He spoke again, and as if the words tumbling out loosened his grip on his power, talons of smoke curled over his fingers and great wings of shadow spread from his back. “Months and months, and you’re still a ghost. Does no one there ask what the hell is happening? Does your High Lord simply not care?”

He did care. Tamlin did care. Perhaps too much. “He’s giving me space to sort it out,” I said, with enough of a bite that I barely recognized my voice.

“Let me help you,” Rhys said. “We went through enough Under the Mountain—”

I flinched.

“She wins,” Rhys breathed. “That bitch wins if you let yourself fall apart.”

I wondered if he’d been telling himself that for months now, wondered if he, too, had moments when his own memories sometimes suffocated him deep in the night.

But I lifted the book, firing two words down the bond between us before I blasted my shields up again.

Conversation over.

“Like hell it is,” he snarled. A thrum of power caressed my fingers, and then the book sealed shut between my hands. My nails dug into the leather and paper—to no avail.

Bastard. Arrogant, presuming bastard.

Slowly, I lifted my eyes to him. And I felt … not hot temper—but icy, glittering rage.

I could almost feel that ice at my fingertips, kissing my palms. And I swore there was frost coating the book before I hurled it at his head.

He shielded fast enough that it bounced away and slid across the marble floor behind us.

“Good,” he said, his breathing a bit uneven. “What else do you have, Feyre?”

Ice melted to flame, and my fingers curled into fists.

And the High Lord of the Night Court honestly looked relieved at the sight of it—of that wrath that made me want to rage and burn.

A feeling, for once. Not like that hollow cold and silence.

And the thought of returning to that manor with the sentries and the patrols and the secrets … I sank back into my chair. Frozen once more.

“Any time you need someone to play with,” Rhys said, pushing the plate toward me on a star-flecked wind, “whether it’s during our marvelous week together or otherwise, you let me know.”

I couldn’t muster up a response, exhausted from the bit of temper I’d shown.

And I realized I was in a free fall with no end. I had been for a while. From the moment I’d stabbed that Fae youth in the heart.

I didn’t look up at him again as I devoured the food.

The next morning, Tamlin was waiting in the shade of the gnarled, mighty oak tree in the garden.

A murderous expression twisted his face, directed solely at Rhys. Yet there was nothing amused in Rhys’s smile as he stepped back from me—only a cold, cunning predator gazing out.

Tamlin growled at me, “Get inside.”

I looked between the two High Lords. And seeing that fury in Tamlin’s face … I knew there would be no more solitary rides or walks through the grounds.

Rhys just said to me, “Fight it.”

And then he was gone.

“I’m fine,” I said to Tamlin, as his shoulders slumped, his head bowing.

“I will find a way to end this,” he swore.

I wanted to believe him. I knew he’d do anything to achieve it.

He made me again walk through every detail I had learned at Rhys’s home. Every conversation, however brief. I told him everything, each word quieter than the last.

Protect, protect, protect—I could see the word in his eyes, feel it in every thrust he made into my body that night. I had been taken from him once in the most permanent of ways, but never again.

The sentries returned in full force the next morning.

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