فصل 48

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CHAPTER

48

Apparently, the nearby “inn” was little more than a raucous tavern with a few rooms for rent—usually by the hour. And, as it was, there were no vacancies. Save for a tiny, tiny room in what had once been part of the attic.

Rhys didn’t want anyone knowing who, exactly, was amongst the High Fae, faeries, Illyrians, and whoever else was packed in the inn below. Even I barely recognized him as he—without magic, without anything but adjusting his posture—muted that sense of otherworldly power until he was nothing but a common, very good-looking Illyrian warrior, pissy about having to take the last available room, so high up that there was only a narrow staircase leading to it: no hall, no other rooms. If I needed to use the bathing room, I’d have to venture to the level below, which … given the smells and sounds of the half dozen rooms on that level, I made a point to use quickly on our way up and then vow not to visit again until morning.

A day of playing with water and fire and ice and darkness in the freezing rain had wrecked me so thoroughly that no one looked my way, not even the drunkest and loneliest of patrons in the town’s tavern. The small town was barely that: a collection of an inn, an outfitter’s store, supply store, and a brothel. All geared toward the hunters, warriors, and travelers passing through this part of the forest either on their way to the Illyrian lands or out of them. Or just for the faeries who dwelled here, solitary and glad to be that way. Too small and too remote for Amarantha or her cronies to have ever bothered with.

Honestly, I didn’t care where we were, so long as it was dry and warm. Rhys opened the door to our attic room and stood aside to let me pass.

Well, at least it was one of those things.

The ceiling was so slanted that to get to the other side of the bed, I’d have to crawl across the mattress; the room so cramped it was nearly impossible to walk around the bed to the tiny armoire shoved against the other wall. I could sit on the bed and open the armoire easily.

The bed.

“I asked for two,” Rhys said, hands already up.

His breath clouded in front of him. Not even a fireplace. And not enough space to even demand he sleep on the floor. I didn’t trust my mastery over flame to attempt warming the room. I’d likely burn this whole filthy place to the ground.

“If you can’t risk using magic, then we’ll have to warm each other,” I said, and instantly regretted it. “Body heat,” I clarified. And, just to wipe that look off his face I added, “My sisters and I had to share a bed—I’m used to it.”

“I’ll try to keep my hands to myself.”

My mouth went a bit dry. “I’m hungry.”

He stopped smiling at that. “I’ll go down and get us food while you change.” I lifted a brow. He said, “Remarkable as my own abilities are to blend in, my face is recognizable. I’d rather not be down there long enough to be noticed.” Indeed, he fished a cloak from his pack and slid it on, the panels fitting over his wings—which he wouldn’t risk vanishing again. He’d used power earlier in the day—small enough, he said, that it might not be noticed, but we wouldn’t be returning to that part of the forest anytime soon.

He tugged on the hood, and I savored the shadows and menace and wings.

Death on swift wings. That’s what I’d call the painting.

He said softly, “I love it when you look at me like that.”

The purr in his voice heated my blood. “Like what?”

“Like my power isn’t something to run from. Like you see me.”

And to a male who had grown up knowing he was the most powerful High Lord in Prythian’s history, that he could shred minds if he wasn’t careful, that he was alone—alone in his power, in his burden, but that fear was his mightiest weapon against the threats to his people … I’d hit home when we’d fought after the Court of Nightmares.

“I was afraid of you at first.”

His white teeth flashed in the shadows of his hood. “No, you weren’t. Nervous, maybe, but never afraid. I’ve felt the genuine terror of enough people to know the difference. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t keep away.”

When? Before I could ask, he walked downstairs, shutting the door behind him.

My half-frozen clothes were a misery to peel off as they clung to my rain-swollen skin, and I knocked into the slanted ceiling, nearby walls, and slammed my knee into the brass bedpost as I changed. The room was so cold I had to get undressed in segments: replacing a freezing shirt for a dry one, pants for fleece-lined leggings, sodden socks for thick, hand-knit lovelies that went up to my calves. When I’d tucked myself into an oversized sweater that smelled faintly of Rhys, I sat cross-legged on the bed and waited.

The bed wasn’t small, but certainly not large enough for me to pretend I wouldn’t be sleeping next to him. Especially with the wings.

The rain tinkled on the roof mere inches away, a steady beat to the thoughts that now pulsed in my head.

The Cauldron knew what Lucien was reporting to Tamlin, likely at this very moment, if not hours ago.

I’d sent that note to Tamlin … and he’d chosen to ignore it. Just as he’d ignored or rejected nearly all of my requests, acted out of his deluded sense of what he believed was right for my well-being and safety. And Lucien had been prepared to take me against my will.

Fae males were territorial, dominant, arrogant—but the ones in the Spring Court … something had festered in their training. Because I knew—deep in my bones—that Cassian might push and test my limits, but the moment I said no, he’d back off. And I knew that if … that if I had been wasting away and Rhys had done nothing to stop it, Cassian or Azriel would have pulled me out. They would have taken me somewhere—wherever I needed to be—and dealt with Rhys later.

But Rhys … Rhys would never have not seen what was happening to me; would never have been so misguided and arrogant and self-absorbed. He’d known what Ianthe was from the moment he met her. And he’d understood what it was like to be a prisoner, and helpless, and to struggle—every day—with the horrors of both.

I had loved the High Lord who had shown me the comforts and wonders of Prythian; I had loved the High Lord who let me have the time and food and safety to paint. Maybe a small part of me might always care for him, but … Amarantha had broken us both. Or broken me so that who he was and what I now was no longer fit.

And I could let that go. I could accept that. Maybe it would be hard for a while, but … maybe it’d get better.

Rhys’s feet were near-silent, given away only by the slight groan of the stairs. I rose to open the door before he could knock, and found him standing there, tray in his hands. Two stacks of covered dishes sat on it, along with two glasses and a bottle of wine, and—

“Tell me that’s stew I smell.” I breathed in, stepping aside and shutting the door while he set the tray on the bed. Right—not even room for a table up here.

“Rabbit stew, if the cook’s to be believed.”

“I could have lived without hearing that,” I said, and Rhys grinned. That smile tugged on something low in my gut, and I looked away, sitting down beside the food, careful not to jostle the tray. I opened the lid of the top dishes: two bowls of stew. “What’s the other one beneath?”

“Meat pie. I didn’t dare ask what kind of meat.” I shot him a glare, but he was already edging around the bed to the armoire, his pack in hand. “Go ahead and eat,” he said, “I’m changing first.”

Indeed, he was soaked—and had to be freezing and sore.

“You should have changed before going downstairs.” I picked up the spoon and swirled the stew, sighing at the warm tendrils of steam that rose to kiss my chilled face.

The rasp and slurp of wet clothes being shucked off filled the room. I tried not to think about that bare, golden chest, the tattoos. The hard muscles. “You were the one training all day. Getting you a hot meal was the least I could do.”

I took a sip. Bland, but edible and, most importantly, hot. I ate in silence, listening to the rustle of his clothes being donned, trying to think of ice baths, of infected wounds, of toe fungus—anything but his naked body, so close … and the bed I was sitting on. I poured myself a glass of wine—then filled his.

At last, Rhys squeezed between the bed and jutting corner of the wall, his wings tucked in close. He wore loose, thin pants, and a tight-fitting shirt of what looked to be softest cotton. “How do you get it over the wings?” I asked while he dug into his own stew.

“The back is made of slats that close with hidden buttons … But in normal circumstances, I just use magic to seal it shut.”

“It seems like you have a great deal of magic constantly in use at once.”

A shrug. “It helps me work off the strain of my power. The magic needs release—draining—or else it’ll build up and drive me insane. That’s why we call the Illyrian stones Siphons—they help them channel the power, empty it when necessary.”

“Actually insane?” I set aside the empty stew bowl and removed the lid from the meat pie.

“Actually insane. Or so I was warned. I can feel it, though—the pull of it, if I go too long without releasing it.”

“That’s horrible.”

Another shrug. “Everything has its cost, Feyre. If the price of being strong enough to shield my people is that I have to struggle with that same power, then I don’t mind. Amren taught me enough about controlling it. Enough that I owe a great deal to her. Including the current shield around my city while we’re here.”

Everyone around him had some use, some mighty skill. And yet there I was … nothing more than a strange hybrid. More trouble than I was worth.

“You’re not,” he said.

“Don’t read my thoughts.”

“I can’t help what you sometimes shout down the bond. And besides, everything is usually written on your face, if you know where to look. Which made your performance today so much more impressive.”

He set aside his stew just as I finished devouring my meat pie, and I slid back on the bed to the pillows, cupping my glass of wine between my chilled hands. I watched him eat while I drank. “Did you think I would go with him?”

He paused mid-bite, then lowered his fork. “I heard every word between you. I knew you could take care of yourself, and yet … ” He went back to his pie, swallowing a bite before continuing. “And yet I found myself deciding that if you took his hand, I would find a way to live with it. It would be your choice.”

I sipped from my wine. “And if he had grabbed me?”

There was nothing but uncompromising will in his eyes. “Then I would have torn apart the world to get you back.”

A shiver went down my spine, and I couldn’t look away from him. “I would have fired at him,” I breathed, “if he had tried to hurt you.”

I hadn’t even admitted that to myself.

His eyes flickered. “I know.”

He finished eating, placed the empty tray in the corner, and faced me on the bed, refilling my glass before tending to his. He was so tall he had to stoop to keep from hitting his head on the slanted ceiling.

“One thought in exchange for another,” I said. “No training involved, please.”

A chuckle rasped out of him, and he drained his glass, setting it on the tray.

He watched me take a long drink from mine. “I’m thinking,” he said, following the flick of my tongue over my bottom lip, “that I look at you and feel like I’m dying. Like I can’t breathe. I’m thinking that I want you so badly I can’t concentrate half the time I’m around you, and this room is too small for me to properly bed you. Especially with the wings.”

My heart stumbled a beat. I didn’t know what to do with my arms, my legs, my face. I gulped down the rest of my wine and discarded the glass beside the bed, steeling my spine as I said, “I’m thinking that I can’t stop thinking about you. And that it’s been that way for a long while. Even before I left the Spring Court. And maybe that makes me a traitorous, lying piece of trash, but—”

“It doesn’t,” he said, his face solemn.

But it did. I’d wanted to see Rhysand during those weeks between visits. And hadn’t cared when Tamlin stopped visiting my bedroom. Tamlin had given up on me, but I’d also given up on him. And I was a lying piece of trash for it.

I murmured, “We should go to sleep.”

The patter of the rain was the only sound for a long moment before he said, “All right.”

I crawled over the bed to the side tucked almost against the slanted ceiling and shimmied beneath the quilt. Cool, crisp sheets wrapped around me like an icy hand. But my shiver was from something else entirely as the mattress shifted, the blanket moved, and then the two candles beside the bed went out.

Darkness hit me at the same moment the warmth from his body did. It was an effort not to nudge toward it. Neither one of us moved, though.

I stared into the dark, listening to that icy rain, trying to steal the warmth from him.

“You’re shivering so hard the bed is shaking,” he said.

“My hair is wet,” I said. It wasn’t a lie.

Rhys was silent, then the mattress groaned, sinking directly behind me as his warmth poured over me. “No expectations,” he said. “Just body heat.” I scowled at the laughter in his voice.

But his broad hands slid under and over me: one flattening against my stomach and tugging me against the hard warmth of him, the other sliding under my ribs and arms to band around my chest, pressing his front into me. He tangled his legs with mine, and then a heavier, warmer darkness settled over us, smelling of citrus and the sea.

I lifted a hand toward that darkness, and met with a soft, silky material—his wing, cocooning and warming me. I traced my finger along it, and he shuddered, his arms tightening around me.

“Your finger … is very cold,” he gritted out, the words hot on my neck.

I tried not to smile, even as I tilted my neck a bit more, hoping the heat of his breath might caress it again. I dragged my finger along his wing, the nail scraping gently against the smooth surface. Rhys tensed, his hand splaying across my stomach.

“You cruel, wicked thing,” he purred, his nose grazing the exposed bit of neck I’d arched beneath him. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you manners?”

“I never knew Illyrians were such sensitive babies,” I said, sliding another finger down the inside of his wing.

Something hard pushed against my behind. Heat flooded me, and I went taut and loose all at once. I stroked his wing again, two fingers now, and he twitched against my backside in time with the caress.

The fingers he’d spread over my stomach began to make idle, lazy strokes. He swirled one around my navel, and I inched imperceptibly closer, grinding up against him, arching a bit more to give that other hand access to my breasts.

“Greedy,” he murmured, his lips hovering over my neck. “First you terrorize me with your cold hands, now you want … what is it you want, Feyre?”

More, more, more, I almost begged him as his fingers traveled down the slope of my breasts, while his other hand continued its idle stroking along my stomach, my abdomen, slowly—so slowly—heading toward the low band of my pants and the building ache beneath it.

Rhysand’s teeth scraped against my neck in a lazy caress. “What is it you want, Feyre?” He nipped at my earlobe.

I cried out just a little, arching fully against him, as if I could get that hand to slip exactly to where I wanted it. I knew what he wanted me to say. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of it. Not yet.

So I said, “I want a distraction.” It was breathless. “I want—fun.”

His body again tensed behind mine.

And I wondered if he somehow didn’t see it for the lie it was; if he thought … if he thought that was all I indeed wanted.

But his hands resumed their roaming. “Then allow me the pleasure of distracting you.”

He slipped a hand beneath the top of my sweater, diving clean under my shirt. Skin to skin, the calluses of his hands made me groan as they scraped the top of my breast and circled around my peaked nipple. “I love these,” he breathed onto my neck, his hand sliding to my other breast. “You have no idea how much I love these.”

I groaned as he caressed a knuckle against my nipple, and I bowed into the touch, silently begging him. He was hard as granite behind me, and I ground against him, eliciting a soft, wicked hiss from him. “Stop that,” he snarled onto my skin. “You’ll ruin my fun.”

I would do no such thing. I began twisting, reaching for him, needing to just feel him, but he clicked his tongue and pushed himself harder against me, until there was no room for my hand to even slide in.

“I want to touch you first,” he said, his voice so guttural I barely recognized it. “Just—let me touch you.” He palmed my breast for emphasis.

It was enough of a broken plea that I paused, yielding as his other hand again trailed lazy lines on my stomach.

I can’t breathe when I look at you.

Let me touch you.

Because I was jealous, and pissed off …

She’s mine.

I shut out the thoughts, the bits and pieces he’d given me.

Rhys slid his finger along the band of my pants again, a cat playing with its dinner.

Again.

Again.

“Please,” I managed to say.

He smiled against my neck. “There are those missing manners.” His hand at last trailed beneath my pants. The first brush of him against me dragged a groan from deep in my throat.

He snarled in satisfaction at the wetness he found waiting for him, and his thumb circled that spot at the apex of my thighs, teasing, brushing up against it, but never quite—

His other hand gently squeezed my breast at the same moment his thumb pushed down exactly where I wanted. I bucked my hips, my head fully back against his shoulder now, panting as his thumb flicked—

I cried out, and he laughed, low and soft. “Like that?”

A moan was my only reply. More more more.

His fingers slid down, slow and brazen, straight through the core of me, and every point in my body, my mind, my soul, narrowed to the feeling of his fingers poised there like he had all the time in the world.

Bastard. “Please,” I said again, and ground my ass against him for emphasis.

He hissed at the contact and slid a finger inside me. He swore. “Feyre—”

But I’d already started to move on him, and he swore again in a long exhale. His lips pressed into my neck, kissing up, up toward my ear.

I let out a moan so loud it drowned out the rain as he slid in a second finger, filling me so much I couldn’t think around it, couldn’t breathe. “That’s it,” he murmured, his lips tracing my ear.

I was sick of my neck and ear getting such attention. I twisted as much as I could, and found him staring at me, at the hand down the front of my pants, watching me move on him.

He was still staring at me when I captured his mouth with my own, biting on his lower lip.

Rhys groaned, plunging his fingers in deeper. Harder.

I didn’t care—I didn’t care one bit about what I was and who I was and where I’d been as I yielded fully to him, opening my mouth. His tongue swept in, moving in a way that I knew exactly what he’d do if he got between my legs.

His fingers plunged in and out, slow and hard, and my very existence narrowed to the feel of them, to the tightness in me ratcheting up with every deep stroke, every echoing thrust of his tongue in my mouth.

“You have no idea how much I—” He cut himself off, and groaned again. “Feyre.”

The sound of my name on his lips was my undoing. Release barreled down my spine, and I cried out, only to have his lips cover mine, as if he could devour the sound. His tongue flicked the roof of my mouth while I shuddered around him, clenching tight. He swore again, breathing hard, fingers stroking me through the last throes of it, until I was limp and trembling in his arms.

I couldn’t breathe hard enough, fast enough, as Rhys withdrew his fingers, pulling back so I could meet his stare. He said, “I wanted to do that when I felt how drenched you were at the Court of Nightmares. I wanted to have you right there in the middle of everyone. But mostly I just wanted to do this.” His eyes held mine as he brought those fingers to his mouth and sucked on them.

On the taste of me.

I was going to eat him alive. I slid a hand up to his chest to pin him down, but he gripped my wrist. “When you lick me,” he said roughly, “I want to be alone—far away from everyone. Because when you lick me, Feyre,” he said, pressing nipping kisses to my jaw, my neck, “I’m going to let myself roar loud enough to bring down a mountain.”

I was instantly liquid again, and he laughed under his breath. “And when I lick you,” he said, sliding his arms around me and tucking me in tight to him, “I want you splayed out on a table like my own personal feast.”

I whimpered.

“I’ve had a long, long time to think about how and where I want you,” Rhys said onto the skin of my neck, his fingers sliding under the band of my pants, but stopping just beneath. Their home for the evening. “I have no intention of doing it all in one night. Or in a room where I can’t even fuck you against the wall.”

I shuddered. He remained long and hard against me. I had to feel him, had to get that considerable length inside of me—

“Sleep,” he said. He might as well have commanded me to breathe underwater.

But he began stroking my body again—not to arouse, but to soothe—long, luxurious strokes down my stomach, my sides.

Sleep found me faster than I’d thought.

And maybe it was the wine, or the aftermath of the pleasure he’d wrung from me, but I didn’t have a single nightmare.

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