فصل 55

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CHAPTER

55

I watched him consume every spoonful, his eyes darting between where I stood and the soup.

When he was done, he set down his spoon.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” he said at last.

“I was going to tell you what I’d decided the moment I saw you on the threshold.”

Rhys twisted in his seat toward me. “And now?”

Aware of every breath, every movement, I sat in his lap. His hands gently braced my hips as I studied his face. “And now I want you to know, Rhysand, that I love you. I want you to know … ” His lips trembled, and I brushed away the tear that escaped down his cheek. “I want you to know,” I whispered, “that I am broken and healing, but every piece of my heart belongs to you. And I am honored—honored to be your mate.”

His arms wrapped around me and he pressed his forehead to my shoulder, his body shaking. I stroked a hand through his silken hair.

“I love you,” I said again. I hadn’t dared say the words in my head. “And I’d endure every second of it over again so I could find you. And if war comes, we’ll face it. Together. I won’t let them take me from you. And I won’t let them take you from me, either.”

Rhys looked up, his face gleaming with tears. He went still as I leaned in, kissing away one tear. Then the other. As he had once kissed away mine.

When my lips were wet and salty with them, I pulled back far enough to see his eyes. “You’re mine,” I breathed.

His body shuddered with what might have been a sob, but his lips found my own.

It was gentle—soft. The kiss he might have given me if we’d been granted time and peace to meet across our two separate worlds. To court each other. I slid my arms around his shoulders, opening my mouth to him, and his tongue slipped in, caressing my own. Mate—my mate.

He hardened against me, and I groaned into his mouth.

The sound snapped whatever leash he’d had on himself, and Rhysand scooped me up in a smooth movement before laying me flat on the table—amongst and on top of all the paints.

He deepened the kiss, and I wrapped my legs around his back, hooking him closer. He tore his lips from my mouth to my neck, where he dragged his teeth and tongue down my skin as his hands slid under my sweater and went up, up, to cup my breasts. I arched into the touch, and lifted my arms as he peeled away my sweater in one easy motion.

Rhys pulled back to survey me, my body naked from the waist up. Paint soaked into my hair, my arms. But all I could think of was his mouth as it lowered to my breast and sucked, his tongue flicking against my nipple.

I plunged my fingers into his hair, and he braced a hand beside my head—smack atop a palette of paint. He let out a low laugh, and I watched, breathless, as he took that hand and traced a circle around my breast, then lower, until he painted a downward arrow beneath my belly button.

“Lest you forget where this is going to end,” he said.

I snarled at him, a silent order, and he laughed again, his mouth finding my other breast. He ground his hips against me, teasing—teasing me so horribly that I had to touch him, had to just feel more of him. There was paint all over my hands, my arms, but I didn’t care as I grabbed at his clothes. He shifted enough to let me remove them, weapons and leather thudding to the ground, revealing that beautiful tattooed body, the powerful muscles and wings now peeking above them.

My mate—my mate.

His mouth crashed into mine, his bare skin so warm against my own, and I gripped his face, smearing paint there, too. Smearing it in his hair, until great streaks of blue and red and green ran through it. His hands found my waist, and I bucked my hips off the table to help him remove my socks, my leggings.

Rhys pulled back again, and I let out a bark of protest—that choked off into a gasp as he gripped my thighs and yanked me to the edge of the table, through paints and brushes and cups of water, hooked my legs over his shoulders to rest on either side of those beautiful wings, and knelt before me.

Knelt on those stars and mountains inked on his knees. He would bow for no one and nothing—

But his mate. His equal.

The first lick of Rhysand’s tongue set me on fire.

I want you splayed out on the table like my own personal feast.

He growled his approval at my moan, my taste, and unleashed himself on me entirely.

A hand pinning my hips to the table, he worked me in great sweeping strokes. And when his tongue slid inside me, I reached up to grip the edge of the table, to grip the edge of the world that I was very near to falling off.

He licked and kissed his way to the apex of my thighs, just as his fingers replaced where his mouth had been, pumping inside me as he sucked, his teeth scraping ever so slightly—

I bowed off the table as my climax shattered through me, splintering my consciousness into a million pieces. He kept licking me, fingers still moving. “Rhys,” I rasped.

Now. I wanted him now.

But he remained kneeling, feasting on me, that hand pinning me to the table.

I went over the edge again. And only when I was trembling, half sobbing, limp with pleasure, did Rhys rise from the floor.

He looked me over, naked, covered in paint, his own face and body smeared with it, and give me a slow, satisfied male smile. “You’re mine,” he snarled, and hefted me up into his arms.

I wanted the wall—I wanted him to just take me against the wall, but he carried me into the room I’d been using and set me down on the bed with heartbreaking gentleness.

Wholly naked, I watched as he unbuttoned his pants, and the considerable length of him sprang free. My mouth went dry at the sight of it. I wanted him, wanted every glorious inch of him in me, wanted to claw at him until our souls were forged together.

He didn’t say anything as he came over me, wings tucked in tight. He’d never gone to bed with a female while his wings were out. But I was his mate. He would yield only for me.

And I wanted to touch him.

I leaned up, reaching over his shoulder to caress the powerful curve of his wing.

Rhys shuddered, and I watched his cock twitch.

“Play later,” he ground out.

Indeed.

His mouth found mine, the kiss open and deep, a clash of tongues and teeth. He lay me down on the pillows, and I locked my legs around his back, careful of the wings.

Though I stopped caring as he nudged at my entrance. And paused.

“Play later,” I snarled into his mouth.

Rhys laughed in a way that skittered along my bones, and slid in. And in. And in.

I could hardly breathe, hardly think beyond where our bodies were joined. He stilled inside me, letting me adjust, and I opened my eyes to find him staring down at me. “Say it again,” he murmured.

I knew what he meant.

“You’re mine,” I breathed.

Rhys pulled out slightly and thrust back in slow. So torturously slow.

“You’re mine,” I gasped out.

Again, he pulled out, then thrust in.

“You’re mine.”

Again—faster, deeper this time.

I felt it then, the bond between us, like an unbreakable chain, like an undimmable ray of light.

With each pounding stroke, the bond glowed clearer and brighter and stronger. “You’re mine,” I whispered, dragging my hands through his hair, down his back, across his wings.

My friend through many dangers.

My lover who had healed my broken and weary soul.

My mate who had waited for me against all hope, despite all odds.

I moved my hips in time with his. He kissed me over and over, and both of our faces turned damp. Every inch of me burned and tightened, and my control slipped entirely as he whispered, “I love you.”

Release tore through my body, and he pounded into me, hard and fast, drawing out my pleasure until I felt and saw and smelled that bond between us, until our scents merged, and I was his and he was mine, and we were the beginning and middle and end. We were a song that had been sung from the very first ember of light in the world.

Rhys roared as he came, slamming in to the hilt. Outside, the mountains trembled, the remaining snow rushing from them in a cascade of glittering white, only to be swallowed up by the waiting night below.

Silence fell, interrupted only by our panting breaths.

I took his paint-smeared face between my own colorful hands and made him look at me.

His eyes were radiant like the stars I’d painted once, long ago.

And I smiled at Rhys as I let that mating bond shine clear and luminous between us.

I don’t know how long we lay there, lazily touching each other, as if we might indeed have all the time in the world.

“I think I fell in love with you,” Rhys murmured, stroking a finger down my arm, “the moment I realized you were cleaving those bones to make a trap for the Middengard Wyrm. Or maybe the moment you flipped me off for mocking you. It reminded me so much of Cassian. For the first time in decades, I wanted to laugh.”

“You fell in love with me,” I said flatly, “because I reminded you of your friend?”

He flicked my nose. “I fell in love with you, smartass, because you were one of us—because you weren’t afraid of me, and you decided to end your spectacular victory by throwing that piece of bone at Amarantha like a javelin. I felt Cassian’s spirit beside me in that moment, and could have sworn I heard him say, ‘If you don’t marry her, you stupid prick, I will.’ ”

I huffed a laugh, sliding my paint-covered hand over his tattooed chest. Paint—right.

We were both covered in it. So was the bed.

Rhys followed my eyes and gave me a grin that was positively wicked. “How convenient that the bathtub is large enough for two.”

My blood heated, and I rose from the bed only to have him move faster—scooping me up in his arms. He was splattered with paint, his hair crusted with it, and his poor, beautiful wings … Those were my handprints on them. Naked, he carried me into the bath, where the water was already running, the magic of this cabin acting on our behalf.

He strode down the steps into the water, his hiss of pleasure a brush of air against my ear. And I might have moaned a little myself when the hot water hit me as he sat us both down in the tub.

A basket of soaps and oils appeared along the stone rim, and I pushed off him to sink further beneath the surface. The steam wafted between us, and Rhys picked up a bar of that pine tar–smelling soap and handed it to me, then passed a washrag. “Someone, it seems, got my wings dirty.”

My face heated, but my gut tightened. Illyrian males and their wings—so sensitive.

I twirled my finger to motion him to turn around. He obeyed, spreading those magnificent wings enough for me to find the paint stains. Carefully, so carefully, I soaped up the washcloth and began wiping the red and blue and purple away.

The candlelight danced over his countless, faint scars—nearly invisible save for harder bits of membrane. He shuddered with each pass, hands braced on the lip of the tub. I peeked over his shoulder to see the evidence of that sensitivity, and said, “At least the rumors about wingspan correlating with the size of other parts were right.”

His back muscles tensed as he choked out a laugh. “Such a dirty, wicked mouth.”

I thought of all the places I wanted to put that mouth and blushed a bit.

“I think I was falling in love with you for a while,” I said, the words barely audible over the trickle of water as I washed his beautiful wings. “But I knew on Starfall. Or came close to knowing and was so scared of it that I didn’t want to look closer. I was a coward.”

“You had perfectly good reasons to avoid it.”

“No, I didn’t. Maybe—thanks to Tamlin, yes. But it had nothing to do with you, Rhys. Nothing to do with you. I was never afraid of the consequences of being with you. Even if every assassin in the world hunts us … It’s worth it. You are worth it.”

His head dipped a bit. And he said hoarsely, “Thank you.”

My heart broke for him then—for the years he’d spent thinking the opposite. I kissed his bare neck, and he reached back to drag a finger down my cheek.

I finished the wings and gripped his shoulder to turn him to face me. “What now?” Wordlessly, he took the soap from my hands and turned me, rubbing down my back, scrubbing lightly with the cloth.

“It’s up to you,” Rhys said. “We can go back to Velaris and have the bond verified by a priestess—no one like Ianthe, I promise—and be declared officially Mated. We could have a small party to celebrate—dinner with our … cohorts. Unless you’d rather have a large party, though I think you and I are in agreement about our aversion for them.” His strong hands kneaded muscles that were tight and aching in my back, and I groaned. “We could also go before a priestess and be declared husband and wife as well as mates, if you want a more human thing to call me.”

“What will you call me?”

“Mate,” he said. “Though also calling you my wife sounds mighty appealing, too.” His thumbs massaged the column of my spine. “Or if you want to wait, we can do none of those things. We’re mated, whether it’s shouted across the world or not. There’s no rush to decide.”

I turned. “I was asking about Jurian, the king, the queens, and the Cauldron, but I’m glad to know I have so many options where our relationship stands. And that you’ll do whatever I want. I must have you wrapped completely around my finger.”

His eyes danced with feline amusement. “Cruel, beautiful thing.”

I snorted. The idea that he found me beautiful at all—

“You are,” he said. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I thought that from the first moment I saw you on Calanmai.”

And it was stupid, stupid for beauty to mean anything at all, but … My eyes burned.

“Which is good,” he added, “because you thought I was the most beautiful male you’d ever seen. So it makes us even.”

I scowled, and he laughed, hands sliding to grip my waist and tug me to him. He sat down on the built-in bench of the tub, and I straddled him, idly stroking his muscled arms.

“Tomorrow,” Rhys said, features becoming grave. “We’re leaving tomorrow for your family’s estate. The queens sent word. They return in three days.”

I started. “You’re telling me this now?”

“I got sidetracked,” he said, his eyes twinkling.

And the light in those eyes, the quiet joy … They knocked the breath from me. A future—we would have a future together. I would have a future. A life.

His smile faded into something awed, something … reverent, and I reached out to cup his face in my hands—

To find my skin glowing.

Faintly, as if some inner light shone beneath my skin, leaking out into the world. Warm and white light, like the sun—like a star. Those wonder-filled eyes met mine, and Rhys ran a finger down my arm. “Well, at least now I can gloat that I literally make my mate glow with happiness.”

I laughed, and the glow flared a little brighter. He leaned in, kissing me softly, and I melted for him, wrapping my arms around his neck. He was rock-hard against me, pushing against where I sat poised right above him. All it would take would be one smooth motion and he’d be inside me—

But Rhys stood from the water, both of us dripping wet, and I hooked my legs around him as he walked us back into the bedroom. The sheets had been changed by the domestic magic of the house, and they were warm and smooth against my naked body as he set me down and stared at me. Shining—I was shining bright and pure as a star. “Day Court?” I asked.

“I don’t care,” he said roughly, and removed the glamour from himself.

It was a small magic, he’d once told me, to keep the damper on who he was, what his power looked like.

As the full majesty of him was unleashed, he filled the room, the world, my soul, with glittering ebony power. Stars and wind and shadows; peace and dreams and the honed edge of nightmares. Darkness rippled from him like tendrils of steam as he reached out a hand and laid it flat against the glowing skin of my stomach.

That hand of night splayed, the light leaking through the wafting shadows, and I hoisted myself up on my elbows to kiss him.

Smoke and mist and dew.

I moaned at the taste of him, and he opened his mouth for me, letting me brush my tongue against his, scrape it against his teeth. Everything he was had been laid before me—one final question.

I wanted it all.

I gripped his shoulders, guiding him onto the bed. And when he lay flat on his back, I saw the flash of protest at the pinned wings. But I crooned, “Illyrian baby,” and ran my hands down his muscled abdomen—farther. He stopped objecting.

He was enormous in my hand—so hard, yet so silken that I just ran a finger down him in wonder. He hissed, cock twitching as I brushed my thumb over the tip. I smirked as I did it again.

He reached for me, but I froze him with a look. “My turn,” I told him.

Rhys gave me a lazy, male smile before he settled back, tucking a hand behind his head. Waiting.

Cocky bastard.

So I leaned down and put my mouth on him.

He jerked at the contact with a barked, “Shit,” and I laughed around him, even as I took him deeper into my mouth.

His hands were now fisted in the sheets, white-knuckled as I slid my tongue over him, grazing slightly with my teeth. His groan was fire to my blood.

Honestly, I was surprised he waited the full minute before interrupting me.

Pouncing was a better word for what Rhys did.

One second, he was in my mouth, my tongue flicking over the broad head of him; the next, his hands were on my waist and I was being flipped onto my front. He nudged my legs apart with his knees, spreading me as he gripped my hips, tugging them up, up before he sheathed himself deep in me with a single stroke.

I moaned into the pillow at every glorious inch of him, rising onto my forearms as my fingers grappled into the sheets.

Rhys pulled out and plunged back in, eternity exploding around me in that instant, and I thought I might break apart from not being able to get enough of him.

“Look at you,” he murmured as he moved in me, and kissed the length of my spine.

I managed to rise up enough to see where we were joined—to see the sunlight shimmer off me against the rippling night of him, merging and blending, enriching. And the sight of it wrecked me so thoroughly that I climaxed with his name on my lips.

Rhys hauled me up against him, one hand cupping my breast as the other rolled and stroked that bundle of nerves between my legs, and I couldn’t tell where one climax ended and the second began as he thrust in again, and again, his lips on my neck, on my ear.

I could die from this, I decided. From wanting him, from the pleasure of being with him.

He twisted us, pulling out only long enough to lie on his back and haul me over him.

There was a glimmer in the darkness—a flash of lingering pain, a scar. And I understood why he wanted me like this, wanted to end it like this, with me astride him.

It broke my heart. I leaned forward to kiss him, softly, tenderly.

As our mouths met, I slid onto him, the fit so much deeper, and he murmured my name into my mouth. I kissed him again and again, and rode him gently. Later—there would be other times to go hard and fast. But right now … I wouldn’t think of why this position was one he wanted to end in, to have me banish the stained dark with the light.

But I would glow—for him, I’d glow. For my own future, I’d glow.

So I sat up, hands braced on his broad chest, and unleashed that light in me, letting it drive out the darkness of what had been done to him, my mate, my friend.

Rhys barked my name, thrusting his hips up. Stars wheeled as he slammed deep.

I think the light pouring out of me might have been starlight, or maybe my own vision fractured as release barreled into me again and Rhys found his, gasping my name over and over as he spilled himself in me.

When we were done, I remained atop him, fingertips digging into his chest, and marveled at him. At us.

He tugged on my wet hair. “We’ll have to find a way to put a damper on that light.”

“I can keep the shadows hidden easily enough.”

“Ah, but you only lose control of those when you’re pissed. And since I have every intention of making you as happy as a person can be … I have a feeling we’ll need to learn to control that wondrous glow.”

“Always thinking; always calculating.”

Rhys kissed the corner of my mouth. “You have no idea how many things I’ve thought up when it comes to you.”

“I remember mention of a wall.”

His laugh was a sensual promise. “Next time, Feyre, I’ll fuck you against the wall.”

“Hard enough to make the pictures fall off.”

Rhys barked a laugh. “Show me again what you can do with that wicked mouth.”

I obliged him.

It was wrong to compare, because I knew probably every High Lord could keep a woman from sleeping all night, but Rhysand was … ravenous. I got perhaps an hour total of sleep that night, though I supposed I was to equally share the blame.

I couldn’t stop, couldn’t get enough of the taste of him in my mouth, the feel of him inside of me. More, more, more—until I thought I might burst out of my skin from pleasure.

“It’s normal,” Rhys said around a mouthful of bread as we sat at the table for breakfast. We’d barely made it into the kitchen. He’d taken one step out of bed, giving me a full view of his glorious wings, muscled back, and that beautiful backside, and I’d leaped on him. We’d tumbled to the floor and he’d shredded the pretty little area rug beneath his talons as I rode him.

“What’s normal?” I said. I could barely look at him without wanting to combust.

“The … frenzy,” he said carefully, as if fearful the wrong word might send us both hurtling for each other before we could get sustenance into our bodies. “When a couple accepts the mating bond, it’s … overwhelming. Again, harkening back to the beasts we once were. Probably something about ensuring the female was impregnated.” My heart paused at that. “Some couples don’t leave the house for a week. Males get so volatile that it can be dangerous for them to be in public, anyway. I’ve seen males of reason and education shatter a room because another male looked too long in their mate’s direction, too soon after they’d been mated.”

I hissed out a breath. Another shattered room flashed in my memory.

Rhys said softly, knowing what haunted me, “I’d like to believe I have more restraint than the average male, but … Be patient with me, Feyre, if I’m a little on edge.”

That he’d admit that much … “You don’t want to leave this house.”

“I want to stay in that bedroom and fuck you until we’re both hoarse.”

That fast, I was ready for him, aching for him, but—but we had to go. Queens. Cauldron. Jurian. War. “About—pregnancy,” I said.

And might as well have thrown a bucket of ice over both of us.

“We didn’t—I’m not taking a tonic. I haven’t been, I mean.”

He set down his bread. “Do you want to start taking it again?”

If I did, if I started today, it’d negate what we’d done last night, but … “If I am a High Lord’s mate, I’m expected to bear you offspring, aren’t I? So perhaps I shouldn’t.”

“You are not expected to bear me anything,” he snarled. “Children are rare, yes. So rare, and so precious. But I don’t want you to have them unless you want to—unless we both want to. And right now, with this war coming, with Hybern … I’ll admit that I’m terrified at the thought of my mate being pregnant with so many enemies around us. I’m terrified of what I might do if you’re pregnant and threatened. Or harmed.”

Something tight in my chest eased, even as a chill went down my back as I considered that power, that rage I’d seen at the Night Court, unleashed upon the earth. “Then I’ll start taking it today, once we get back.”

I rose from the table on shaky knees and headed for the bedroom. I had to bathe—I was covered in him, my mouth tasted of him, despite breakfast. Rhys said softly from behind me, “I would be happy beyond reason, though, if you one day did honor me with children. To share that with you.”

I turned back to him. “I want to live first,” I said. “With you. I want to see things and have adventures. I want to learn what it is to be immortal, to be your mate, to be part of your family. I want to be … ready for them. And I selfishly want to have you all to myself for a while.”

His smile was gentle, sweet. “You take all the time you need. And if I get you all to myself for the rest of eternity, then I won’t mind that at all.”

I made it to the edge of the bath before Rhys caught me, carried me into the water, and made love to me, slow and deep, amid the billowing steam.

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