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Rhys winnowed us to the Illyrian camp. We wouldn’t be staying long enough to be at risk—and with ten thousand Illyrian warriors surrounding us on the various peaks, Rhys doubted anyone would be stupid enough to attack.
We’d just appeared in the mud outside the little house when Cassian drawled from behind us, “Well, it’s about time.”
The savage, wild snarl that ripped out of Rhys was like nothing I’d heard, and I gripped his arm as he whirled on Cassian.
Cassian looked at him and laughed.
But the Illyrian warriors in the camp began shooting into the sky, hauling women and children with them.
“Hard ride?” Cassian tied back his dark hair with a worn strap of leather.
Preternatural quiet now leaked from Rhys where the snarl had erupted a moment before. And rather than see him turn the camp to rubble I said, “When he bashes your teeth in, Cassian, don’t come crying to me.”
Cassian crossed his arms. “Mating bond chafing a bit, Rhys?”
Rhys said nothing.
Cassian snickered. “Feyre doesn’t look too tired. Maybe she could give me a ride—”
Wings and muscles and snapping teeth, and they were rolling through the mud, fists flying, and—
And Cassian had known exactly what he was saying and doing, I realized as he kicked Rhys off him, as Rhys didn’t touch that power that could have flattened these mountains.
He’d seen the edge in Rhys’s eyes and known he had to dull it before we could go any further.
Rhys had known, too. Which was why we’d winnowed here first—and not Velaris.
They were a sight to behold, two Illyrian males fighting in the mud and stones, panting and spitting blood. None of the other Illyrians dared land.
Nor would they, I realized, until Rhys had worked off his temper—or left the camp entirely. If the average male needed a week to adjust … What was required of Rhysand? A month? Two? A year?
Cassian laughed as Rhys slammed a fist into his face, blood spraying. Cassian slung one right back at him, and I cringed as Rhys’s head knocked to the side. I’d seen Rhys fight before, controlled and elegant, and I’d seen him mad, but never so … feral.
“They’ll be at it for a while,” Mor said, leaning against the threshold of the house. She held open the door. “Welcome to the family, Feyre.”
And I thought those might have been the most beautiful words I’d ever heard.
Rhys and Cassian spent an hour pummeling each other into exhaustion, and when they trudged back into the house, bloody and filthy, one look at my mate was all it took for me to crave the smell and feel of him.
Cassian and Mor instantly found somewhere else to be, and Rhys didn’t bother taking my clothes all the way off before he bent me over the kitchen table and made me moan his name loud enough for the Illyrians still circling high above to hear.
But when we finished, the tightness in his shoulders and the tension coiled in his eyes had vanished … And a knock on the door from Cassian had Rhys handing me a damp washcloth to clean myself. A moment later, the four of us had winnowed to the music and light of Velaris.
The sun had barely set as Rhys and I walked hand in hand into the dining room of the House of Wind, and found Mor, Azriel, Amren, and Cassian already seated. Waiting for us.
As one, they stood.
As one, they looked at me.
And as one, they bowed.
It was Amren who said, “We will serve and protect.”
They each placed a hand over their heart.
Waiting—for my reply.
Rhys hadn’t warned me, and I wondered if the words were supposed to come from my heart, spoken without agenda or guile. So I voiced them.
“Thank you,” I said, willing my voice to be steady. “But I’d rather you were my friends before the serving and protecting.”
Mor said with a wink, “We are. But we will serve and protect.”
My face warmed, and I smiled at them. My—family.
“Now that we’ve settled that,” Rhys drawled from behind me, “can we please eat? I’m famished.” Amren opened her mouth with a wry smile, but he added, “Do not say what you were going to say, Amren.” Rhys gave Cassian a sharp look. Both of them were still bruised—but healing fast. “Unless you want to have it out on the roof.”
Amren clicked her tongue and instead jerked her chin at me. “I heard you grew fangs in the forest and killed some Hybern beasts. Good for you, girl.”
“She saved his sorry ass is more like it,” Mor said, filling her glass of wine. “Poor little Rhys got himself in a bind.”
I held out my own glass for Mor to fill. “He does need unusual amounts of coddling.”
Azriel choked on his wine, and I met his gaze—warm for once. Soft, even. I felt Rhys tense beside me and quickly looked away from the spymaster.
A glance at the guilt in Rhys’s eyes told me he was sorry. And fighting it. So strange, the High Fae with their mating and primal instincts. So at odds with their ancient traditions and learning.
We left for the mortal lands soon after dinner. Mor carried the orb; Cassian carried her, Azriel flying close, and Rhys … Rhys held me tightly, his arms strong and unyielding around me. We were silent as we soared over the dark water.
As we went to show the queens the secret they’d all suffered so much, for so long, to keep.
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