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CHAPTER

24

When we returned to the town house in the height of summer afternoon heat, Cassian and Azriel drew sticks for who would remain in Velaris that night.

Both wanted to join us at the Hewn City, but someone had to guard the city—part of their long-held protocol. And someone had to guard Elain, though I certainly wasn’t about to tell Lucien that. Cassian, swearing and pissy, got the short stick, and Azriel only clapped him on the shoulder before heading up to the House to prepare.

I followed after him a few minutes later, leaving Cassian to tell Rhys the rest of what the Carver had said. What he wanted.

There were two people I needed to see up at the House before we left. I should have checked in on Elain earlier, should have remembered that her would-have-been wedding was in a few days, but … I cursed myself for forgetting it. And as for Lucien … It wouldn’t hurt, I told myself, to keep tabs on where he was. How that conversation with Azriel had gone yesterday. Make sure he remembered the rules we’d set.

But fifteen minutes later, I was trying not to wince as I walked down the halls of the House of Wind, grateful Azriel had gone ahead. I’d winnowed into the sky above the highest balcony—and since I figured now was as good a time as any to practice flying, I’d summoned wings.

And fallen twenty feet onto hard stone.

A rallied wind kept the fall from cracking any bones, but both my knees and my pride were significantly bruised by my graceless tumble through the air.

At least no one had witnessed it.

My stiff, limping steps, at least, had eased into a smoother gait by the time I found Elain in the family library.

Still staring at the window, but she was out of her room.

Nesta was reading in her usual chair, one eye on Elain, the other on the book spread in her lap. Only Nesta glanced my way as I slipped through the carved wooden doors.

I murmured, “Hello,” and shut the doors behind me.

Elain didn’t turn. She was wearing a pale pink gown that did little to complement her sallow skin, her brown-gold hair hanging in loose, heavy ringlets down her thin back.

“It’s a fine day,” I said to them.

Nesta arched an elegant eyebrow. “Where’s your menagerie of friends?”

I leveled a steely look back at her. “Those friends have offered you shelter and comfort.” And training—or whatever Amren was doing. “Are you ready for tonight?”

“Yes.” Nesta merely resumed reading the book in her lap. Pure dismissal.

I let out a little snort that I knew would make her see red, and strode for Elain. Nesta monitored my every step, a panther readying to strike at the merest hint of danger.

“What are you looking at?” I asked Elain, keeping my voice soft. Casual.

Her face was wan, her lips bloodless. But they moved—barely—as she said, “I can see so very far now. All the way to the sea.”

Indeed, the sea beyond the Sidra was a distant sparkle. “It takes some getting used to.”

“I can hear your heartbeat—if I listen carefully. I can hear her heartbeat, too.”

“You can learn to drown out the sounds that bother you.” I had—entirely on my own. I wondered if Nesta had as well, or if they both suffered, hearing each other’s heartbeats day and night. I didn’t look to my other sister to confirm it.

Elain’s eyes at last slid to mine. The first time she’d done so.

Even wasted away by grief and despair, Elain’s beauty was remarkable. Hers was a face that could bring kings to their knees. And yet there was no joy in it. No light. No life.

She said, “I can hear the sea. Even at night. Even in my dreams. The crashing sea—and the screams of a bird made of fire.”

It was an effort not to glance to Nesta. Even the town house was too far to hear anything from the nearby coast. And as for some fire-bird …

“There is a garden—at my other house,” I said. “I’d like for you to come tend it, if you’re willing.”

Elain only turned toward the sunny windows again, the light dancing in her hair. “Will I hear the earthworms writhing through the soil? Or the stretching of roots? Will the bird of fire come to sit in the trees and watch me?”

I wasn’t sure if I should answer. It was an effort to keep from shaking.

But I caught Nesta’s eye, noting the glimmer of pain on my eldest sister’s face before it was hidden beneath that cool mask. “There’s a book I need you to help me find, Nesta,” I said, giving a pointed stare to the stacks to my left.

Far enough away for privacy, but close enough to remain nearby should Elain need anything. Do anything.

Something in my chest cracked as Nesta’s eyes also went to the windows before Elain.

To check, as I did, for whether they could be easily opened.

Mercifully, they were permanently sealed, likely to protect against some careless fool forgetting to close them and ruining the books. Likely Cassian.

Nesta wordlessly set down her book and followed me into the small labyrinth of stacks, both of us keeping an ear on the main sitting area.

When we were far enough away, I threw up a shield of hard wind around us. Keeping any sound inside. “How did you get her to leave her room?”

“I didn’t,” Nesta said, leaning against a shelf and crossing her slim arms. “I found her in here. She wasn’t in bed when I awoke.”

Nesta must have panicked upon finding her room empty—“Did she eat anything?”

“No. I managed to get her to drink some broth last night. She refused anything else. She’s been talking in those half riddles all day.”

I dragged a hand through my hair, freeing strands from my braid. “Did anything happen to trigger—”

“I don’t know. I check on her every few hours.” Nesta clenched her jaw. “I was gone for longer yesterday, though.” While she trained with Amren. Rhys had informed me that by the end of it, Nesta’s rudimentary shields were solid enough that Amren deemed my sister ready for tonight.

But there, beneath that cool demeanor—guilt. Panic.

“I doubt anything happened,” I said quickly. “Maybe it’s just … part of the recovery process. Her adjustment to being Fae.”

Nesta didn’t look convinced. “Does she have powers? Like mine.”

And what, exactly, are those powers, Nesta? “I—don’t know. I don’t think so. Unless this is the first sign of something manifesting.” It was an effort not to add, If you’d talk about what went on in the Cauldron, perhaps we’d have a better understanding of it. “Let’s give her a day or two—see what happens. If she improves.”

“Why not see now?”

“Because we’re going to the Hewn City in a few hours. And you don’t seem inclined to want us shoving into your business,” I told her as evenly as I could. “I doubt Elain does, too.”

Nesta stared me down, not a flicker of emotion on her face, and gave a curt nod. “Well, at least she left the room.”

“And the chair.”

We exchanged a rare, calm glance.

But then I said, “Why won’t you train with Cassian?”

Nesta’s spine locked up. “Why is it only Cassian that I may train with? Why not the other one?”

“Azriel?”

“Him, or the blond one who won’t shut up.”

“If you’re referring to Mor—”

“And why must I train at all? I am no warrior, nor do I desire to be.”

“It could make you strong—”

“There are many types of strength beyond the ability to wield a blade and end lives. Amren told me that yesterday.”

“You said you wanted our enemies dead. Why not kill them yourself?”

She inspected her nails. “Why bother when someone else can do it for me?”

I avoided the urge to rub my temples. “We’re—”

But the doors to the library opened, and I snapped my barrier of hard air down entirely at the thud of stalking footsteps, then their sudden halting.

I gripped Nesta’s arm to keep her still just as Lucien’s voice blurted, “You—you left your room.”

Nesta bristled, teeth flashing. I gripped her harder, and threw a new wall of air around us—holding her there.

Weeks of cloistering Elain had done nothing to improve her state. Perhaps the half riddles were proof of that. And even if Lucien was currently breaking the rules we had set—

More steps—no doubt closer to where Elain stood at the window.

“Is … is there anything I can get for you?”

I’d never heard my friend’s voice so soft. So tentative and concerned.

Perhaps it made me the lowest sort of wretch, but I cast my mind toward them. Toward him.

And then I was in his body, his head.

Too thin.

She must not be eating at all.

How can she even stand?

The thoughts flowed through his head, one after another. His heart was a raging, thunderous beat, and he didn’t dare move from his position a mere five feet away. She hadn’t yet turned toward him, but the ravages of her fasting were evident enough.

Touch her, smell her, taste her—

The instincts were a running river. He fisted his hands at his sides.

He hadn’t expected her to be here. The other sister—the viper—was a possibility, but one he was willing to risk. Aside from talking to the shadowsinger yesterday—which had been just about as unnerving as he’d expected, though Azriel seemed like a decent enough male—he’d been cooped up in this wind-blasted House for two days. The thought of another one had been enough to make him risk Rhysand’s wrath.

He just wanted a walk—and a few books. It had been an age since he’d even had free time to read, let alone do so for pleasure.

But there she was.

His mate.

She was nothing like Jesminda.

Jesminda had been all laughter and mischief, too wild and free to be contained by the country life that she’d been born into. She had teased him, taunted him—seduced him so thoroughly that he hadn’t wanted anything but her. She’d seen him not as a High Lord’s seventh son, but as a male. Had loved him without question, without hesitation. She had chosen him.

Elain had been … thrown at him.

He glanced toward the tea service spread on a low-lying table nearby. “I’m going to assume that one of those cups belongs to your sister.” Indeed, there was a discarded book in the viper’s usual chair. Cauldron help the male who wound up shackled to her.

“Do you mind if I help myself to the other?”

He tried to sound casual—comfortable. Even as his heart raced and raced, so swift he thought he might vomit on the very expensive, very old carpet. From Sangravah, if the patterns and rich dyes were any indication.

Rhysand was many things, but he certainly had good taste.

This entire place had been decorated with thought and elegance, with a penchant for comfort over stuffiness.

He didn’t want to admit he liked it. Didn’t want to admit that he found the city beautiful.

That the circle of people who now claimed to be Feyre’s new family … It was what, long ago, he’d once thought life at Tamlin’s court would be.

An ache like a blow to the chest went through him, but he crossed the rug. Forced his hands to be steady while he poured himself a cup of tea and sat in the chair opposite Nesta’s vacated one.

“There’s a plate of biscuits. Would you like one?”

He didn’t expect her to answer, and he gave himself all of one more minute before he’d rise from this chair and leave, hopefully avoiding Nesta’s return.

But sunlight on gold caught his eye—and Elain slowly turned from her vigil at the window.

He had not seen her entire face since that day in Hybern.

Then, it had been drawn and terrified, then utterly blank and numb, her hair plastered to her head, her lips blue with cold and shock.

Looking at her now …

She was pale, yes. The vacancy still glazing her features.

But he couldn’t breathe as she faced him fully.

She was the most beautiful female he’d ever seen.

Betrayal, queasy and oily, slid through his veins. He’d said the same to Jesminda once.

But even as shame washed through him, the words, the sense chanted, Mine. You are mine, and I am yours. Mate.

Her eyes were the brown of a fawn’s coat. And he could have sworn something sparked in them as she met his gaze.

“Who are you?”

He knew without demanding clarification that she was aware of what he was to her.

“I am Lucien. Seventh son of the High Lord of the Autumn Court.”

And a whole lot of nothing. He’d told the shadowsinger all he knew—of his surviving brothers, of his father. His mother … he’d kept some details, irrelevant and utterly personal, to himself. Everything else—his father’s closest allies, the most conniving courtiers and lords … He’d handed it over. Granted, it was dated by a few centuries, but in his time as emissary, from the information he’d gathered, not much had changed. They’d all acted the same Under the Mountain, anyway. And after what had happened with his brothers a few days ago … There was no tinge of guilt when he told Azriel what he knew. None of what he felt when he looked toward the south—toward both of the courts he’d called home.

For a long moment, Elain’s face did not shift, but those eyes seemed to focus a bit more. “Lucien,” she said at last, and he clenched his teacup to keep from shuddering at the sound of his name on her mouth. “From my sister’s stories. Her friend.”

“Yes.”

But Elain blinked slowly. “You were in Hybern.”

“Yes.” It was all he could say.

“You betrayed us.”

He wished she’d shoved him out the window behind her. “It—it was a mistake.”

Her eyes went frank and cold. “I was to be married in a few days.”

He fought against the bristling rage, the irrational urge to find the male who’d claimed her and shred him apart. The words were a rasp as he instead said, “I know. I’m sorry.”

She did not love him, want him, need him. Another male’s bride.

A mortal man’s wife. Or she would have been.

She looked away—toward the windows. “I can hear your heart,” she said quietly.

He wasn’t sure how to respond, so he said nothing, and drained his tea, even as it burned his mouth.

“When I sleep,” she murmured, “I can hear your heart beating through the stone.” She angled her head, as if the city view held some answer. “Can you hear mine?”

He wasn’t sure if she truly meant to address him, but he said, “No, lady. I cannot.”

Her too-thin shoulders seemed to curve inward. “No one ever does. No one ever looked—not really.” A bramble of words. Her voice strained to a whisper. “He did. He saw me. He will not now.”

Her thumb brushed the iron ring on her finger.

Another male’s ring, another marker that she was claimed—

It was enough. I had listened enough, learned enough. I pulled out of Lucien’s mind.

Nesta was gaping at me, even as her face had leeched of color at every word uttered between them. “Have you ever gone into my—”

“No,” I rasped.

How she knew what I had done, I didn’t want to ask. Not as I dropped the shield around us and headed for the sitting area.

Lucien, no doubt having heard our steps, was flushed as he glanced between me and Nesta. No inkling whatsoever that I’d slid into his mind. Rifled through it like a bandit in the night. I shoved down the mild nausea.

My eldest sister merely said to him, “Get out.”

I flashed Nesta a glare, but Lucien rose. “I came for a book.”

“Well, find one and leave.”

Elain only stared out the window, unaware—or uncaring.

Lucien didn’t head for the stacks. He just went to the open doors. He paused right between them and said to me, to Nesta, “She needs fresh air.”

“We’ll judge what she needs.”

I could have sworn his ruby hair gleamed like molten metal as his temper rose. But it faded, his russet eye fixing on me. “Take her to the sea. Take her to some garden. But get her out of this house for an hour or two.”

Then he walked away.

I looked at my two sisters. Cloistered up here, high above the world.

“You’re moving into the town house right now,” I said to them. To Lucien, who paused in the dim hallway outside.

Nesta, to my shock, did not object.

Neither did Rhys when I sent my order down the bond, asking him, Cassian, and Azriel to help move them. No, my mate just promised to assign two bedrooms to my sisters down the hall, on the other side of the stairs. And a third for Lucien—on our side of the hall. Well away from Elain’s.

Thirty minutes later, Azriel carried Elain down, my sister silent and unresponsive in his arms.

Nesta had looked ready to walk off the balcony rather than let Cassian, already dressed and armed for guarding the town house tonight, hold her, so I nudged her toward Rhys, pushed Lucien toward Cassian, and flew myself back.

Or tried to—again. I soared for about half a minute, savoring the cleansing scream of the wind, before my wings wobbled, my back strained, and the fall became unbearably deadly. I winnowed the rest of the way to the town house, and adjusted vases and figurines in the sitting room while waiting for them.

Azriel arrived first, no shadows to be seen, my sister a pale, golden mass in his arms. He, too, wore his Illyrian armor, Elain’s golden-brown hair snagging in some of the black scales across his chest and shoulders.

He set her down gently on the foyer carpet, having carried her in through the front door.

Elain peered up at his patient, solemn face.

Azriel smiled faintly. “Would you like me to show you the garden?”

She seemed so small before him, so fragile compared to the scales of his fighting leathers, the breadth of his shoulders. The wings peeking over them.

But Elain did not balk from him, did not shy away as she nodded—just once.

Azriel, graceful as any courtier, offered her an arm. I couldn’t tell if she was looking at his blue Siphon or at his scarred skin beneath as she breathed, “Beautiful.”

Color bloomed high on Azriel’s golden-brown cheeks, but he inclined his head in thanks and led my sister toward the back doors into the garden, sunlight bathing them.

A moment later, Nesta was stomping through the front door, her face a remarkable shade of green. “I need—a toilet.”

I met Rhys’s stare as he prowled in behind her, hands in his pockets. What did you do?

His brows shot up. But I wordlessly pointed Nesta toward the powder room beneath the stairs, and she vanished, slamming the door behind her.

Me? Rhys leaned against the bottom post of the banister. She complained that I was flying deliberately slow. So I went fast.

Cassian and Lucien appeared, neither looking at the other. But Lucien’s attention went right to the hallway toward the back, his nostrils flaring as he scented Elain’s direction. And who she’d gone with.

A low snarl slipped out of him—

“Relax,” Rhys said. “Azriel isn’t the ravishing type.”

Lucien cut him a glare.

Mercifully, or perhaps not, Nesta’s retching filled the silence. Cassian gaped at Rhys. “What did you do?”

“I asked him the same thing,” I said, crossing my arms. “He said he ‘went fast.’ ”

Nesta vomited again—then silence.

Cassian sighed at the ceiling. “She’ll never fly again.”

The doorknob twisted, and we tried—or at least Cassian and I did—not to seem like we’d been listening to her. Nesta’s face was still greenish-pale, but … Her eyes burned.

There was no way of describing that burning—and even painting it might have failed.

Her eyes remained the same blue-gray as my own. And yet … Molten ore was all I could think of. Quicksilver set aflame.

She advanced a step toward us. All her attention fixed on Rhys.

Cassian casually stepped in her path, wings folded in tight. Feet braced apart on the carpet. A fighting stance—casual, but … his Siphons glimmered.

“Do you know,” Cassian drawled to her, “that the last time I got into a brawl in this house, I was kicked out for a month?”

Nesta’s burning gaze slid to him, still outraged—but hinted with incredulity.

He just went on, “It was Amren’s fault, of course, but no one believed me. And no one dared banish her.”

She blinked slowly.

But the burning, molten gaze became mortal. Or as mortal as one of us could be.

Until Lucien breathed, “What are you?”

Cassian didn’t seem to dare take his focus off Nesta. But my sister slowly looked at Lucien.

“I made it give something back,” she said with terrifying quiet. The Cauldron. The hairs along my arms rose. Nesta’s gaze flicked to the carpet, then to a spot on the wall. “I wish to go to my room.”

It took a moment to realize she’d spoken to me. I cleared my throat. “Up the stairs, on your right. Second door. Or the third—whichever suits you. The other is for Elain. We need to leave in …” I squinted at the clock in the sitting room. “Two hours.”

A shallow nod was her only acknowledgment and thanks.

We watched as she headed up the steps, her lavender gown trailing after her, one slender hand braced on the rail.

“I’m sorry,” Rhys called up after her.

Her hand tightened on the rail, the whites of her knuckles poking through her pale skin, but she didn’t say anything as she continued on.

“Is that sort of thing even possible?” Cassian murmured when the door to her room had shut. “For someone to take from the Cauldron’s essence?”

“It would seem so,” Rhys mused, then said to Lucien, “The flame in her eyes was not of your usual sort, I take it.”

Lucien shook his head. “No. It spoke to nothing in my own arsenal. That was … Ice so cold it burned. Ice and yet … fluid like flame. Or flame made of ice.”

“I think it’s death,” I said quietly.

I held Rhys’s gaze, as if it were again the tether that had kept me in this world. “I think the power is death—death made flesh. Or whatever power the Cauldron holds over such things. That’s why the Carver heard it—heard about her.”

“Mother above,” Lucien said, dragging a hand through his hair.

Cassian gave him a solemn nod.

But Rhys rubbed his jaw, weighing, thinking. Then he said simply, “Only Nesta would not just conquer Death—but pillage it.”

No wonder she didn’t wish to speak to anyone about it—didn’t wish to bear witness on our behalf. It had been mere seconds for us while she’d gone under.

I had never asked either of my sisters how long it had been for them inside that Cauldron.

“Azriel knows you’re watching,” Rhys drawled from where he stood before the mirror in our bedroom, adjusting the lapels of his black jacket.

The town house was a quiet flurry of activity as we prepared to leave. Mor and Amren had arrived half an hour ago, the former heading for the sitting room, the latter bearing a dress for my sister. I didn’t dare ask Amren to see what she’d selected for Nesta.

Training, Amren had said days ago. There were magical objects in the Court of Nightmares that my sister could study tonight, while we were occupied with Keir. I wondered if the Ouroboros was one of them—and made a note to ask Amren what she knew of the mirror the Carver so badly desired. Which I’d somehow have to convince Keir to part with tonight.

Lucien had offered to make himself useful while we were gone by reading through some of the texts now piled on the tables throughout the sitting room. Amren had only grunted at the offer, which I told Lucien amounted to a yes.

Cassian was already on the roof, casually sharpening his blades. I’d asked him if nine swords were really necessary, and he merely told me that it didn’t hurt to be prepared, and that if I had enough time to question him, then I should have enough time to do another workout. I’d quickly left, throwing a vulgar gesture his way.

My hair still damp from the bath I’d just taken, I slid my heavy earrings through my lobes and peered out our bedroom window, monitoring the garden below.

Elain sat silently at one of the wrought-iron tables, a cup of tea before her. Azriel was sprawled on the chaise longue across the gray stones, sunning his wings and reading what looked to be a stack of reports—likely information on the Autumn Court that he planned to present to Rhys once he’d sorted through it all. Already dressed for the Hewn City—the brutal, beautiful armor so at odds with the lovely garden. And my sister sitting within it.

“Why not make them mates?” I mused. “Why Lucien?”

“I’d keep that question from Lucien.”

“I’m serious.” I turned toward him and crossed my arms. “What decides it? Who decides it?”

Rhys straightened his lapels before plucking an invisible piece of lint from them. “Fate, the Mother, the Cauldron’s swirling eddies …”

“Rhys.”

He watched me in the reflection of the mirror as I strode for my armoire, flinging open the doors to yank out the dress I’d selected. Scraps of shimmering black—a slightly more modest version of what I’d worn to the Court of Nightmares months ago. “You said your mother and father were wrong for each other; Tamlin said his own parents were wrong for each other.” I peeled off my dressing robe. “So it can’t be a perfect system of matching. What if”—I jerked my chin toward the window, to my sister and the shadowsinger in the garden—“that is what she needs? Is there no free will? What if Lucien wishes the union but she doesn’t?”

“A mating bond can be rejected,” Rhys said mildly, eyes flickering in the mirror as he drank in every inch of bare skin I had on display. “There is choice. And sometimes, yes—the bond picks poorly. Sometimes, the bond is nothing more than some … preordained guesswork at who will provide the strongest offspring. At its basest level, it’s perhaps only that. Some natural function, not an indication of true, paired souls.” A smile at me—at the rareness, perhaps, of what we had. “Even so,” Rhys went on, “there will always be a … tug. For the females, it is usually easier to ignore, but the males … It can drive them mad. It is their burden to fight through, but some believe they are entitled to the female. Even after the bond is rejected, they see her as belonging to them. Sometimes they return to challenge the male she chooses for herself. Sometimes it ends in death. It is savage, and it is ugly, and it mercifully does not happen often, but … Many mated pairs will try to make it work, believing the Cauldron selected them for a reason. Only years later will they realize that perhaps the pairing was not ideal in spirit.”

I scrounged up the jeweled, dark belt from an armoire drawer and slung it low over my hips. “So you’re saying she could walk away—and Lucien would have free rein to kill whoever she wishes to be with.”

Rhys turned from the mirror at last, his dark clothes pristine—cut perfectly to his body. No wings tonight. “Not free rein—not in my lands. It has been illegal in our territory for a long, long time for males to do that. Even before I was born. Other courts, no. On the continent, there are territories that believe the females literally belong to their mate. But not here. Elain would have our full protection if she rejects the bond. But it will still be a bond, however weakened, that will trail her for the rest of her existence.”

“Do you think she and Lucien match well?” I pulled out a pair of sandals that laced up my bare thighs and jammed my feet into them before beginning work on the bindings.

“You know them better than I do. But I will say that Lucien is loyal—fiercely so.”

“So is Azriel.”

“Azriel,” Rhys said, “has been preoccupied with the same female for the past five hundred years.”

“Wouldn’t the mating bond have snapped into place for them if it exists?”

Rhys’s eyes shuttered. “I think that is a question Azriel has been asking himself every day since he met Mor.” He sighed as I finished one foot and started on the other. “Am I allowed to request that you not play matchmaker? Let them sort it out.”

I rose, bracing my hands on my hips. “I would never meddle in someone else’s affairs!”

He only raised a brow in silent challenge. And I knew precisely what he referred to.

My gut tightened as I took a seat at the vanity and began braiding my hair into a coronet atop my head. Perhaps I was a coward, for not being able to ask it aloud, but I said down the bond, Was it a violation—going into Lucien’s mind like that?

I can’t answer that for you. Rhys came over and handed me a hairpin.

I slid it into a section of braid. I needed to be sure—that he wasn’t about to try to grab her, to sell us out.

He handed me another. And did you get an answer to that?

We worked in unison, pinning my hair into place. I think so. It wasn’t just about what he thought—it was the … feeling. I sensed no ill will, no conniving. Only concern for her. And … sorrow. Longing. I shook my head. Do I tell him? What I did?

Rhys pinned a hard-to-reach section of my hair. You have to deem whether the cost is worth assuaging your guilt.

The cost being Lucien’s tentative trust in me, this place. I crossed a line.

But you did it to ensure the safety of people you love.

I didn’t realize … I trailed off, shaking my head again.

He squeezed my shoulder. Didn’t realize what?

I shrugged, slouching on the cushioned stool. That it’d be so complicated. My face warmed. I know that sounds terribly naïve—

It’s always complicated, and it never gets easier, no matter how many centuries I’ve been doing it.

I pushed around the extra hairpins on the vanity. It’s the second time I’ve gone into his mind.

Then say it’s the last, and be done with it.

I blinked, lifting my head. I’d painted my lips in a shade of red so dark it was nearly black, and they now pressed into a thin line.

He clarified, What’s done is done. Agonizing over it won’t change anything. You realized it was a line you didn’t like crossing, and so you won’t make that mistake again.

I shifted in my seat. Would you have done it?

Rhys considered. Yes. And I would have felt just as guilty afterward.

Hearing that settled something, deep down. I nodded once—twice.

If you want to make yourself feel a little better, he added, Lucien did technically violate the rules we set. So you were entitled to look into his mind, if only to ensure the safety of your sister. He crossed the line first.

That thing deep in me eased a bit more. You’re right.

And it was done.

I watched Rhys in the mirror as a dark crown appeared in his hands. The one of ravens’ feathers that I’d seen him wear—or its feminine twin. A tiara—which he gently, reverently, set before the braid we’d pinned into place atop my head. The original crown … it appeared atop Rhys’s head a moment later.

Together, we stared at our reflection. Lord and Lady Night.

“Ready to be wicked?” he purred in my ear.

My toes curled at the caress in that voice—at the memory of the last time we’d gone to the Court of Nightmares. How I’d sat in his lap—where his fingers had drifted.

I rose from the bench, facing him fully. His hands skimmed the bare skin along my ribs. Between my breasts. Down the outside of my thighs. Oh, he remembered, too.

“This time,” I breathed, kissing the tendril of tattoo that peeked just above the collar of Rhys’s black jacket, “I get to make Keir beg.”

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