فصل 47

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CHAPTER

47

Our alliance did not begin well.

Even though we talked for a good two hours afterward … the bickering, the back-and-forth, continued. With Tamlin there, none would declare what numbers they had, what weapons, what weaknesses.

As the afternoon slipped into evening, Thesan pushed back his chair. “You are all welcome to stay the night and resume this discussion in the morning—unless you wish to return to your own homes for the evening.”

We’re staying, Rhysand said. I need to talk to some of the others alone.

Indeed, the others seemed to have similar thoughts, for all decided to stay.

Even Tamlin.

We were shown toward the suites appointed for us—the sunstone turning a deep gold in the late-afternoon sun. Tamlin was escorted away first, by Thesan himself and a trembling attendant. He had wisely chosen not to attack Rhys or me during the debating, though his refusal to even acknowledge us did not go unnoticed. And as he left, back stiff and steps clipped, he did not say a word. Good.

Then Tarquin was led out, then Helion. Until only Kallias’s party and our own waited.

Rhys rose from his seat and dragged a hand through his hair. “That went well. It would seem none of us won our bet about who’d fight first.”

Azriel stared at the floor, stone-faced. “Sorry.” The word was emotionless—distant.

He had not spoken, had barely moved, since his savage attack. It had taken Mor thirty minutes after it to stop shaking.

“He had it coming,” Viviane said. “Eris is a piece of shit.”

Kallias turned to his mate with high brows.

“What?” She put a hand on her chest. “He is.”

“Be that as it may,” Kallias said with cool humor, “the question remains about whether Beron will fight with us.”

“If all the others are allying,” Mor said hoarsely, her first words in hours, “Beron will join. He’s too smart to risk siding with Hybern and losing. And I’m sure if things go badly, he’ll easily switch over.”

Rhys nodded, but faced Kallias. “How many troops do you have?”

“Not enough. Amarantha did her job well.” Again, that ripple of guilt that pulsed down the bond. “We’ve got the army that Viv commanded and hid, but not much else. You?”

Rhys didn’t reveal a whisper of the tension that tightened in me, as if it were my own. “We have sizable forces. Mostly Illyrian legions. And a few thousand Darkbringers. But we’ll need every soldier who can march.”

Viviane walked to where Mor remained seated, still pale, and braced her hands on my friend’s shoulders. “I always knew we’d fight alongside each other one day.”

Mor dragged her brown eyes up. But she glanced toward Kallias, who seemed to be trying his best not to appear worried. Mor gave the High Lord a look as if to say I’ll take care of her before she smiled at Viviane. “It’s almost enough to make me feel bad for Hybern.”

“Almost.” Viviane grinned wickedly. “But not quite.”

We were led to a suite built around a lavish sitting area and private dining room. All of it carved from that sunstone, bedecked in jewel-toned fabrics, broad cushions clumped along the thick carpets, and overlooked by ornate golden cages filled with birds of all shapes and sizes. I’d spied peacocks parading about the countless courtyards and gardens as we’d walked through Thesan’s home, some preening in the shade beneath potted fig trees.

“How did Thesan keep Amarantha from trashing this place?” I asked Rhys as we surveyed the sitting room that opened to the hazy sprawl of countryside far, far below.

“It’s his private residence.” Rhys dismissed his wings and slumped onto a pile of emerald cushions near the darkened fireplace. “He likely shielded it the same way Kallias and I did.”

A decision that would weigh heavily on them for many centuries, I had no doubt.

But I looked to Azriel, currently leaning against the wall beside the floor-to-ceiling window, shadows fluttering around him. Even the birds in their cages nearby remained silent.

I said down the bond, Is he all right?

Rhys tucked his hands behind his head, though his mouth tightened. Likely not, but if we try to talk to him about it, it’ll only make it worse.

Mor was indeed sprawled on a couch—one wary eye on Azriel. Cassian sat beside her, holding her feet in his lap. He’d taken the spot closer to Azriel—right between them. As if he’d leap into their path if need be.

You handled it beautifully, Rhys added. All of it.

Despite my explosion?

Because of your explosion.

I met his stare, sensing the emotions swirling beneath as I claimed a seat in an overstuffed chair near my mate’s pillow-mound. I knew that you were powerful. But I didn’t realize that you had such an advantage on the others.

Rhys’s eyes shuttered, even as he gave me a half smile. I’m not sure even Beron knew until today. Suspected, maybe, but … He’ll now be wishing he’d found a way to kill me in the cradle.

A shiver skittered down my spine. He knows about Elain being Lucien’s mate. He makes a move to harm or take her, and he’s dead.

Uncompromising will swept over the stars in his eyes. I’ll kill him myself if he does. Or hold him long enough for you to do the job. I think I’d enjoy watching you.

I’ll keep it in mind for your next birthday. I drummed my fingers on the polished arm of the chair, the wood as smooth as glass. Do you really believe Tamlin’s claim that he’s been working for our side?

Yes. A beat of silence down the bond. And perhaps we did him a disservice by not even considering the possibility. Perhaps even I started to think him some warrior brute.

I felt tired—in my bones, my breath. Does it change anything, though?

In some ways, yes. In others … Rhys surveyed me. No. No, it does not.

I blinked, realizing I’d been lost in the bond, but found Azriel still by the window, Cassian now rubbing Mor’s feet. Nesta had retired to her own room without a word—and remained there. I wondered if Beron’s leaving despite her words … Perhaps it had thrown her.

I got to my feet, straightening the folds of my shimmering gown. I should check on Nesta. Talk to her.

Rhys nestled deeper into his spread of pillows, tucking his hands behind his head. She did well today.

Pride fluttered at the praise as I crossed the room. But I got as far as the foyer archway when a knock thudded on the door that opened into the sunny hallway. I halted, the sheer panels of my dress swaying, sparkling like pale blue fire in the golden light.

“Don’t open it,” Mor warned from her spot on the couch. “Even with the shield, don’t open it.”

Rhys uncoiled to his feet. “Wise,” he said, prowling past me to the front door, “but unnecessary.” He opened the door, revealing Helion—alone.

Helion braced a hand on the door frame and grinned. “How’d you convince Thesan to give you the better view?”

“He finds my males to be prettier than yours, I think.”

“I think it’s a wing fetish.”

Rhys laughed and opened the door wider, beckoning him in. “You’ve really mastered the swaggering prick performance, by the way. Expertly done.”

Helion’s robe swayed with his graceful steps, brushing his powerful thighs. He spied me standing by the round table in the center of the foyer and bowed. Deeply.

“Apologies for the bastard act,” he said to me. “Old habits and all.”

Here it was—the amusement and joy in his amber eyes. The lightness that led to my own glow when lost to pure bliss. Helion frowned at Rhys. “You were on unnaturally nice behavior today. I was betting Beron would be dead by the end of it—you can’t imagine my shock that he walked out alive.”

“My mate suggested it would be in our favor to appear as we truly are.”

“Well, now I look as bad as Beron.” He strode straight past me with a wink, stalking into the sitting room. He grinned at Azriel. “You handing Eris’s ass to him will be my new fantasy at night, by the way.”

Azriel didn’t so much as bother to look over his shoulder at the High Lord. But Cassian snorted. “I was wondering when the come-ons would begin.”

Helion threw himself onto the couch across from Cassian and Mor. He’d ditched that radiant crown somewhere, but kept that gold armband of the upright serpent. “It’s been what—four centuries now, and you three still haven’t accepted my offer.”

Mor lolled her head to the side. “I don’t like to share, unfortunately.”

“You never know until you try,” Helion purred.

The three of them in bed … with him? I must have been blinking like a fool because Rhys said to me, Helion favors both males and females. Usually together in his bed. And has been hounding after that trio for centuries.

I considered—Helion’s beauty and the others … Why the hell haven’t they said yes?

Rhys barked a laugh that had all of them looking at him with raised brows.

My mate just came up behind me and slid his arms around my waist, pressing a kiss to my neck. Would you like someone to join us in bed, Feyre darling?

My skin stretched tight over my bones at the tone, the suggestion. You’re incorrigible.

I think you’d like two males worshipping you.

My toes curled.

Mor cleared her throat. “Whatever you’re saying mind to mind, either share it or go to another room so we don’t have to sit here, stewing in your scents.”

I stuck out my tongue. Rhys laughed again, kissing my neck once more before saying, “Apologies for offending your delicate sensibilities, cousin.”

I pushed out of his embrace, out of the touch that still made me dizzy enough that basic thought became difficult, and claimed a chair adjacent to Mor and Cassian’s couch.

Cassian said to Helion, “Are your forces ready?”

Helion’s amusement faded—reshaping into that hard, calculating exterior. “Yes. They’ll rendezvous with yours in the Myrmidons.”

The mountain range we shared at our border. He’d refused to divulge such information earlier.

“Good,” Cassian said, rubbing at the arch of Mor’s foot. “We’ll push south from there.”

“With the final encampment being where?” Mor asked, withdrawing her foot from Cassian’s hands and tucking both feet beneath her. Helion traced the curve of her bare leg, his amber eyes a bit glazed as he met hers.

Mor didn’t balk from the heated look. And a keen sort of awareness seemed to overtake her—like every nerve in her body shook awake. I didn’t dare look toward Azriel.

There must have been multiple shields around the room, around every crack and opening where spying eyes and ears might be waiting, because Cassian said, “We join Thesan’s forces, then eventually make camp along Kallias’s southwestern border—near the Summer Court.”

Helion drew his gaze from Mor long enough to ask Rhys, “You and pretty Tarquin had a moment today. Do you truly think he’ll join us?”

“If you mean in bed, definitely not,” Rhys said with a wry smile as he again sprawled on his spread of cushions. “But if you mean in this war … Yes. I believe he means to fight. Beron, on the other hand …”

“Hybern is focusing on the South,” Helion said. “And regardless of what you think Tamlin’s up to, the Spring Court is now mostly occupied. Beron has to realize his court will be a battleground if he doesn’t join us to push southward—especially if Summer has joined us.”

Meaning the Spring Court and human lands would see the brunt of the battles.

“Will Beron choose to listen to reason, though?” Mor mused.

Helion tapped a finger against the carved arm of his couch. “He played games in the War and it cost him—dearly. His people still remember those choices—those losses. His own damn wife remembers.”

Helion had looked at the Lady of Autumn repeatedly during the meeting. I asked, carefully and casually, “What do you mean?”

Mor shook her head—not at what I’d said, but at whatever had occurred.

Helion fixed his full attention upon me. It was an effort not to flinch at the weight of that focus, the simmering intensity. The muscled body was only a mask—to hide that cunning mind beneath. I wondered if Rhys had picked that up from him.

Helion folded an ankle over a knee. “The Lady of the Autumn Court’s two older sisters were indeed …” He searched for a word. “Butchered. Tormented, and then butchered, during the War.”

I shut out Nesta’s screaming, shut out Elain’s sobbing as she was hauled toward that Cauldron.

Lucien’s aunts. Dead before he’d ever existed. Had his mother ever told him this story?

Rhys explained to me, “Hybern’s forces had swarmed our lands by that point.”

Helion’s jaw clenched. “The Lady of the Autumn Court was sent to stay with her sisters, her younger children packed off to other relatives. To spread out the bloodline.” He dragged a hand through his sable hair. “Hybern attacked their estate. Her sisters bought her time to run. Not because she was married to Beron, but because they loved each other. Fiercely. She tried to stay, but they convinced her to go. So she did—she ran and ran, but Hybern’s beasts were still faster. Stronger. They cornered her at a ravine, where she became trapped atop a ledge, the beasts snapping at her feet.”

He didn’t speak for a long moment.

Too many details. He knew so many details.

I said quietly, “You saved her. You found her, didn’t you?”

A coronet of light seemed to flicker over that thick black hair. “I did.”

There was enough weight, anger, and something else in those two words that I studied the High Lord of Day.

“What happened?”

Helion didn’t break my stare. “I tore the beasts apart with my bare hands.”

A chill slid down my spine. “Why?”

He could have ended it a thousand other ways. Easier ways. Cleaner ways.

Rhys’s bloody hands after the Ravens’ attack flashed through my mind.

Helion didn’t so much as shift in his chair. “She was still young—though she’d been married to that delightful male for nearly two decades. Married too young, the marriage arranged when she was twenty.”

The words were clipped. And twenty—so young. Nearly as young as Mor had been when her own family tried to marry her to Eris.

“So?” A dangerous, taunting question.

And how his eyes burned at that, flaring bright as suns.

But it was Mor who said coolly, “I heard a rumor once, Helion, that she waited before agreeing to that marriage. For a certain someone who had met her by chance at an equinox ball the year before.”

I tried not to blink, not to let any of my rising interest surface.

The fire banked to embers and Helion threw a half smile in Mor’s direction. “Interesting. I heard her family wanted internal ties to power, and that they didn’t give her a choice before they sold her to Beron.”

Sold her. Mor’s nostrils flared. Cassian ran a hand down the back of her hair. Azriel didn’t so much as turn from his vigil at the window, though I could have sworn his wings tucked in a bit tighter.

“Too bad they’re just rumors,” Rhys cut in smoothly, “and can’t be confirmed by anyone.”

Helion merely toyed with the gold cuff on his sculpted arm, twisting the serpent to the center of his bicep. But I furrowed my brows. “Does Beron know you saved his wife in the War?” He hadn’t mentioned anything during the meeting.

Helion let out a dark laugh. “Cauldron, no.” There was enough wry, knowing humor that I straightened.

“You had—an affair after you rescued her?”

The amusement only grew, and Helion pushed a finger against his lips in mock warning. “Careful, High Lady. Even the birds report to Thesan here.”

I frowned at the birds in cages throughout the room, still silent in Azriel’s shadowy presence.

I threw shields around them, Rhys said down the bond.

“How long did the affair last?” I asked. That withdrawn female … I couldn’t imagine it.

Helion snorted. “Is that a polite question for a High Lady to be asking?”

But the way he spoke, that smile …

I only waited, using silence to push him instead.

Helion shrugged. “On and off for decades. Until Beron found out. They say the lady was all brightness and smiles before that. And after Beron was through with her … You saw what she is.”

“What did he do to her?”

“The same things he does now.” Helion waved a hand. “Belittle her, leave bruises where no one but him will see them.”

I clenched my teeth. “If you were her lover, why didn’t you stop it?”

The wrong thing to say. Utterly wrong, by the dark fury that rippled across Helion’s face. “Beron is a High Lord, and she is his wife, mother of his brood. She chose to stay. Chose. And with the protocols and rules, Lady, you will find that most situations like the one you were in do not end well for those who interfere.”

I didn’t back down, didn’t apologize. “You barely even looked at her today.”

“We have more important matters at hand.”

“Beron never called you out for it?”

“To publicly do so would be to admit that his possession made a fool of him. So we continue our little dance, these centuries later.” I somehow doubted that beneath that roguish charm and irreverence, Helion felt it was a dance at all.

But if it had ended centuries ago, and she’d never seen him again, had let Beron treat her so abominably …

Whatever you’ve just figured out, Rhys said, you’d better stop looking so shocked by it.

I forced a smile to my face. “You High Lords really do love your melodrama, don’t you?”

Helion’s own smile didn’t reach his eyes. But Rhys asked, “In your libraries, have you ever encountered a mention of how the wall might be repaired?”

Helion began asking why we wanted to know, what Hybern was doing with the Cauldron … and Rhys fed him answers, easily and smoothly.

While we spoke, I said down the bond, Helion is Lucien’s father.

Rhys was silent. Then—

Holy burning hell.

His shock was a shooting star between us.

I let my gaze dart through the room, half paying attention to Helion’s musing on the wall and how to repair it, then dared study the High Lord for a heartbeat. Look at him. The nose is the same, the smile. The voice. Even Lucien’s skin is darker than his brothers’. A golden brown compared to their pale coloring.

It would explain why his father and brothers detest him so much—why they have tormented him his entire life.

My heart squeezed at that. And why Eris didn’t want him dead. He wasn’t a threat to Eris’s power—his throne. I swallowed. Helion has no idea, does he?

It would seem not.

The Lady of Autumn’s favorite son—not only from Lucien’s goodness. But because he was the child she’d dreamed of having … with the male she undoubtedly loved.

Beron must have discovered the affair when she was pregnant with Lucien.

He likely suspected, but there was no way to prove it—not if she was sharing his bed, too. Rhys’s disgust was a tang in my mouth. I have no doubt Beron debated killing her for the betrayal, and even afterward. When Lucien could be passable as his own offspring—just enough to make him doubt who had sired his last son.

I wrapped my head around it. Lucien not Beron’s son, but Helion’s. His power is flame, though. They’ve mused Beron’s title could go to him.

His mother’s family is strong—that was why Beron wanted a bride from their line. The gift could be hers.

You never suspected?

Not once. I’m mortified I didn’t even consider it.

What does this mean, though?

Nothing—ultimately nothing. Other than the fact that Lucien might be Helion’s sole heir.

And that … it changed nothing in this war. Especially not with Lucien on the continent, hunting that enchanted queen. A bird of flame … and a lord of fire. I wondered if they’d found each other yet.

A door opened and shut in the foyer beyond, and I braced myself as Nesta appeared. Helion paused his debating the wall to survey her carefully, as he had done earlier.

Spell-Cleaver. That was his title.

She surveyed him with her usual disdain.

But Helion gave her the same bow he’d offered me—though his smile was edged with enough sensuality that even my heart raced a bit. No wonder the Lady of Autumn hadn’t stood a chance. “I don’t think we were introduced properly earlier,” he crooned to Nesta. “I’m—”

“I don’t care,” Nesta said with a snap of her wrist, striding right past him and up to my side. “I’d like a word,” she said. “Now.”

Cassian was biting his knuckle to keep from laughing—at the utter surprise and shock on Helion’s face. It wasn’t every day, I supposed, that anyone of either sex dismissed him so thoroughly. I threw the High Lord a semi-apologetic glance and led my sister out of the room.

“What is it?” I asked when Nesta and I had entered her bedroom, the space bedecked in pink silk and gold, accents of ivory scattered throughout. The lavishness of it indeed put our various homes to shame.

“We need to leave,” Nesta said. “Right now.”

Every sense went on alert. “Why?”

“It feels wrong. Something feels wrong.”

I studied her, the clear sky beyond the towering, drape-framed windows. “Rhys and the others would sense it. You’re likely just picking up on all the power gathered here.”

“Something is wrong,” Nesta insisted.

“I’m not doubting you feel that way but … If none of the others are picking it up—”

“I am not like the others.” Her throat bobbed. “We need to leave.”

“I can send you back to Velaris, but we have things to discuss here—”

“I don’t care about me, I—”

The door opened, and Cassian stalked in, face grave. The sight of the wings, the Illyrian armor in this opulent, pink-filled room planted itself in my mind, the painting already taking form, as he said, “What’s wrong.”

He studied every inch of her. As if there were nothing and no one else here, anywhere.

But I said, “She senses something is off—says we need to leave right away.”

I waited for the dismissal, but Cassian angled his head. “What, precisely, feels wrong?”

Nesta stiffened, mouth pursing as she weighed his tone. “It feels like there’s this … dread. This sense that … that I forgot something but can’t remember what.”

Cassian stared at her for a moment longer. “I’ll tell Rhys.”

And he did.

Within moments, Rhys, Cassian, and Azriel had vanished, leaving Mor and Helion in alert silence. I waited with Nesta. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen.

Thirty minutes later, they returned, shaking their heads. Nothing.

Not in the palace, not in the lands around it, not in the skies above or the earth below. Not for miles and miles. Nothing. Rhys even checked with Amren, and found nothing amiss in Velaris—Elain, mercifully, safe and sound.

None of them, however, were stupid enough to suggest that Nesta had made it up. Not with that otherworldly power in her veins. Or that perhaps the dread was a lingering effect of her time in Hybern. Like the crushing panic that I’d struggled to face down, that still stalked me some nights.

So we stayed. We ate in our private dining room, Helion joining us, no sign of Tarquin or Thesan—certainly not Tamlin.

Kallias and Viviane appeared midway through the meal, and Mor kicked Cassian out of his seat to make space for her friend. They chatted and gossiped—even though Mor kept glancing at Helion.

And the High Lord of Day kept glancing at her.

Azriel barely spoke, those shadows still perched on his shoulders. Mor barely looked at him.

But we dined and drank for hours, until night was overhead. And though Rhys and Kallias were tense, careful around each other … By the end of the meal, they were at least talking.

Nesta was the first to leave the table, still wary and on edge. The others made one final check of the grounds before we tumbled into the silk sheets of our cloud-soft beds.

Rhys and I left Mor and Helion talking knee to knee on the sitting room cushions, Viviane and Kallias long returned to their suite. I had no idea where Azriel went off to—or Cassian, for that matter.

And when I emerged from washing up in the ivory-and-gold bathing room and Helion’s deep murmur and Mor’s sultry laugh flitted in from the hall—when it moved past our door and then her door creaked open and closed …

Rhysand’s wings were folded in tightly as he surveyed the stars beyond the bedroom windows. Quieter and smaller here, somehow.

“Why?”

He knew what I meant.

“Mor gets spooked. And what Az did today scared the shit out of her.”

“The violence?”

“The violence as a result of what he feels, lingering guilt over the deal with Eris—and what neither of them will face.”

“Don’t you think it’s been long enough? And that taking Helion to bed is likely the worst possible thing to do?”

But I had no doubt Helion needed a distraction as much as Mor did. From thinking too long about the people they loved—who they could not have.

“Mor and Azriel have both taken lovers throughout the centuries,” he said, wings shifting slightly. “The only difference here is the close proximity.”

“You sound remarkably fine with this.”

Rhys glanced over a shoulder to where I lingered by the foot of the massive ivory bed, its carved headboard fashioned after overlapping waterlilies. “It’s their life—their relationship. They have both had plenty of opportunities to confess what they feel. Yet they have not. Mor especially. For private reasons of her own, I’m sure. My meddling isn’t going to make it any better.”

“But—but he loves her. How can he sit idly by?”

“He thinks she’s happier without him.” His eyes shone with the memory—of his own choice to sit back. “He thinks he’s unworthy of her.”

“It seems like an Illyrian trait.”

Rhys snorted, returning to the stars. I came up to his side and slid my arm around his waist. He opened his arm to me, cupping my shoulder as I rested my head against that soft spot where his own shoulder met his chest. A heartbeat later, his wing curved around me, too, enveloping me in his shadowed warmth. “There will come a day when Azriel has to decide if he is going to fight for her or let her go. And it won’t be because some other male insults her or beds her.”

“And what about Cassian? He’s entangled—and enabling this nonsense.”

A wry smile. “Cassian is going to have to decide some things, too. In the near future, I think.”

“Are he and Nesta …?”

“I don’t know. Until the bond snaps into place, it can be hard to detect.” Rhys swallowed once, gaze fixed on the stars. I simply waited. “Tamlin still loves you, you know.”

“I know.”

“That was an ugly encounter.”

“All of it was ugly,” I said. What Beron and Tamlin had brought up with Amarantha, what Rhys had been forced to reveal … “Are you all right?” I could still feel the clamminess of his hand upon mine as he spoke of what Amarantha had done.

He brushed a thumb down my shoulder. “It wasn’t … easy.” He amended, “I thought I’d vomit all over the floor.”

I squeezed him a little tighter. “I’m sorry you had to share those things—sorry you … sorry for all of it, Rhys.” I breathed in his scent, taking it deep into my lungs. Out—we had made it out. “And I know it likely means nothing, but … I’m proud of you. That you were brave enough to tell them.”

“It doesn’t mean nothing,” he said softly. “That you feel that way about me—about today.” He kissed my temple, and warmth flickered along the bond. “It means …” His wing curved closer around me. “I don’t have the words to tell you what it means.” But as that love, that joy and light shimmered through the bond … I understood.

He peered down at me. “And are you … all right?”

I nestled my head further into his chest. “I just feel … tired. Sad. Sad that it turned so awful—and yet … yet furious about everything that happened to me, to my sisters. I …” I blew out a long breath. When I was back at the Spring Court …” I swallowed. “I looked—for their wings.”

Rhys went utterly still, and I took his hand, squeezing hard as he only said, “Did you find them?” The words were barely a brush of air.

I shook my head, but said before the grief on his face could grow, “I learned that he burned them—long ago.”

Rhys said nothing for a lingering moment, his attention returning to the stars. “Thank you for even thinking—for risking to look for them.” The only trace—the horrific remnants—of his mother and sister. “I didn’t … I’m glad he burned them,” Rhys admitted. “I could happily kill him, for so many things, and yet …” He rubbed his chest. “I’m glad he offered them that peace, at least.”

I nodded. “I know.” I ran my thumb over the back of his hand. And perhaps because of the raw, stark quiet, I confessed, “It feels strange, to share a room, a bed, with you under the same roof as him.”

“I can imagine.”

For somewhere in this palace, Tamlin was lying in bed—well aware that I was about to enter this one with Rhysand. The past tangled and snarled, and I whispered, “I don’t think—I don’t think I can have sex here. With him so close.” Rhys remained quiet. “I’m sorry if—”

“You don’t need to apologize. Ever.”

I looked up, finding his gaze on me—not angry or frustrated, but … sad. Knowing. “I want to share this bed with you, though,” I breathed. “I want you to hold me.”

Stars flickered to life in his eyes. “Always,” he promised, kissing my brow, his wings now enveloping me completely. “Always.”

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