A Court of Mist and Fury Page 102

I hadn’t even realized what I’d done until his own smile faded, and his mouth parted slightly.

“Smile again,” he whispered.

I hadn’t smiled for him. Ever. Or laughed. Under the Mountain, I had never grinned, never chuckled. And afterward …

And this male before me … my friend …

For all that he had done, I had never given him either. Even when I had just … I had just painted something. On him. For him.

I’d—painted again.

So I smiled at him, broad and without restraint.

“You’re exquisite,” he breathed.

The air was too tight, too close between our bodies, between our joined hands. But I said, “You owe me two thoughts—back from when I first came here. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Rhys rubbed his neck. “You want to know why I didn’t speak or see you? Because I was so convinced you’d throw me out on my ass. I just … ” He dragged a hand through his hair, and huffed a laugh. “I figured hiding was a better alternative.”

“Who would have thought the High Lord of the Night Court could be afraid of an illiterate human?” I purred. He grinned, nudging me with an elbow. “That’s one,” I pushed. “Tell me another thought.”

His eyes fell on my mouth. “I’m wishing I could take back that kiss Under the Mountain.”

I sometimes forgot that kiss, when he’d done it to keep Amarantha from knowing that Tamlin and I had been in the forgotten hall, tangled up together. Rhysand’s kiss had been brutal, demanding, and yet … “Why?”

His gaze settled on the hand I’d painted instead, as if it were easier to face. “Because I didn’t make it pleasant for you, and I was jealous and pissed off, and I knew you hated me.”

Dangerous territory, I warned myself.

No. Honesty, that’s what it was. Honesty, and trust. I’d never had that with anyone.

Rhys looked up, meeting my gaze. And whatever was on my face—I think it might have been mirrored on his: the hunger and longing and surprise.

I swallowed hard, traced another line of stardust along the inside of his powerful wrist. I didn’t think he was breathing. “Do you—do you want to dance with me?” I whispered.

He was silent for long enough that I lifted my head to scan his face. But his eyes were bright—silver-lined. “You want to dance?” he rasped, his fingers curling around mine.

I pointed with my chin toward the celebration below. “Down there—with them.” Where the music beckoned, where life beckoned. Where he should spend the night with his friends, and where I wanted to spend it with them, too. Even with the strangers in attendance.

I did not mind stepping out of the shadows, did not mind even being in the shadows to begin with, so long as he was with me. My friend through so many dangers—who had fought for me when no one else would, even myself.

“Of course I’ll dance with you,” Rhys said, his voice still raw. “All night, if you wish.”

“Even if I step on your toes?”

“Even then.”

He leaned in, brushing his mouth against my heated cheek. I closed my eyes at the whisper of a kiss, at the hunger that ravaged me in its wake, that might ravage Prythian. And all around us, as if the world itself were indeed falling apart, stars rained down.

Bits of stardust glowed on his lips as he pulled away, as I stared up at him, breathless, while he smiled. The smile the world would likely never see, the smile he’d given up for the sake of his people, his lands. He said softly, “I am … very glad I met you, Feyre.”

I blinked away the burning in my eyes. “Come on,” I said, tugging on his hand. “Let’s go join the dance.”

CHAPTER

45

The Illyrian war-camp deep in the northern mountains was freezing. Apparently, spring was still little more than a whisper in the region.

Mor winnowed us all in, Rhysand and Cassian flanking us.

We had danced. All of us together. And I had never seen Rhys so happy, laughing with Azriel, drinking with Mor, bickering with Cassian. I’d danced with each of them, and when the night had shifted toward dawn and the music became soft and honeyed, I had let Rhys take me in his arms and dance with me, slowly, until the other guests had left, until Mor was asleep on a settee in the dining room, until the gold disc of the sun gilded Velaris.

He’d flown me back to the town house through the pink and purple and gray of the dawn, both of us silent, and had kissed my brow once before walking down the hall to his own room.

I didn’t lie to myself about why I waited for thirty minutes to see if my door would open. Or to at least hear a knock. But nothing.

We were bleary-eyed but polite at the lunch table hours later, Mor and Cassian unusually quiet, talking mostly to Amren and Azriel, who had come to bid us farewell. Amren would continue working on the Book until we received the second half—if we received it; the shadowsinger was heading out to gather information and manage his spies stationed at the other courts and attempting to break into the human one. I managed to speak to them, but most of my energy went into not looking at Rhysand, or thinking about the feeling of his body pressed to mine as we’d danced for hours, that brush of his mouth on my skin.

I’d barely been able to fall asleep because of it.

Traitor. Even if I’d left Tamlin, I was a traitor. I’d been gone for two months—just two. In faerie terms, it was probably considered less than a day.

Tamlin had given me so much, done so many kind things for me and my family. And here I was, wanting another male, even as I hated Tamlin for what he’d done, how he’d failed me. Traitor.

The word continued echoing in my head as I stood at Mor’s side, Rhys and Cassian a few steps ahead, and peered out at the wind-blown camp. Mor had barely given Azriel more than a brief embrace before bidding him good-bye. And for all the world, the spymaster looked like he didn’t care—until he gave me a swift, warning look. I was still torn between amusement and outrage at the assumption I’d stick my nose into his business. Indeed.

Built near the top of a forested mountain, the Illyrian camp was all bare rock and mud, interrupted only by crude, easy-to-pack tents centered around large fire pits. Near the tree line, a dozen permanent buildings had been erected of the gray mountain stone. Smoke puffed from their chimneys against the brisk cloudy morning, occasionally swirled by the passing wings overhead.

So many winged males soaring past on their way to other camps or in training.

Indeed, on the opposite end of the camp, in a rocky area that ended in a sheer plunge off the mountain, were the sparring and training rings. Racks of weapons were left out to the elements; in the chalk-painted rings males of all ages now trained with sticks and swords and shields and spears. Fast, lethal, brutal. No complaints, no shouts of pain.

There was no warmth here, no joy. Even the houses at the other end of the camp had no personal touches, as if they were used only for shelter or storage.

And this was where Rhys, Azriel, and Cassian had grown up—where Cassian had been cast out to survive on his own. It was so cold that even bundled in my fur-lined leather, I was shivering. I couldn’t imagine a child going without adequate clothing—or shelter—for a night, much less eight years.

Mor’s face was pale, tight. “I hate this place,” she said under her breath, the heat of it clouding the air in front of us. “It should be burned to the ground.”

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