A Court of Mist and Fury Page 12

So I turned toward the doorway he’d indicated, heading for the dim stairwell beyond.

I’d nearly reached it, not daring to breathe too loudly, when a bright, amused female voice said behind me—far away, from wherever Rhys had gone to at the opposite end of the hall, “So, that went well.”

Rhys’s answering snarl sent my footsteps hurrying.

My room was … a dream.

After scouring it for any sign of danger, after learning every exit and entrance and hiding place, I paused in the center to contemplate where, exactly, I’d be staying for the next week.

Like the upstairs living area, its windows were open to the brutal world beyond—no glass, no shutters—and sheer amethyst curtains fluttered in that unnatural, soft breeze. The large bed was a creamy white-and-ivory concoction, with pillows and blankets and throws for days, made more inviting by the twin golden lamps beside it. An armoire and dressing table occupied a wall, framed by those glass-less windows. Across the room, a chamber with a porcelain sink and toilet lay behind an arched wooden door, but the bath …

The bath.

Occupying the other half of the bedroom, my bathtub was actually a pool, hanging right off the mountain itself. A pool for soaking or enjoying myself. Its far edge seemed to disappear into nothing, the water flowing silently off the side and into the night beyond. A narrow ledge on the adjacent wall was lined with fat, guttering candles whose glow gilded the dark, glassy surface and wafting tendrils of steam.

Open, airy, plush, and … calm.

This room was fit for an empress. With the marble floors, silks, velvets, and elegant details, only an empress could have afforded it. I tried not to think what Rhys’s chamber was like, if this was how he treated his guests.

Guest—not prisoner.

Well … the room proved it.

I didn’t bother barricading the door. Rhys could likely fly in if he felt like it. And I’d seen him shatter a faerie’s mind without so much as blinking. I doubted a bit of wood would keep out that horrible power.

I again surveyed the room, my wedding gown hissing on the warm marble floors.

I peered down at myself.

You look ridiculous.

Heat itched along my cheeks and neck.

It didn’t excuse what he’d done. Even if he’d … saved me—I choked on the word—from having to refuse Tamlin. Having to explain.

Slowly, I tugged the pins and baubles from my curled hair, piling them onto the dressing table. The sight was enough for me to grit my teeth, and I swept them into an empty drawer instead, slamming it shut so hard the mirror above the table rattled. I rubbed at my scalp, aching from the weight of the curls and prodding pins. This afternoon, I’d imagined Tamlin pulling them each from my hair, a kiss for every pin, but now—

I swallowed against the burning in my throat.

Rhys was the least of my concerns. Tamlin had seen the hesitation, but had he understood that I was about to say no? Had Ianthe? I had to tell him. Had to explain that there couldn’t be a wedding, not for a while yet. Maybe I’d wait until the mating bond snapped into place, until I knew for sure it couldn’t be some mistake, that … that I was worthy of him.

Maybe wait until he, too, had faced the nightmares stalking him. Relaxed his grip on things a bit. On me. Even if I understood his need to protect, that fear of losing me … Perhaps I should explain everything when I returned.

But—so many people had seen it, seen me hesitate—

My lower lip trembled, and I began unbuttoning my gown, then tugged it off my shoulders.

I let it slide to the ground in a sigh of silk and tulle and beading, a deflated soufflé on the marble floor, and took a large step out of it. Even my undergarments were ridiculous: frothy scraps of lace, intended solely for Tamlin to admire—and then tear into ribbons.

I snatched up the gown, storming to the armoire and shoving it inside. Then I stripped off the undergarments and chucked them in as well.

My tattoo was stark against the pile of white silk and lace. My breath came faster and faster. I didn’t realize I was weeping until I grabbed the first bit of fabric within the armoire I could find—a set of turquoise nightclothes—and shoved my feet into the ankle-length pants, then pulled the short-sleeved matching shirt over my head, the hem grazing the top of my navel. I didn’t care that it had to be some Night Court fashion, didn’t care that they were soft and warm.

I climbed into that big, fluffy bed, the sheets smooth and welcoming, and could barely draw a breath steady enough to blow out the lamps on either side.

But as soon as darkness enveloped the room, my sobs hit in full—great, gasping pants that shuddered through me, flowing out the open windows, and into the starry, snow-kissed night.

Rhys hadn’t been lying when he said I was to join him for breakfast.

My old handmaidens from Under the Mountain appeared at my door just past dawn, and I might not have recognized the pretty, dark-haired twins had they not acted like they knew me. I had never seen them as anything but shadows, their faces always concealed in impenetrable night. But here—or perhaps without Amarantha—they were fully corporeal.

Nuala and Cerridwen were their names, and I wondered if they’d ever told me. If I had been too far gone Under the Mountain to even care.

Their gentle knock hurled me awake—not that I’d slept much during the night. For a heartbeat, I wondered why my bed felt so much softer, why mountains flowed into the distance and not spring grasses and hills … and then it all poured back in. Along with a throbbing, relentless headache.

After the second, patient knock, followed by a muffled explanation through the door of who they were, I scrambled out of bed to let them in. And after a miserably awkward greeting, they informed me that breakfast would be served in thirty minutes, and I was to bathe and dress.

I didn’t bother to ask if Rhys was behind that last order, or if it was their recommendation based on how grim I no doubt looked, but they laid out some clothes on the bed before leaving me to wash in private.

I was tempted to linger in the luxurious heat of the bathtub for the rest of the day, but a faint, endlessly amused tug cleaved through my headache. I knew that tug—had been called by it once before, in those hours after Amarantha’s downfall.

I ducked to my neck in the water, scanning the clear winter sky, the fierce wind whipping the snow off those nearby peaks … No sign of him, no pound of beating wings. But the tug yanked again in my mind, my gut—a summoning. Like some servant’s bell.

Cursing him soundly, I scrubbed myself down and dressed in the clothes they’d left.

And now, striding across the sunny upper level as I blindly followed the source of that insufferable tug, my magenta silk shoes near-silent on the moonstone floors, I wanted to shred the clothes off me, if only for the fact that they belonged to this place, to him.

My high-waisted peach pants were loose and billowing, gathered at the ankles with velvet cuffs of bright gold. The long sleeves of the matching top were made of gossamer, also gathered at the wrists, and the top itself hung just to my navel, revealing a sliver of skin as I walked.

Comfortable, easy to move in—to run. Feminine. Exotic. Thin enough that, unless Rhysand planned to torment me by casting me into the winter wasteland around us, I could assume I wasn’t leaving the borders of whatever warming magic kept the palace so balmy.

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