A Court of Mist and Fury Page 123

With each pounding stroke, the bond glowed clearer and brighter and stronger. “You’re mine,” I whispered, dragging my hands through his hair, down his back, across his wings.

My friend through many dangers.

My lover who had healed my broken and weary soul.

My mate who had waited for me against all hope, despite all odds.

I moved my hips in time with his. He kissed me over and over, and both of our faces turned damp. Every inch of me burned and tightened, and my control slipped entirely as he whispered, “I love you.”

Release tore through my body, and he pounded into me, hard and fast, drawing out my pleasure until I felt and saw and smelled that bond between us, until our scents merged, and I was his and he was mine, and we were the beginning and middle and end. We were a song that had been sung from the very first ember of light in the world.

Rhys roared as he came, slamming in to the hilt. Outside, the mountains trembled, the remaining snow rushing from them in a cascade of glittering white, only to be swallowed up by the waiting night below.

Silence fell, interrupted only by our panting breaths.

I took his paint-smeared face between my own colorful hands and made him look at me.

His eyes were radiant like the stars I’d painted once, long ago.

And I smiled at Rhys as I let that mating bond shine clear and luminous between us.

I don’t know how long we lay there, lazily touching each other, as if we might indeed have all the time in the world.

“I think I fell in love with you,” Rhys murmured, stroking a finger down my arm, “the moment I realized you were cleaving those bones to make a trap for the Middengard Wyrm. Or maybe the moment you flipped me off for mocking you. It reminded me so much of Cassian. For the first time in decades, I wanted to laugh.”

“You fell in love with me,” I said flatly, “because I reminded you of your friend?”

He flicked my nose. “I fell in love with you, smartass, because you were one of us—because you weren’t afraid of me, and you decided to end your spectacular victory by throwing that piece of bone at Amarantha like a javelin. I felt Cassian’s spirit beside me in that moment, and could have sworn I heard him say, ‘If you don’t marry her, you stupid prick, I will.’ ”

I huffed a laugh, sliding my paint-covered hand over his tattooed chest. Paint—right.

We were both covered in it. So was the bed.

Rhys followed my eyes and gave me a grin that was positively wicked. “How convenient that the bathtub is large enough for two.”

My blood heated, and I rose from the bed only to have him move faster—scooping me up in his arms. He was splattered with paint, his hair crusted with it, and his poor, beautiful wings … Those were my handprints on them. Naked, he carried me into the bath, where the water was already running, the magic of this cabin acting on our behalf.

He strode down the steps into the water, his hiss of pleasure a brush of air against my ear. And I might have moaned a little myself when the hot water hit me as he sat us both down in the tub.

A basket of soaps and oils appeared along the stone rim, and I pushed off him to sink further beneath the surface. The steam wafted between us, and Rhys picked up a bar of that pine tar–smelling soap and handed it to me, then passed a washrag. “Someone, it seems, got my wings dirty.”

My face heated, but my gut tightened. Illyrian males and their wings—so sensitive.

I twirled my finger to motion him to turn around. He obeyed, spreading those magnificent wings enough for me to find the paint stains. Carefully, so carefully, I soaped up the washcloth and began wiping the red and blue and purple away.

The candlelight danced over his countless, faint scars—nearly invisible save for harder bits of membrane. He shuddered with each pass, hands braced on the lip of the tub. I peeked over his shoulder to see the evidence of that sensitivity, and said, “At least the rumors about wingspan correlating with the size of other parts were right.”

His back muscles tensed as he choked out a laugh. “Such a dirty, wicked mouth.”

I thought of all the places I wanted to put that mouth and blushed a bit.

“I think I was falling in love with you for a while,” I said, the words barely audible over the trickle of water as I washed his beautiful wings. “But I knew on Starfall. Or came close to knowing and was so scared of it that I didn’t want to look closer. I was a coward.”

“You had perfectly good reasons to avoid it.”

“No, I didn’t. Maybe—thanks to Tamlin, yes. But it had nothing to do with you, Rhys. Nothing to do with you. I was never afraid of the consequences of being with you. Even if every assassin in the world hunts us … It’s worth it. You are worth it.”

His head dipped a bit. And he said hoarsely, “Thank you.”

My heart broke for him then—for the years he’d spent thinking the opposite. I kissed his bare neck, and he reached back to drag a finger down my cheek.

I finished the wings and gripped his shoulder to turn him to face me. “What now?” Wordlessly, he took the soap from my hands and turned me, rubbing down my back, scrubbing lightly with the cloth.

“It’s up to you,” Rhys said. “We can go back to Velaris and have the bond verified by a priestess—no one like Ianthe, I promise—and be declared officially Mated. We could have a small party to celebrate—dinner with our … cohorts. Unless you’d rather have a large party, though I think you and I are in agreement about our aversion for them.” His strong hands kneaded muscles that were tight and aching in my back, and I groaned. “We could also go before a priestess and be declared husband and wife as well as mates, if you want a more human thing to call me.”

“What will you call me?”

“Mate,” he said. “Though also calling you my wife sounds mighty appealing, too.” His thumbs massaged the column of my spine. “Or if you want to wait, we can do none of those things. We’re mated, whether it’s shouted across the world or not. There’s no rush to decide.”

I turned. “I was asking about Jurian, the king, the queens, and the Cauldron, but I’m glad to know I have so many options where our relationship stands. And that you’ll do whatever I want. I must have you wrapped completely around my finger.”

His eyes danced with feline amusement. “Cruel, beautiful thing.”

I snorted. The idea that he found me beautiful at all—

“You are,” he said. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I thought that from the first moment I saw you on Calanmai.”

And it was stupid, stupid for beauty to mean anything at all, but … My eyes burned.

“Which is good,” he added, “because you thought I was the most beautiful male you’d ever seen. So it makes us even.”

I scowled, and he laughed, hands sliding to grip my waist and tug me to him. He sat down on the built-in bench of the tub, and I straddled him, idly stroking his muscled arms.

“Tomorrow,” Rhys said, features becoming grave. “We’re leaving tomorrow for your family’s estate. The queens sent word. They return in three days.”

I started. “You’re telling me this now?”

“I got sidetracked,” he said, his eyes twinkling.

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