A Court of Mist and Fury Page 15

Rhys huffed a laugh. “I’ve been called worse. In fact, I think you’ve called me worse.” He tapped the paper in front of him. “Read that.”

A blur of letters. My throat tightened. “I can’t.”

“Try.”

The sentence had been written in elegant, concise print. His writing, no doubt. I tried to open my mouth, but my spine locked up. “What, exactly, is your stake in all this? You said you’d tell me if I worked with you.”

“I didn’t specify when I’d tell you.” I peeled back from him as my lip curled. He shrugged. “Maybe I resent the idea of you letting those sycophants and war-mongering fools in the Spring Court make you feel inadequate. Maybe I indeed enjoy seeing you squirm. Or maybe—”

“I get it.”

Rhys snorted. “Try to read it, Feyre.”

Prick. I snatched the paper to me, nearly ripping it in half in the process. I looked at the first word, sounding it out in my head. “Y-you … ” The next I figured out with a combination of my silent pronunciation and logic. “Look … ”

“Good,” he murmured.

“I didn’t ask for your approval.”

Rhys chuckled.

“Ab … Absolutely.” It took me longer than I wanted to admit to figure that out. The next word was even worse. “De … Del … ”

I deigned to glance at him, brows raised.

“Delicious,” he purred.

My brows now knotted. I read the next two words, then whipped my face toward him. “You look absolutely delicious today, Feyre?! That’s what you wrote?”

He leaned back in his seat. As our eyes met, sharp claws caressed my mind and his voice whispered inside my head: It’s true, isn’t it?

I jolted back, my chair groaning. “Stop that!”

But those claws now dug in—and my entire body, my heart, my lungs, my blood yielded to his grip, utterly at his command as he said, The fashion of the Night Court suits you.

I couldn’t move in my seat, couldn’t even blink.

This is what happens when you leave your mental shields down. Someone with my sort of powers could slip inside, see what they want, and take your mind for themselves. Or they could shatter it. I’m currently standing on the threshold of your mind … but if I were to go deeper, all it would take would be half a thought from me and who you are, your very self, would be wiped away.

Distantly, sweat slid down my temple.

You should be afraid. You should be afraid of this, and you should be thanking the gods-damned Cauldron that in the past three months, no one with my sorts of gifts has run into you. Now shove me out.

I couldn’t. Those claws were everywhere—digging into every thought, every piece of self. He pushed a little harder.

Shove. Me. Out.

I didn’t know where to begin. I blindly pushed and slammed myself into him, into those claws that were everywhere, as if I were a top loosed in a circle of mirrors.

His laughter, low and soft, filled my mind, my ears. That way, Feyre.

In answer, a little open path gleamed inside my mind. The road out.

It’d take me forever to unhook each claw and shove the mass of his presence out that narrow opening. If I could wash it away—

A wave. A wave of self, of me, to sweep all of him out—

I didn’t let him see the plan take form as I rallied myself into a cresting wave and struck.

The claws loosened—reluctantly. As if letting me win this round. He merely said, “Good.”

My bones, my breath and blood, they were mine again. I slumped in my seat.

“Not yet,” he said. “Shield. Block me out so I can’t get back in.”

I already wanted to go somewhere quiet and sleep for a while—

Claws at that outer layer of my mind, stroking—

I imagined a wall of adamant snapping down, black as night and a foot thick. The claws retracted a breath before the wall sliced them in two.

Rhys was grinning. “Very nice. Blunt, but nice.”

I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed the piece of paper and shredded it in two, then four. “You’re a pig.”

“Oh, most definitely. But look at you—you read that whole sentence, kicked me out of your mind, and shielded. Excellent work.”

“Don’t condescend to me.”

“I’m not. You’re reading at a level far higher than I anticipated.”

That burning returned to my cheeks. “But mostly illiterate.”

“At this point, it’s about practice, spelling, and more practice. You could be reading novels by Nynsar. And if you keep adding to those shields, you might very well keep me out entirely by then, too.”

Nynsar. It’d be the first Tamlin and his court would celebrate in nearly fifty years. Amarantha had banned it on a whim, along with a few other small, but beloved Fae holidays that she had deemed unnecessary. But Nynsar was months from now. “Is it even possible—to truly keep you out?”

“Not likely, but who knows how deep that power goes? Keep practicing and we’ll see what happens.”

“And will I still be bound by this bargain at Nynsar, too?”

Silence.

I pushed, “After—after what happened—” I couldn’t mention specifics on what had occurred Under the Mountain, what he’d done for me during that fight with Amarantha, what he’d done after— “I think we can agree that I owe you nothing, and you owe me nothing.”

His gaze was unflinching.

I blazed on, “Isn’t it enough that we’re all free?” I splayed my tattooed hand on the table. “By the end, I thought you were different, thought that it was all a mask, but taking me away, keeping me here … ” I shook my head, unable to find the words vicious enough, clever enough to convince him to end this bargain.

His eyes darkened. “I’m not your enemy, Feyre.”

“Tamlin says you are.” I curled the fingers of my tattooed hand into a fist. “Everyone else says you are.”

“And what do you think?” He leaned back in his chair again, but his face was grave.

“You’re doing a damned good job of making me agree with them.”

“Liar,” he purred. “Did you even tell your friends about what I did to you Under the Mountain?”

So that comment at breakfast had gotten under his skin. “I don’t want to talk about anything related to that. With you or them.”

“No, because it’s so much easier to pretend it never happened and let them coddle you.”

“I don’t let them coddle me—”

“They had you wrapped up like a present yesterday. Like you were his reward.”

“So?”

“So?” A flicker of rage, then it was gone.

“I’m ready to be taken home,” I merely said.

“Where you’ll be cloistered for the rest of your life, especially once you start punching out heirs. I can’t wait to see what Ianthe does when she gets her hands on them.”

“You don’t seem to have a particularly high opinion of her.”

Something cold and predatory crept into his eyes. “No, I can’t say that I do.” He pointed to a blank piece of paper. “Start copying the alphabet. Until your letters are perfect. And every time you get through a round, lower and raise your shield. Until that is second nature. I’ll be back in an hour.”

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