A Court of Mist and Fury Page 67

Rhysand’s voice was hoarse. “Because you were breaking. And I couldn’t find another way to save you.”

The music swelled and built. I’d seen a palace in the sky when I’d hallucinated—a place between sunset and dawn … a house of moonstone pillars. “I saw the Night Court.”

He glanced sidelong at me. “I didn’t send those images to you.”

I didn’t care. “Thank you. For everything—for what you did. Then … and now.”

“Even after the Weaver? After this morning with my trap for the Attor?”

My nostrils flared. “You ruin everything.”

Rhys grinned, and I didn’t notice if people were staring as he slid an arm under my legs, and shot us both into the sky.

I could learn to love it, I realized. The flying.

I was reading in bed, listening to the merry chatter of the toasty birch fire across the room, when I turned the page of my book and a piece of paper fell out.

I took one look at the cream stationery and the handwriting and sat up straight.

On it, Rhysand had written,

I might be a shameless flirt, but at least I don’t have a horrible temper. You should come tend to my wounds from our squabble in the snow. I’m bruised all over thanks to you.

Something clicked against the nightstand, and a pen rolled across the polished mahogany. Hissing, I snatched it up and scribbled:

Go lick your wounds and leave me be.

The paper vanished.

It was gone for a while—far longer than it should have taken to write the few words that appeared on the paper when it returned.

I’d much rather you licked my wounds for me.

My heart pounded, faster and faster, and a strange sort of rush went through my veins as I read the sentence again and again. A challenge.

I clamped my lips shut to keep from smiling as I wrote,

Lick you where, exactly?

The paper vanished before I’d even completed the final mark.

His reply was a long time coming. Then,

Wherever you want to lick me, Feyre.

I’d like to start with “Everywhere,” but I can choose, if necessary.

I wrote back,

Let’s hope my licking is better than yours. I remember how horrible you were at it Under the Mountain.

Lie. He’d licked away my tears when I’d been a moment away from shattering.

He’d done it to keep me distracted—keep me angry. Because anger was better than feeling nothing; because anger and hatred were the long-lasting fuel in the endless dark of my despair. The same way that music had kept me from breaking.

Lucien had come to patch me up a few times, but no one risked quite so much in keeping me not only alive, but as mentally intact as I could be considering the circumstances. Just as he’d been doing these past few weeks—taunting and teasing me to keep the hollowness at bay. Just as he was doing now.

I was under duress, his next note read. If you want, I’d be more than happy to prove you wrong. I’ve been told I’m very, very good at licking.

I clenched my knees together and wrote back, Good night.

A heartbeat later, his note said, Try not to moan too loudly when you dream about me. I need my beauty rest.

I got up, chucked the letter in the burbling fire, and gave it a vulgar gesture.

I could have sworn laughter rumbled down the hall.

I didn’t dream about Rhys.

I dreamed about the Attor, its claws on me, gripping me as I was punched. I dreamed about its hissing laughter and foul stench.

But I slept through the night. And did not wake once.

CHAPTER

30

Cassian might have been cocky grins and vulgarity most of the time, but in the sparring ring in a rock-carved courtyard atop the House of Wind the next afternoon, he was a stone-cold killer.

And when those lethal instincts were turned on me …

Beneath the fighting leathers, even with the brisk temperature, my skin was slick with sweat. Each breath ravaged my throat, and my arms trembled so badly that any time I so much as tried to use my fingers, my pinkie would start shaking uncontrollably.

I was watching it wobble of its own accord when Cassian closed the gap between us, gripped my hand, and said, “This is because you’re hitting on the wrong knuckles. Top two—pointer and middle finger—that’s where the punches should connect. Hitting here,” he said, tapping a callused finger on the already-bruised bit of skin in the vee between my pinkie and ring finger, “will do more damage to you than to your opponent. You’re lucky the Attor didn’t want to get into a fistfight.”

We’d been going at it for an hour now, walking through the basic steps of hand-to-hand combat. And it turned out that I might have been good at hunting, at archery, but using my left side? Pathetic. I was as uncoordinated as a newborn fawn attempting to walk. Punching and stepping with the left side of my body at once had been nearly impossible, and I’d stumbled into Cassian more often than I’d hit him. The right punches—those were easy.

“Get a drink,” he said. “Then we’re working on your core. No point in learning to punch if you can’t even hold your stance.”

I frowned toward the sound of clashing blades in the open sparring ring across from us.

Azriel, surprisingly, had returned from the mortal realm by lunch. Mor had intercepted him first, but I’d gotten a secondhand report from Rhys that he’d found some sort of barrier around the queens’ palace, and had needed to return to assess what might be done about it.

Assess—and brood, it seemed, since Azriel had barely managed a polite hello to me before launching into sparring with Rhysand, his face grim and tight. They’d been at it now for an hour straight, their slender blades like flashes of quicksilver as they moved around and around. I wondered if it was as much for practice as it was for Rhys to help his spymaster work off his frustration.

At some point since I’d last looked, despite the sunny winter day, they’d removed their leather jackets and shirts.

Their tan, muscled arms were both covered in the same manner of tattoos that adorned my own hand and forearm, the ink flowing across their shoulders and over their sculpted pectoral muscles. Between their wings, a line of them ran down the column of their spine, right beneath where they typically strapped their blades.

“We get the tattoos when we’re initiated as Illyrian warriors—for luck and glory on the battlefield,” Cassian said, following my stare. I doubted Cassian was drinking in the rest of the image, though: the stomach muscles gleaming with sweat in the bright sun, the bunching of their powerful thighs, the rippling strength in their backs, surrounding those mighty, beautiful wings.

Death on swift wings.

The title came out of nowhere, and for a moment, I saw the painting I’d create: the darkness of those wings, faintly illuminated with lines of red and gold by the radiant winter sun, the glare off their blades, the harshness of the tattoos against the beauty of their faces—

I blinked, and the image was gone, like a cloud of hot breath on a cold night.

Cassian jerked his chin toward his brothers. “Rhys is out of shape and won’t admit it, but Azriel is too polite to beat him into the dirt.”

Rhys looked anything but out of shape. Cauldron boil me, what the hell did they eat to look like that?

My knees wobbled a bit as I strode to the stool where Cassian had brought a pitcher of water and two glasses. I poured one for myself, my pinkie trembling uncontrollably again.

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