A Court of Mist and Fury Page 76

I didn’t have the nerve to come out of my room for breakfast, to see if Rhys had returned.

To see whom he came to breakfast with.

I had nothing else to do, I told myself as I lay in bed, until my lunchtime visit with Tarquin. So I stayed there until the servants came in, apologized for disturbing me, and started to leave. I stopped them, saying I’d bathe while they cleaned the room. They were polite—if nervous—and merely nodded as I did as I’d claimed.

I took my time in the bath. And behind the locked door, I let that kernel of Tarquin’s power come out, first making the water rise from the tub, then shaping little animals and creatures out of it.

It was about as close to transformation as I’d let myself go. Contemplating how I might give myself animalistic features only made me shaky, sick. I could ignore it, ignore that occasional scrape of claws in my blood for a while yet.

I was on to water-butterflies flitting through the room when I realized I’d been in the tub long enough that the bath had gone cold.

Like the night before, Nuala walked through the walls from wherever she was staying in the palace, and dressed me, somehow attuned to when I’d be ready. Cerridwen, she told me, had drawn the short stick and was seeing to Amren. I didn’t have the nerve to ask about Rhys, either.

Nuala selected seafoam green accented with rose gold, curling and then braiding back my hair in a thick, loose plait glimmering with bits of pearl. Whether Nuala knew why I was there, what I’d be doing, she didn’t say. But she took extra care of my face, brightening my lips with raspberry pink, dusting my cheeks with the faintest blush. I might have looked innocent, charming—were it not for my gray-blue eyes. More hollow than they’d been last night, when I’d admired myself in the mirror.

I’d seen enough of the palace to navigate to where Tarquin had said to meet before we bid good night. The main hall was situated on a level about halfway up—the perfect meeting place for those who dwelled in the spires above and those who worked unseen and unheard below.

This level held all the various council rooms, ballrooms, dining rooms, and whatever other rooms might be needed for visitors, events, gatherings. Access to the residential levels from which I’d come was guarded by four soldiers at each stairwell—all of whom watched me carefully as I waited against a seashell pillar for their High Lord. I wondered if he could sense that I’d been playing with his power in the bathtub, that the piece of him he’d yielded was now here and answering to me.

Tarquin emerged from one of the adjacent rooms as the clock struck two—followed by my own companions.

Rhysand’s gaze swept over me, noting the clothes that were obviously in honor of my host and his people. Noting the way I did not meet his eyes, or Cresseida’s, as I looked solely at Tarquin and Amren beside him—Varian now striding off to the soldiers at the stairs—and gave them both a bland, close-lipped smile.

“You’re looking well today,” Tarquin said, inclining his head.

Nuala, it seemed, was a spectacularly good spy. Tarquin’s pewter tunic was accented with the same shade of seafoam green as my clothes. We might as well have been a matching set. I supposed with my brown-gold hair and pale skin, I was his mirror opposite.

I could feel Rhys still assessing me.

I shut him out. Maybe I’d send a water-dog barking after him later—let it bite him in the ass.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” I said to Amren.

Amren shrugged her slim shoulders, clad in flagstone gray today. “We were finishing up a rather lively debate about armadas and who might be in charge of a unified front. Did you know,” she said, “that before they became so big and powerful, Tarquin and Varian led Nostrus’s fleet?”

Varian, several feet away, stiffened, but did not turn.

I met Tarquin’s eye. “You didn’t mention you were a sailor.” It was an effort to sound intrigued, like I had nothing at all bothering me.

Tarquin rubbed his neck. “I had planned to tell you during our tour.” He held out an arm. “Shall we?”

Not one word—I had not uttered one word to Rhysand. And I wasn’t about to start as I looped my arm through Tarquin’s, and said to none of them in particular, “See you later.”

Something brushed against my mental shield, a rumble of something dark—powerful.

Perhaps a warning to be careful.

Though it felt an awful lot like the dark, flickering emotion that had haunted me—so much like it that I stepped a bit closer to Tarquin. And then I gave the High Lord of Summer a pretty, mindless smile that I had not given to anyone in a long, long time.

That brush of emotion went silent on the other side of my shields.

Good.

Tarquin brought me to a hall of jewels and treasure so vast that I gawked for a good minute. A minute that I used to scan the shelves for any twinkle of feeling—anything that felt like the male at my side, like the power I’d summoned in the bathtub.

“And this is—this is just one of the troves?” The room had been carved deep beneath the castle, behind a heavy lead door that had only opened when Tarquin placed his hand on it. I didn’t dare get close enough to the lock to see if it might work under my touch—his feigned signature.

A fox in the chicken coop. That’s what I was.

Tarquin loosed a chuckle. “My ancestors were greedy bastards.”

I shook my head, striding to the shelves built into the wall. Solid stone—no way to break in, unless I tunneled through the mountain itself. Or if someone winnowed me. Though there were likely wards similar to those on the town house and the House of Wind.

Boxes overflowed with jewels and pearls and uncut gems, gold heaped in trunks so high it spilled onto the cobblestone floor. Suits of ornate armor stood guard against one wall; dresses woven of cobwebs and starlight leaned against another. There were swords and daggers of every sort. But no books. Not one.

“Do you know the history behind each piece?”

“Some,” he said. “I haven’t had much time to learn about it all.”

Good—maybe he wouldn’t know about the Book, wouldn’t miss it.

I turned in a circle. “What’s the most valuable thing in here?”

“Thinking of stealing?”

I choked on a laugh. “Wouldn’t asking that question make me a lousy thief?”

Lying, two-faced wretch—that’s what asking that question made me.

Tarquin studied me. “I’d say I’m looking at the most valuable thing in here.”

I didn’t fake the blush. “You’re—very kind.”

His smile was soft. As if his position had not yet broken the compassion in him. I hoped it never did. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s the most valuable thing. These are all priceless heirlooms of my house.”

I walked up to a shelf, scanning. A necklace of rubies was splayed on a velvet pillow—each of them the size of a robin’s egg. It’d take a tremendous female to wear that necklace, to dominate the gems and not the other way around.

On another shelf, a necklace of pearls. Then sapphires.

And on another … a necklace of black diamonds.

Each of the dark stones was a mystery—and an answer. Each of them slumbered.

Tarquin came up behind me, peering over my shoulder at what had snagged my interest. His gaze drifted to my face. “Take it.”

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