A Court of Mist and Fury Page 96

But Keir said at last, as if his own self-control slipped the leash, “I had heard the rumors, and I didn’t quite believe them.” His gaze settled on me, on my breasts, peaked through the folds of my dress, of my legs, spread wider than they’d been minutes before, and Rhys’s hand in dangerous territory. “But it seems true: Tamlin’s pet is now owned by another master.”

“You should see how I make her beg,” Rhys murmured, nudging my neck with his nose.

Keir clasped his hands behind his back. “I assume you brought her to make a statement.”

“You know everything I do is a statement.”

“Of course. This one, it seems, you enjoy putting in cobwebs and crowns.”

Rhys’s hand paused, and I sat straighter at the tone, the disgust. And I said to Keir in a voice that belonged to another woman, “Perhaps I’ll put a leash on you.”

Rhys’s approval tapped against my mental shield, the hand at my ribs now making lazy circles. “She does enjoy playing,” he mused onto my shoulder. He jerked his chin toward the Steward. “Get her some wine.”

Pure command. No politeness.

Keir stiffened, but strode off.

Rhys didn’t dare break from his mask, but the light kiss he pressed beneath my ear told me enough. Apology and gratitude—and more apologies. He didn’t like this any more than I did. And yet to get what we needed, to buy Azriel time … He’d do it. And so would I.

I wondered, then, with his hands beneath my breasts and between my legs, what Rhys wouldn’t give of himself. Wondered if … if perhaps the arrogance and swagger … if they masked a male who perhaps thought he wasn’t worth very much at all.

A new song began, like dripping honey—and edged into a swift-moving wind, punctuated with driving, relentless drums.

I twisted, studying his face. There was nothing warm in his eyes, nothing of the friend I’d made. I opened my shield enough to let him in. What? His voice floated into my mind.

I reached down the bond between us, caressing that wall of ebony adamant. A small sliver cracked—just for me. And I said into it, You are good, Rhys. You are kind. This mask does not scare me. I see you beneath it.

His hands tightened on me, and his eyes held mine as he leaned forward to brush his mouth against my cheek. It was answer enough—and … an unleashing.

I leaned a bit more against him, my legs widening ever so slightly. Why’d you stop? I said into his mind, into him.

A near-silent growl reverberated against me. He stroked my ribs again, in time to the beat of the music, his thumb rising nearly high enough to graze the underside of my breasts.

I let my head drop back against his shoulder.

I let go of the part of me that heard their words—whore, whore, whore—

Let go of the part that said those words alongside them—traitor, liar, whore—

And I just became.

I became the music, and the drums, and the wild, dark thing in the High Lord’s arms.

His eyes were wholly glazed—and not with power or rage. Something red-hot and edged with glittering darkness exploded in my mind.

I dragged a hand down his thigh, feeling the hidden warrior’s strength there. Dragged it back up again in a long, idle stroke, needing to touch him, feel him.

I was going to catch fire and burn. I was going to start burning right here—

Easy, he said with wicked amusement through the open sliver in my shield. If you become a living candle, poor Keir will throw a hissy fit. And then you’d ruin the party for everyone.

Because the fire would let them all know I wasn’t normal—and no doubt Keir would inform his almost-allies in the Autumn Court. Or one of these other monsters would.

Rhys shifted his hips, rubbing against me with enough pressure that for a second, I didn’t care about Keir, or the Autumn Court, or what Azriel might be doing right now to steal the orb.

I had been so cold, so lonely, for so long, and my body cried out at the contact, at the joy of being touched and held and alive.

The hand that had been on my waist slid across my abdomen, hooking into the low-slung belt there. I rested my head between his shoulder and neck, staring at the crowd as they stared at me, savoring every place where Rhys and I connected and wanting more more more.

At last, when my blood had begun to boil, when Rhys skimmed the underside of my breast with his knuckle, I looked to where I knew Keir was standing, watching us, my wine forgotten in his hand.

We both did.

The Steward was staring unabashedly as he leaned against the wall. Unsure whether to interrupt. Half terrified to. We were his distraction. We were the sleight of hand while Az stole the orb.

I knew Rhys was still holding Keir’s gaze as the tip of his tongue slid up my neck.

I arched my back, eyes heavy-lidded, breathing uneven. I’d burn and burn and burn—

I think he’s so disgusted that he might have given me the orb just to get out of here, Rhys said in my mind, that other hand drifting dangerously south. But there was such a growing ache there, and I wore nothing beneath that would conceal the damning evidence if he slid his hand a fraction higher.

You and I put on a good show, I said back. The person who said that, husky and sultry—I’d never heard that voice come out of me before. Even in my mind.

His hand slid to my upper thigh, fingers curving in.

I ground against him, trying to shift those hands away from what he’d learn—

To find him hard against my backside.

Every thought eddied from my head. Only a thrill of power remained as I writhed along that impressive length. Rhys let out a low, rough laugh.

Keir just watched and watched and watched. Rigid. Horrified. Stuck here, until Rhys released him—and not thinking twice about why. Or where the spymaster had gone.

So I turned around again, meeting Rhysand’s now-blazing eyes, and then licked up the column of his throat. Wind and sea and citrus and sweat. It almost undid me.

I faced forward, and Rhys dragged his mouth along the back of my neck, right over my spine, just as I shifted against the hardness pushing into me, insistent and dominating. Precisely as his hand slid a bit too high on my inner thigh.

I felt the predatory focus go right to the slickness he’d felt there. Proof of my traitorous body. His arms tightened around me, and my face burned—perhaps a bit from shame, but—

Rhys sensed my focus, my fire slip. It’s fine, he said, but that mental voice sounded breathless. It means nothing. It’s just your body reacting—

Because you’re so irresistible? My attempt to deflect sounded strained, even in my mind.

But he laughed, probably for my benefit.

We’d danced around and teased and taunted each other for months. And maybe it was my body’s reaction, maybe it was his body’s reaction, but the taste of him threatened to destroy me, consume me, and—

Another male. I’d had another male’s hands all over me, when Tamlin and I were barely—

Fighting my nausea, I pasted a sleepy, lust-fogged smile on my face. Right as Azriel returned and gave Rhys a subtle nod. He’d gotten the orb.

Mor slid up to the spymaster, running a proprietary hand over his shoulders, his chest, as she circled to look into his face. Az’s scar-mottled hand wrapped around her bare waist—squeezing once. The confirmation she also needed.

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