Tower of Dawn Page 70

“I need a place. A direction,” she murmured. “For where your other friend might go.”

Aelin. “She is … where is she?”

“They do not know.”

Aelin was—missing. Unaccounted for by even the khaganate’s spies.

“Not in her home?”

A shake of the head that made Chaol’s heart begin to pound wildly. Aelin and Dorian—both unaccounted for. Missing. If Perrington were to strike …“I don’t know where she would go. What she planned to do.” He laid his hand over hers. Blocked out the softness of her skin. “Her plan was to return home. Rally a host.”

“She has not. And I do not doubt the clarity of the eyes here. And there.”

Hasar’s spies. And others.

Aelin was not in Terrasen. Had never reached Orynth.

“Wipe that look off your face,” Yrene purred, and though her hand brushed his arm, her eyes were hard.

He struggled to do so, but managed to give her a sleepy smile. “Does your friend think they have fallen into the hands of someone else?”

“She does not know.” Yrene trailed fingers up his arm, light and unhurried. That simple ring still sat upon her hand. “She wants me to ask you. Pry it from you.”

“Ah.” Her slender, beautiful hand slid along his arm. “Hence the new seating arrangement.” And why Yrene had so often seemed on the verge of speaking today and then opted for silence.

“She will make life very difficult if I do not appear to get you to warm to me.”

He halted her hand at his bicep, finding her fingers shaking slightly. Perhaps it was the sweet, cloying smoke curling around them, perhaps it was the music and the dancers with their bare skin and jewels, but Chaol said, “I would think you’d already done that, Yrene Towers.”

He watched the color bloom on her face. Watched how it made the gold in her eyes brighten.

Dangerous. Dangerous and stupid and—

He knew others were watching. Knew Nesryn sat with the prince.

She’d understand that it was for show. Nesryn’s presence with Sartaq was merely another part of it. Another display.

He told himself that as he continued to hold Yrene’s gaze, continued to press her hand against his upper arm. Continued to watch the color stain her cheeks. The tip of her tongue darted out to moisten her lips.

He watched that, too.

A heavy, calming warmth settled deep into him.

“I need a place. Any place.”

It took him a few heartbeats to figure out what she was asking. The threat the princess implied for not getting information from him.

“Why lie at all? I would have told you the truth.” His mouth felt far away.

“After the lesson with the girls,” she murmured, “I owed you something.”

And this reveal of Hasar’s interests … “Will she be swayed to our cause?”

Yrene studied the room, and Chaol found his hand drifting from hers. Sliding up her bare shoulder, to rest along her neck.

Her skin was soft as sun-warmed velvet. His thumb stroked up the side of her throat, so near that slender scar, and she cut her eyes to him.

There was warning there—warning and yet … He knew the warning was not directed at him. But herself. Yrene breathed, “She …” He couldn’t resist a second stroke of his thumb down the side of her neck. Her throat brushed against his hand as she swallowed again. “She is concerned about the threat of fire.”

And fear could be a motivation that either helped or destroyed any chance of alliance.

“She thinks … thinks you are potentially behind the library attack. As some manipulation.”

He snorted, but his thumb stilled, right over her fluttering pulse. “She gives us more credit than we’re due.” But that was alarm now flaring to life in Yrene’s eyes. “What do you believe, Yrene Towers?”

She laid her hand atop his own but made no move to remove his touch from her neck.

“I think your presence may have triggered other forces to act, but I do not believe you are the sort of man who plays games.”

Even if their current position said otherwise.

“You go after what you want,” Yrene continued, “and you pursue it directly. Honestly.”

“I used to be that sort of man,” Chaol countered. He could not look away from her.

“And now?” Her words were breathless, her pulse hammering beneath his palm.

“And now,” Chaol said, bringing his head closer to hers, near enough that her breath brushed his mouth, “I wonder if I should have listened to my father when he tried to teach me.”

Yrene’s eyes dropped to his mouth, and every instinct, every bit of focus, narrowed on that movement. Every part of him came to aching attention.

And the sensation of it, as he casually adjusted his jacket over his lap, was better than an ice bath.

The smoke—the opiates. It was some sort of aphrodisiac, some lulling of common sense.

Yrene was still watching his mouth as if it were a piece of fruit, her uneven breath lifting those lush, high breasts within the confines of her gown.

He forced himself to remove his hand from her neck. Forced himself to lean back.

Nesryn had to be watching. Had to be wondering what the hell he was doing.

He owed her better than this. He owed Yrene better than whatever he had just done, whatever madness—

“Skull’s Bay,” he threw out. “Tell her fire can be found at Skull’s Bay.”

It was perhaps the one place Aelin would never go—down to the domain of the Pirate Lord. He’d heard her story, once, of her “misadventure” with Rolfe. As if destroying his city and wrecking his prized ships were just another bit of fun. Heading there would indeed be the last thing Aelin would do, with the Pirate Lord’s promise to slaughter her on sight.

Yrene blinked, as if remembering herself, the situation that had brought them here, to this couch, to be knee-to-knee and nearly nose-to-nose.

“Yes,” she said, pulling away, blinking furiously again. She frowned at the smoldering embers within their metal cage on the table. “That will do.”

She waved away an unfurling talon of smoke that tried to wend between them. “I should go.”

A wild, keen-edged panic glinted in her eyes. As if she, too, had realized, had felt—

She stood, straightening the skirts of her gown. Gone was the sultry, steady woman who had strutted over to this couch. Here—here was the girl of about two-and-twenty, alone in a foreign city, prey to the whims of its royal children. “I hope …,” she said, glancing toward Nesryn. Shame. It was—shame and guilt now weighing her shoulders. “I hope you never learn to play those sorts of games.”

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