- A Court of Frost and Starlight
Leaning against a lamppost, faelight gilding the talons atop his wings, Rhys chuckled. And didn’t move an inch.
“Asshole,” I muttered. “Most males would help their mates if they’re about to break their heads on the ice.”
He pushed off the lamppost and prowled toward me, every movement smooth and unhurried. Even now, I’d gladly spend hours just watching him.
“I have a feeling that if I had stepped in, you would have bitten my head off for being an overbearing mother hen, as you called me.”
I grumbled an answer he chose not to hear.
“Not at home, then?”
I grumbled again.
“Well, that leaves precisely ten other places where she could be.”
Rhys asked, “Do you want me to look?”
Not physically, but use his power to find Nesta. I hadn’t wanted him to do it earlier, since it felt like some sort of violation of privacy, but given how damned cold it was … “Fine.”
Rhys wrapped his arms, then his wings around me, tucking me into his heat as he murmured onto my hair, “Hold on.”
Darkness and wind tumbled around us, and I buried my face in his chest, breathing in the scent of him.
Then laughter and singing, music blaring, the tangy smell of stale ale, the bite of cold—
I groaned as I beheld where he’d winnowed us, where he’d detected my sister.
“There are wine rooms in this city,” Rhys said, cringing. “There are concert halls. Fine restaurants. Pleasure clubs. And yet your sister …”
And yet my sister managed to find the seediest, most miserable taverns in Velaris. There weren’t many. But she patronized all of them. And this one—the Wolf’s Den—was by far the worst.
“Wait here,” I said over the fiddles and drums spilling from the tavern as I pulled out of his embrace. Down the street, a few drunk revelers spotted us and fell silent. Felt Rhys’s power, perhaps my own as well, and found somewhere else to be for a while.
I had no doubt the same would happen in the tavern, and had no doubt Nesta would resent us for ruining her night. At least I could slip inside mostly unnoticed. If both of us went in there, I knew my sister would see it as an attack.
So it would be me. Alone.
Rhys kissed my brow. “If someone propositions you, tell them we’ll both be free in an hour.”
“Och.” I waved him off, banking my powers to a near-whisper within me.
He blew me a kiss.
I waved that away, too, and slipped through the tavern door.
My sister didn’t have drinking companions. As far as I knew, she went out alone, and made them as the night progressed. And every now and then, one of them went home with her.
I hadn’t asked. Wasn’t even sure when the first time had been.
I also didn’t dare ask Cassian if he knew. They had barely exchanged more than a few words since the war.
And as I entered the light and rolling music of the Wolf’s Den and immediately spotted my sister seated with three males at a round table in the shadowed back, I could almost see the specter of that day against Hybern looming behind her.
Every ounce of weight that Elain had gained it seemed Nesta had lost. Her already proud, angular face had turned more so, her cheekbones sharp enough to slice. Her hair remained up in her usual braided coronet, she wore her preferred gray gown, and she was, as ever, immaculately clean despite the hovel she chose to occupy. Despite the reeking, hot tavern that had seen better years. Centuries.
A queen without a throne. That was what I’d call the painting that swept into my mind.
Nesta’s eyes, the same blue-gray as my own, lifted the moment I shut the wooden door behind me. Nothing flickered across her face beyond vague disdain. The three High Fae males at her table were all fairly well dressed considering the place they patronized.
Likely wealthy young bucks out for the night.
I reined in my scowl as Rhys’s voice filled my head. Mind your own business.
Your sister is handily beating them at cards, by the way.
You love it.
I pressed my lips together, sending a vulgar gesture down the bond as I approached my sister’s table. Rhys’s laughter rumbled against my shields in answer, like star-flecked thunder.
Nesta simply went back to staring at the fan of cards she held, her posture the epitome of glorious boredom. But her companions peered up at me when I stopped at the edge of their stained and scarred wooden table. Half-consumed glasses of amber liquid sweated with moisture, kept chilled through some magic of the tavern’s.
The male across the table—a handsome, rakish-looking High Fae, with hair like spun gold—met my eyes.
His hand of cards slumped to the table as he bowed his head. The others followed suit.
Only my sister, still studying her cards, remained uninterested.
“My lady,” said a thin, dark-haired male, throwing a wary glance toward my sister. “How may we be of assistance?”
Nesta didn’t so much as look up as she adjusted one of her cards.
I smiled sweetly at her companions. “I hate to interrupt your night out, gentlemen.” Gentlemales, I supposed. A holdover from my human life—one that the third male noted with a hint of a raised, thick brow. “But I would like a word with my sister.”
The dismissal was clear enough.
As one, they rose, cards abandoned, and swiped up their drinks. “We’ll get a refill,” the golden-haired one declared.
I waited until they were at the bar, pointedly not gazing over their shoulders, before I slid into the rickety seat the dark-haired one had vacated.
Slowly, Nesta’s eyes lifted toward mine.
I leaned back in the chair, wood groaning. “So which one was going home with you tonight?”
Nesta snapped her cards together, setting the stack facedown on the table. “I hadn’t decided.”
Icy, flat words. The perfect accompaniment to the expression on her face.
I simply waited.
Nesta waited, too.
Still as an animal. Still as death.
I’d once wondered if that was her power. Her curse, granted by the Cauldron.
Nothing I’d seen of it, glimpsed in those moments against Hybern, had seemed like death. Just brute power. But the Bone Carver had whispered of it. And I’d seen it, shining cold and bright in her eyes.
But not for months now.
Not that I’d seen much of her.
A minute passed. Then another.
Utter silence, save for the merry music from the four-piece band on the other side of the room.
I could wait. I’d wait here all damn night.
Nesta settled back in her chair, inclined to do the same.
My money’s on your sister.
I’m getting cold out here.
A dark chuckle, then the bond went silent again.
“Is that mate of yours going to stand in the cold all night?”
I blinked, wondering if she’d somehow sensed the thoughts between us. “Who says he’s here?”
Nesta snorted. “Where one goes, the other follows.”
I refrained from voicing all of the potential retorts that leaped onto my tongue.
Instead, I asked, “Elain invited you to dinner tonight. Why didn’t you come?”
Nesta’s smile was slow, sharp as a blade. “I wanted to hear the musicians play.”
I cast a pointed look to the band. More skilled than the usual tavern set, but not a real excuse. “She wanted you there.” I wanted you there.