Nesta shrugged. “She could have eaten with me here.”

“You know Elain wouldn’t feel comfortable in a place like this.”

She arched a well-groomed brow. “A place like this? What sort of place is that?”

Indeed, some people were turning our way. High Lady—I was High Lady. Insulting this place and the people in it wouldn’t win me any supporters. “Elain is overwhelmed by crowds.”

“She didn’t used to be that way.” Nesta swirled her glass of amber liquid. “She loved balls and parties.”

The words hung unspoken. But you and your court dragged us into this world. Took that joy away from her.

“If you bothered to come by the house, you’d see that she’s readjusting. But balls and parties are one thing. Elain never patronized taverns before this.”

Nesta opened her mouth, no doubt to lead me down a path away from the reason I’d come here. So I cut in before she could. “That’s beside the point.”

Steel-cold eyes held mine. “Can you get to it, then? I’d like to return to my game.”

I debated scattering the cards to the ale-slick ground. “Solstice is the day after tomorrow.”

Nothing. Not a blink.

I interlaced my fingers and set them on the table between us. “What will it take to get you to come?”

“For Elain’s sake or yours?”


Another snort. Nesta surveyed the room, everyone carefully not watching us now. I knew without asking that Rhys had slid a sound barrier around us.

Finally, my sister looked back at me. “So you’re bribing me, then?”

I didn’t flinch. “I’m seeing if you’re willing to be reasoned with. If there’s a way to make it worth your while.”

Nesta planted the tip of her pointer finger atop her stack of cards and fanned them out across the table. “It’s not even our holiday. We don’t have holidays.”

“Perhaps you should try it. You might enjoy yourself.”

“As I told Elain: you have your lives, and I have mine.”

Again, I cast a pointed glance to the tavern. “Why? Why this insistence on distancing yourself?”

She settled back in her seat, crossing her arms. “Why do I have to be a part of your merry little band?”

“You’re my sister.”

Again, that empty, cold look.

I waited.

“I’m not going to your party,” she said.

If Elain hadn’t been able to convince her, I certainly wouldn’t succeed. I didn’t know why I hadn’t realized it before. Before wasting my time. But I tried—one last time. For Elain’s sake. “Father would want you to—”

“Don’t you finish that sentence.”

Despite the sound shield around us, there was nothing to block the view of my sister baring her teeth. The view of her fingers curling into invisible claws.

Nesta’s nose crinkled with undiluted rage as she snarled, “Leave.”

A scene. This was about to become a scene in the worst way.

So I rose, hiding my trembling hands by balling them into tight fists at my sides. “Please come,” was all I said before turning back toward the door, the walk between her table and the exit feeling so much longer. All the staring faces I’d have to pass looming.

“My rent,” Nesta said when I’d walked two steps.

I paused. “What about your rent?”

She swigged from her glass. “It’s due next week. In case you forgot.”

She was completely serious.

I said flatly, “Come to Solstice and I’ll make sure it’s delivered.”

Nesta opened her mouth, but I turned again, staring down every gaping face that peered up at me as I passed.

I felt my sister’s gaze piercing the space between my shoulder blades the entire walk to that front door. And the entire flight home.

Chapter 14


Even with workers seldom halting their repairs, the rebuilding was still years from being finished. Especially along the Sidra, where Hybern had hit hardest.

Little more than rubble remained of the once-great estates and homes along the southeastern bend of the river, their gardens overgrown and private boathouses half sunken in the gentle flow of the turquoise waters.

I’d grown up in these houses, attending the parties and feasts that lasted long into the night, spending bright summer days lazing on the sloping lawns, cheering the summer boat races on the Sidra. Their facades had been as familiar as any friend’s face. They’d been built long before I was born. I’d expected them to last long after I was gone.

“You haven’t heard from the families about when they’ll be returning, have you?”

Mor’s question floated to me above the crunch of pale stone beneath our feet as we ambled along the snow-dusted grounds of one such estate.

She’d found me after lunch—a rare, solitary meal these days. With Feyre and Elain out shopping in the city, when my cousin had appeared in the foyer of the town house, I hadn’t hesitated to invite her for a walk.

It had been a long while since Mor and I had walked together.

I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that though the war had ended, all wounds had been healed. Especially between Mor and me.

And I wasn’t stupid enough to delude myself into thinking that I hadn’t put off this walk for a while now—and so had she.

I’d seen her eyes go distant the other night at the Hewn City. Her silence after her initial snarled warning at her father had told me enough about where her mind had drifted.

Another casualty of this war: working with Keir and Eris had dimmed something in my cousin.

Oh, she hid it well. Save for when she was face-to-face with the two males who had—

I didn’t let myself finish the thought, summon the memory. Even five centuries later, the rage threatened to swallow me until I’d left the Hewn City and Autumn Court in ruins.

But those were her deaths to claim. They always had been. I had never asked why she’d waited so long.

We’d quietly meandered through the city for half an hour now, going mostly unnoticed. A small blessing of Solstice: everyone was too busy with their own preparations to mark who strolled through the packed streets.

How we’d wound up here, I had no idea. But here we were, nothing but the fallen and cracked blocks of stone, winter-dry weeds, and gray sky for company.

“The families,” I said at last, “are at their other estates.” I knew them all, wealthy merchants and nobles who had defected from the Hewn City long before the two halves of my realm had been officially severed. “With no plans to return anytime soon.” Perhaps forever. I’d heard from one of them, a matriarch of a merchant empire, that they were likely going to sell rather than face the ordeal of building from scratch.

Mor nodded absently, the chill wind whipping strands of her hair over her face as she paused in the middle of what had once been a formal garden sloping from the house to the icy river itself. “Keir is coming here soon, isn’t he.”

So rarely would she ever refer to him as her father. I didn’t blame her. That male hadn’t been her father for centuries. Long before that unforgivable day.

“He is.”

I’d managed to keep Keir at bay since the war had ended—had prepared for him to inevitably decide that no matter the work I dumped in his lap, no matter how I might interrupt his little visits with Eris, he would visit this city.