But I had no idea how to finish that sentence. Just because Lucien was her mate didn’t mean he had a claim on her time. Her affection. She was her own person, capable of making her own choices. Assessing her own needs.

“He is a good male,” I repeated. “And it … it just …” I fought for the words. “I don’t like to see either of you unhappy.”

Elain stared at the worktable, baked goods both finished and incomplete arrayed on the surface, the kettle now cooling on the counter. “I know you don’t.”

There was nothing else to be said. So I touched her shoulder and strode out.

Elain didn’t say a word.

I found Mor sitting on the bottom steps of the stairs, wearing a pair of peach-colored loose pants and a heavy white sweater. A combination of Amren’s usual style and my own.

Gold earrings flashing, Mor offered a grim smile. “Drink?” A decanter and pair of glasses appeared in her hands.

“Mother above, yes.”

She waited until I’d sat beside her on the oak steps and downed a mouthful of amber liquid, the stuff burning its way along my throat and warming my belly, before she asked, “Do you want my advice?”

No. Yes.

I nodded.

Mor drank deeply from her glass. “Stay out of it. She’s not ready, and neither is he, no matter how many presents he brings.”

I lifted a brow. “Snoop.”

Mor leaned back against the steps, utterly unrepentant. “Let him live with his Band of Exiles. Let him deal with Tamlin in his own way. Let him figure out where he wants to be. Who he wants to be. The same goes with her.”

She was right.

“I know you still blame yourself for your sisters being Made.” Mor nudged my knee with her own. “And because of that, you want to fix everything for them now that they’re here.”

“I always wanted to do that,” I said glumly.

Mor smiled crookedly. “That’s why we love you. Why they love you.”

Nesta, I wasn’t so sure about.

Mor continued, “Just be patient. It’ll sort itself out. It always does.”

Another kernel of truth.

I refilled my glass, set the crystal decanter on the step behind us, and drank again. “I want them to be happy. All of them.”

“They will be.”

She said the simple words with such unflagging conviction that I believed her.

I arched a brow. “And you—are you happy?”

Mor knew what I meant. But she just smiled, swirling the liquor in her glass. “It’s Solstice. I’m with my family. I’m drinking. I’m very happy.”

A skilled evasion. But one I was content to partake in. I clinked my heavy glass against hers. “Speaking of our family … Where the hell are they?”

Mor’s brown eyes lit up. “Oh—oh, he didn’t tell you, did he?”

My smile faltered. “Tell me what.”

“What the three of them do every Solstice morning.”

“I’m beginning to be nervous.”

Mor set down her glass, and gripped my arm. “Come with me.”

Before I could object, she’d winnowed us out.

Blinding light hit me. And cold.

Brisk, brutal cold. Far too cold for the sweaters and pants we wore.

Snow. And sun. And wind.

And mountains.

And—a cabin.

The cabin.

Mor pointed to the endless field atop the mountain. Covered in snow, just as I’d last seen it. But rather than a flat, uninterrupted expanse …

“Are those snow forts?”

A nod.

Something white shot across the field, white and hard and glistening, and then—

Cassian’s yowl echoed off the mountains around us. Followed by, “You bastard!”

Rhys’s answering laugh was bright as the sun on snow.

I surveyed the three walls of snow—the barricades—that bordered the field as Mor erected an invisible shield against the bitter wind. It did little to drive away the cold, though. “They’re having a snowball fight.”

Another nod.

“Three Illyrian warriors,” I said. “The greatest Illyrian warriors. Are having a snowball fight.”

Mor’s eyes practically glowed with wicked delight. “Since they were children.”

“They’re over five hundred years old.”

“Do you want me to tell you the running tally of victories?”

I gaped at her. Then at the field beyond. At the snowballs that were indeed flying with brutal, swift precision as dark heads popped over the walls they’d built.

“No magic,” Mor recited, “no wings, no breaks.”

“They’ve been out here since noon.” It was nearly three. My teeth began chattering.

“I’ve always stayed in to drink,” Mor supplied, as if that were an answer.

“How do they even decide who wins?”

“Whoever doesn’t get frostbite?”

I gaped at her again over my clacking teeth. “This is ridiculous.”

“There’s more alcohol in the cabin.”

Indeed, none of the males seemed to even notice us. Not as Azriel popped up, launched two snowballs sky-high, and vanished behind his wall of snow again.

A moment later, Rhys’s vicious curse barked toward us. “Asshole.”

Laughter laced every syllable.

Mor looped her arm through mine again. “I don’t think your mate is going to be the victor this year, my friend.”

I leaned into her warmth, and we waded through the shin-high snow toward the cabin, the chimney already puffing against the clear blue sky.

Illyrian babies indeed.

Chapter 19


Azriel won.

His one-hundred-ninety-ninth victory, apparently.

The three of them had entered the cabin an hour later, dripping snow, skin splotched with red, grinning from ear to ear.

Mor and I, snuggled together beneath a blanket on the couch, only rolled our eyes at them.

Rhys just dropped a kiss atop my head, declared the three of them were going to take a steam in the cedar-lined shed attached to the house, and then they were gone.

I blinked at Mor as they vanished, letting the image settle.

“Another tradition,” she told me, the bottle of amber-colored alcohol mostly empty. And my head now spinning with it. “An Illyrian custom, actually—the heated sheds. The birchin. A bunch of naked warriors, sitting together in the steam, sweating.”

I blinked again.

Mor’s lips twitched. “About the only good custom the Illyrians ever came up with, to be honest.”

I snorted. “So the three of them are just in there. Naked. Sweating.”

Mother above.

Interested in taking a look? The dark purr echoed into my mind.

Lech. Go back to your sweating.

There’s room for one more in here.

I thought mates were territorial.

I could feel him smile as if he were grinning against my neck. I’m always eager to learn what sparks your interest, Feyre darling.

I surveyed the cabin around me, the surfaces I’d painted nearly a year ago. I was promised a wall, Rhys.

A pause. A long pause. I’ve taken you against a wall before.

These walls.

Another long, long pause. It’s bad form to be at attention while in the birchin.

My lips curved as I sent him an image. A memory.

Of me on the kitchen table just a few feet away. Of him kneeling before me. My legs wrapped around his head.

Cruel, wicked thing.

I heard a door slamming somewhere in the house, followed by a distinctly male yelp. Then banging—as if someone was trying to get back inside.