The door yanked open, the knob twisting so hard Cassian wondered if she was imagining it was his neck.
Nesta Archeron was already frowning.
But there she was. And she looked like hell.
“What do you want?” She didn’t open the door wider than a hand’s length.
When the hell had he last seen her? The end-of-summer party on that barge in the Sidra last month? She hadn’t looked this bad. Though a night trying to drown oneself in alcohol never left anyone looking particularly good the next morning. Especially when it was—
“It’s seven in the morning,” she hissed, looking him over with that gray-blue stare that was usually kindling to his temper. “Come back later.”
Indeed, she was in a male’s shirt. That definitely didn’t belong to her.
He braced a hand on the threshold and gave her a lazy grin he knew brought out the best in her. “Rough night?”
Rough year, he almost said. Because that beautiful face was indeed still pale, thinner than it’d been before the war, her lips bloodless, and those eyes … Cold and sharp, like a winter morning. No joy, no laughter, in any plane of her exquisite face.
“Come back in the afternoon,” she said, making to slam the door on his hand.
Cassian shoved out a foot before she could break his fingers. Her nostrils flared slightly.
“Feyre wants you at the house.”
“Which one,” Nesta said flatly, frowning at the foot he’d wedged there. “She has three, after all.”
He bit back the retort and the questions. This wasn’t the selected battlefield, and he wasn’t her opponent. No, his job was just to get her to the assigned spot. And then pray that the lovely riverfront home Feyre and Rhys had just moved into wouldn’t be reduced to rubble.
“She’s at the new one.”
“Why didn’t she come get me herself?” He knew that suspicious gleam in her eyes, the slight stiffening in her back. It had his own instincts surging to meet them, to push and push and see what might happen.
“Because she is High Lady of the Night Court, and she’s busy running the territory.”
Fine. Maybe they’d have a skirmish right here, right now.
A nice prelude to the battle ahead.
Nesta angled her head, golden-brown hair sliding over her too-thin shoulder. On anyone else, the movement would have been contemplative. On her, it was a predator sizing up prey.
“And my sister,” she said in that flat voice that refused to yield any sign of emotion, “deemed that meeting her right now was necessary?”
“She knew you’d likely need to clean yourself up, and wanted you to get a head start. You’re expected at eleven.”
He waited for the explosion as she took in the words, did the math.
Her pupils flared. “Do I look like I need four hours to become presentable?”
He took the invitation to survey her: long, bare legs, an elegant sweep of hips, tapered waist—again, too damn thin—and full, inviting breasts that were so at odds with the sharp angles of her bones. On any other female, he might have called the combination mouthwatering. Might have begun courting her from the moment he’d met her.
But from the moment he’d met Nesta, the cold fire in her blue-gray eyes had been a temptation of a different sort. And now that she was High Fae, that inherent dominance, the aggression—and that piss-poor attitude … There was a reason he avoided her as much as possible. Even after the war, things were still too volatile, both within the Night Court’s borders and in the world beyond. And the female before him had always made him feel like he was standing in quicksand.
Cassian said at last, “You look like you could use a few big meals, a bath, and some real clothes.”
She rolled her eyes, but fingered the shirt she wore.
Cassian added, “Eleven o’clock. Kick the sorry prick out of here, get washed, and I’ll bring you breakfast myself.”
Her brows rose slightly.
He gave her a half-smile. “You think I can’t hear that male in your bedroom, trying to quietly put on his clothes and sneak out the window?”
As if in answer, a muffled thud came from the bedroom. Nesta hissed.
Cassian said, “I’ll be back in an hour to see how things are proceeding.” He put enough bite behind the words that his soldiers would know not to push him, that he wore seven Siphons for a damned good reason. But Nesta did not fly in his legions, did not train under his command, and certainly did not seem to bother to remember that he was five hundred years old and—
“Don’t bother. I’ll be there on time.”
He pushed off the door, wings flaring slightly as he retreated a few steps and grinned in that way he knew made her see red. “That’s not what I was asked to do. I’m to see you from door to door.”
Her face indeed tightened. “Go perch on a chimney.”
He sketched a bow, not daring to take his eyes off her. She’d emerged from that Cauldron with gifts. Considerable, dark gifts. And though she had not used them, or explained to even Feyre and Amren what they were, or even shown a hint of them in the year since the war … he knew better than to make himself vulnerable to another predator. “Do you want your tea with milk or lemon?”
She slammed the door in his face.
Then locked each of those four locks. Slowly. Loudly.
Whistling to himself, wondering if that poor bastard inside the apartment would indeed flee out the window—mostly to escape her—Cassian strode down the dim hallway, and went to find some food.
He’d need it today, too—especially once Nesta learned precisely why her sister had summoned her.
Nesta Archeron didn’t know the male’s name.
She ransacked her wine-soaked memory as she strode for the bedroom, dodging columns of books and piles of clothing, recalling heated glances at the tavern, the initial wet, hot meeting of their mouths, the sweat coating her as she rode him until pleasure and drink sent her into oblivion, but … not the name.
The male was already at the window, Cassian no doubt lurking on the street below to witness this spectacularly pathetic exit, when Nesta reached the dim, cramped bedroom. The sheets on the brass poster bed were rumpled, half-spilled on the creaky wood floor, and the cracked window was already open as the male turned to her.
Handsome, in the way most Fae males were handsome. A bit thinner than she liked them—practically a boy compared to the towering mass of muscle that had just lurked outside her door. He winced as she padded in, and gave a pointed look to her shirt. “I … That’s …”
Nesta reached over her head and tugged off his shirt, leaving nothing but bare skin in its wake. His eyes widened, but the scent of his fear remained—not at her, but at who he’d heard at the front door. As he remembered who she was, both in the court, and to Cassian. She chucked his white shirt to him. “You can use the front door now.”
He swallowed, slinging the shirt over his head. “I—is he still—” His gaze kept snagging on her breasts, peaked against the chill morning, her bare skin. The apex of her thighs.
“Good-bye,” was all Nesta said, striding for the rusty and leaky bathroom attached to her bedroom. At least the place had hot running water.
Feyre and the others had tried to convince her to move more times than she could count. Each time, she’d ignored it.
Elain was happily ensconced in the new riverfront estate, and had spent the spring and summer planning and nurturing its spectacular gardens—all while avoiding her mate—but Nesta … She was immortal, she was beautiful, and she had no intention of beginning an eternity of working for these people anytime soon. Before she’d gotten to enjoy all that the Fae had to offer.