She had no doubt Feyre planned a scolding at their little meeting today.
After all, Nesta had signed the outrageous tab at the pleasure hall last night to her sister’s account. But neither Feyre nor her mate would do anything about it beyond idle threats.
Nesta snorted, twisting the ancient faucet in the bath. It groaned, the metal icy to the touch, and water sputtered—then sprayed into the cracked, stained tub.
This was her place. No servants, no eyes monitoring and judging every move, no company unless … Unless busybody, puffed-up warriors made it their business to stop by.
It took five minutes for the water to actually heat enough to fill the tub. That she would even get into it was the biggest accomplishment she’d made in the past year. It had begun with willing herself, forcing herself to put in her feet. Then, each time, going a little further. Until she’d been able to stomach sitting fully submerged in the tub without her heart thundering. It had taken her months to get that far.
Today, at least, she slid into the hot water with little hesitation. By the time she’d finished washing away the sweat and other remnants of last night, a glance in the bedroom revealed the male had indeed taken the window out.
The sex hadn’t been bad. She’d had better, but also had much worse. Immortality still wasn’t enough to teach some males the art of the bedroom.
So she’d taught herself. Starting with the first male she’d taken here, who had no idea that her maidenhead was intact until he’d spied the speckled blood on the sheets. His face had gone white with terror—pure, ghastly white.
Not for fear of Feyre and Rhysand’s wrath.
But the wrath of that insufferable Illyrian brute.
Everyone somehow knew what had happened during the war; that final battle with Hybern.
That Cassian had nearly bled out defending her against the King of Hybern, that she’d chosen to shield him with her body in those last moments.
They had never spoken of it.
She still barely spoke to anyone about anything, let alone the war.
Yet as far as anyone was now concerned, the events of that last battle had bound them. Her and Cassian. No matter that she could scarcely stand to be around him. No matter that she had once, long ago, in a mortal body and in a house that no longer existed, let him kiss her throat. Being near him made her want to shatter things.
As her power sometimes did, unbidden. Secretly.
Nesta surveyed the ramshackle, dark apartment, the sagging and filthy furniture that had come with it, the clothes and dishes she left untended.
Rhysand had offered her jobs. Positions.
She didn’t want them.
They were pity offerings, some attempt to get her to be a part of their life, to be gainfully occupied. Done not because Rhysand particularly liked her, but because he loved Feyre that much. No, the High Lord had never liked her—and their conversations were coldly civil at best.
So any offering, she knew, was made to appease his mate. Not because Nesta was truly needed for it. Truly … wanted.
Better to spend her time the way she wished to. They kept paying for it, after all.
The knock on the door rattled the entire apartment.
She glared toward the front room, debating pretending she’d left, but … he could hear her, smell her.
And if Cassian broke down the door, which he was likely to do, she’d just have the headache of explaining it to her stingy landlord.
So she freed all four locks.
Locking them each night was part of the ritual. Even when the nameless male had been here, even with the wine, she’d remembered to lock them all. Some muscle memory buried deep. She’d installed them that first day she’d arrived months and months ago, and had locked them every night since.
Nesta yanked open the door enough to spy Cassian’s cocky grin and left it ajar as she stormed back inside for her shoes.
He took the unspoken invitation and walked in, a mug of tea in his hand—the cup no doubt borrowed from the shop at the corner. Or outright given to him, considering how people tended to worship the ground his muddy boots walked on.
He surveyed the squalor and let out a low whistle. “You do know that you could hire a maid, don’t you?”
She scanned the small living area for her shoes—a sagging couch, a soot-stained hearth, a moth-eaten armchair—then the cracked and ancient kitchenette, then traced her steps into her bedroom. Where had she kicked them last night?
“Some fresh air would be a good start,” he added from the other room, the window groaning as he no doubt cracked it open to let in the early-autumn breeze.
She found her shoes in opposite corners of the bedroom. One reeked of spilled wine and ale.
Nesta perched on the edge of her bed, sliding on her shoes, tugging at the laces. She didn’t bother to look up as Cassian’s steady steps approached, then halted at the threshold.
He sniffed once. Loudly.
It said enough.
“I’d hoped you at least changed the sheets between visitors, but … apparently that doesn’t bother you, either.”
She tied the lace on the first shoe and looked up at him beneath lowered brows. “Again, what business is it of yours?”
He shrugged, though the tightness on his face didn’t reflect it. “If I can smell a few different males in here, then surely your … companions can, too.”
“Hasn’t stopped them yet.” She tied the other shoe, Cassian’s hazel eyes tracking the movement.
“Your tea is getting cold,” he said through his teeth.
She ignored him and rose to her feet, searching the bedroom again. Her coat …
“Your coat is on the floor by the front door,” he said sharply. “And it’s going to be brisk out, so bring a scarf.”
She ignored that, too, but strode past him, careful to avoid touching him, and found her dark blue overcoat exactly where he’d said it was. Only a few days ago had summer begun to yield to fall, drastically enough that she’d needed to pull out her warmer attire.
Nesta yanked open the front door, pointing for him to go.
Cassian held her gaze as he strode for her, then reached out an arm—
And plucked the cerulean-and-cream scarf Elain had given her for her birthday this spring off the brass hook on the wall. He gripped it in his fist as he stalked out, the scarf dangling like a strangled snake.
Something was eating at him. Usually, Cassian held out a bit longer before yielding to his temper. Perhaps it had to do with whatever Feyre wanted to tell her up at the house.
Her gut twisted a bit as she strode into the hall and set each lock, including the magical one Feyre had insisted Rhys install, linked to her blood and will.
She wasn’t stupid—she knew there had been unrest, both in Prythian and on the continent, since the war had ended. Knew some Fae territories were pushing their new limits on what they could get away with in terms of territory claims and how they treated humans.
But if some new threat had arisen …
Nesta shoved out the thought. She’d think about it when the time came. If the time came. No use wasting her energy on a phantom fear.
The four locks seemed to laugh at her before she silently followed Cassian out of the building, and into the bustling city beyond.
The riverfront house was more of an estate, and so new and clean and beautiful that Nesta realized that she was wearing two-day-old clothes, hadn’t washed her hair, and her shoes were indeed covered in stale wine precisely as she strode through the towering marble archway and into the shining white-and-sand-colored front hall.