I was curled up on the bed, toasty and drowsy atop the layers of blankets and down quilts, when Rhys finally returned home as dusk fell.
I felt his power beckoning to me long before he got near the house, a dark melody through the world.
Mor had announced we wouldn’t be going to the Hewn City for another hour or so, long enough that I’d forgone touching that paperwork on the rosewood writing desk across the room and had instead picked up a book. I’d barely managed ten pages before Rhys opened the bedroom door.
His Illyrian leathers gleamed with melted snow, and more of it shone on his dark hair and wings as he quietly shut the door. “Right where I left you.”
I smiled, setting down the book beside me. It was nearly swallowed by the ivory down duvet. “Isn’t this all I’m good for?”
A rogue smile tugging up one corner of his mouth, Rhys began removing his weapons, then the clothes. But despite the humor lighting his eyes, each movement was heavy and slow—as if he fought exhaustion with every breath.
“Maybe we should tell Mor to delay the meeting at the Court of Nightmares.” I frowned.
He shucked off his jacket, the leathers thumping as they landed on the desk chair. “Why? If Eris will indeed be there, I’d like to surprise him with a little visit of my own.”
“You look exhausted, that’s why.”
He put a dramatic hand over his heart. “Your concern warms me more than any winter fire, my love.”
I rolled my eyes and sat up. “Did you at least eat?”
He shrugged, his dark shirt straining across his broad shoulders. “I’m fine.” His gaze slid over my bare legs as I pushed back the covers.
Heat bloomed in me, but I shoved my feet into slippers. “I’ll get you food.”
“I don’t want—”
“When did you last eat?” A sullen silence.
“I thought so.” I hauled a fleece-lined robe around my shoulders. “Wash up and change. We’re leaving in forty minutes. I’ll be back soon.”
He tucked in his wings, the faelight gilding the talon atop each one. “You don’t need to—”
“I want to, and I’m going to.” With that, I was out the door and padding down the cerulean-blue hallway.
Five minutes later, Rhys held the door open for me wearing nothing but his undershorts as I strode in, tray in my hands.
“Considering that you brought the entire damn kitchen,” he mused as I headed for the desk, still not anywhere near dressed for our visit, “I should have just gone downstairs.”
I stuck out my tongue, but scowled as I scanned the cluttered desk for any spare space. None. Even the small table by the window was covered with things. All important, vital things. I made do with the bed.
Rhys sat, folding his wings behind him before reaching to pull me into his lap, but I dodged his hands and kept a healthy distance away. “Eat the food first.”
“Then I’ll eat you after,” he countered, grinning wickedly, but tore into the food.
The rate and intensity of that eating was enough to bank any rising heat in me at his words. “Did you eat at all today?”
A flash of violet eyes as he finished off his bread and began on the cold roast beef. “I had an apple this morning.”
“I was busy.” “Rhys.”
He set down his fork, his mouth twitching toward a smile. “Feyre.” I crossed my arms. “No one is too busy to eat.”
“It’s my job to fuss. And besides, you fuss plenty. Over far more trivial things.”
“Your cycle isn’t trivial.”
“I was in a little bit of pain—”
“You were thrashing on the bed as if someone had gutted you.” “And you were acting like an overbearing mother hen.”
“I didn’t see you screaming at Cassian, Mor, or Az when they expressed concern for you.”
“They didn’t try to spoon-feed me like an invalid!”
Rhys chuckled, finishing off his food. “I’ll eat regular meals if you allow me to turn into an overbearing mother hen twice a year.”
Right—because my cycle was so different in this body. Gone were the monthly discomforts. I’d thought it a gift.
Until two months ago. When the first one had happened.
In place of those monthly, human discomforts was a biannual week of stomach-shredding agony. Even Madja, Rhys’s favored healer, could do little for the pain short of rendering me unconscious. There had been a point during that week when I’d debated it, the pain slicing from my back and stomach down to my thighs, up to my arms, like living bands of lightning flashing through me. My cycle had never been pleasant as a human, and there had indeed been days when I couldn’t get out of bed. It seemed that in being Made, the amplification of my attributes hadn’t stopped at strength and Fae features. Not at all.
Mor had little to offer me beyond commiseration and ginger tea. At least it was only twice a year, she’d consoled me. That was two times too many, I’d managed to groan to her.
Rhys had stayed with me the entire time, stroking my hair, replacing the heated blankets that I soaked with sweat, even helping me clean myself off. Blood was blood, was all he said when I’d objected to him seeing me peel off the soiled undergarments. I’d been barely able to move at that point without whimpering, so the words hadn’t entirely sunken in.
Along with the implication of that blood. At least the contraceptive brew he took was working. But conceiving amongst the Fae was rare and difficult enough that I sometimes wondered if waiting until I was ready for children might wind up biting me in the ass.
I hadn’t forgotten the Bone Carver’s vision, how he’d appeared to me. I knew Rhys hadn’t, either.
But he hadn’t pushed, or asked. I’d once told him that I wanted to live with him, experience life with him, before we had children. I still held to that. There was so much to do, our days too busy to even think about bringing a child into the world, my life full enough that even though it would be a blessing beyond measure, I would endure the twice-a-year agony for the time being. And help my sisters with them, too.
Fae fertility cycles had never been something I’d considered, and explaining them to Nesta and Elain had been uncomfortable, to say the least.
Nesta had only stared at me in that unblinking, cold way. Elain had blushed, muttering about the impropriety of such things. But they had been Made nearly six months ago. It was coming. Soon. If being Made somehow didn’t interfere with it.
I’d have to find some way to convince Nesta to send word when hers started. Like hell would I allow her to endure that pain alone. I wasn’t sure she could endure that pain alone.
Elain, at least, would be too polite to send Lucien away when he wanted to help. She was too polite to send him away on a normal day. She just ignored him or barely spoke to him until he got the hint and left. As far as I knew, he hadn’t come within touching distance since the aftermath of that final battle. No, she tended to her gardens here, silently mourning her lost human life. Mourning Graysen.
How Lucien withstood it, I didn’t know. Not that he’d shown any interest in bridging that gap between them.
“Where did you go?” Rhys asked, draining his wine and setting aside the tray.
If I wanted to talk, he’d listen. If I didn’t want to, he would let it go. It had been our unspoken bargain from the start—to listen when the other needed, and give space when it was required. He was still slowly working his way through telling me all that had been done to him, all he’d witnessed Under the Mountain. There were still nights when I’d kiss away his tears, one by one.
This subject, however, was not so difficult to discuss. “I was thinking about Elain,” I said, leaning against the edge of the desk. “And Lucien.”
Rhys arched a brow, and I told him.
When I finished, his face was contemplative. “Will Lucien be joining us for the Solstice?”
“Is it bad if he does?”
Rhys let out a hum, his wings tucking in further. I had no idea how he withstood the cold while flying, even with a shield. Whenever I’d tried these past few weeks, I’d barely lasted more than a few minutes. The only time I’d managed had been last week, when our flight from the House of Wind had turned far warmer.
Rhys said at last, “I can stomach being around him.” “I’m sure he’d love to hear that thrilling endorsement.”
A half smile that had me walking toward him, stopping between his legs. He braced his hands idly on my hips. “I can let go of the taunts,” he said, scanning my face. “And the fact that he still harbors some hope of one day reuniting with Tamlin. But I cannot let go of how he treated you after Under the Mountain.”
“I can. I’ve forgiven him for that.”
“Well, you’ll forgive me if I can’t.” Icy rage darkened the stars in those violet eyes.
“You still can barely talk to Nesta,” I said. “Yet Elain you can talk to nicely.”
“Elain is Elain.”
“If you blame one, you have to blame the other.”
“No, I don’t. Elain is Elain,” he repeated. “Nesta is … she’s Illyrian. I mean that as a compliment, but she’s an Illyrian at heart. So there is no excuse for her behavior.”
“She more than made up for it this summer, Rhys.” “I cannot forgive anyone who made you suffer.” Cold, brutal words, spoken with such casual grace.
But he still didn’t care about those who’d made him suffer. I ran a hand over the swirls and whorls of tattoos across his muscled chest, tracing the intricate lines. He shuddered under my fingers, wings twitching. “They’re my family. You have to forgive Nesta at some point.”
He rested his brow against my chest, right between my breasts, and wrapped his arms around my waist. For a long minute, he only breathed in the scent of me, as if taking it deep into his lungs. “Should that be my Solstice gift to you?” he murmured. “Forgiving Nesta for letting her fourteen-year-old sister go into those woods?”
I hooked a finger under his chin and tugged his head up. “You won’t get any Solstice gift at all from me if you keep up this nonsense.”
A wicked grin.
“Prick,” I hissed, making to step back, but his arms tightened around me. We fell silent, just staring at each other. Then Rhys said down the bond,
A thought for a thought, Feyre darling?
I smiled at the request, the old game between us. But it faded as I answered, I went into the Rainbow today.
Oh? He nuzzled the plane of my stomach.
I dragged my hands through his dark hair, savoring the silken strands against my calluses. There’s an artist, Ressina. She invited me to come paint with her and some others in two nights.
Rhys pulled back to scan my face, then arched a brow. “Why do you not sound excited about it?”
I gestured to our room, the town house, and blew out a breath. “I haven’t painted anything in a while.”
Not since we’d returned from battle. Rhys remained quiet, letting me sort through the jumble of words inside me.
“It feels selfish,” I admitted. “To take the time, when there is so much to do and—”
“It is not selfish.” His hands tightened on my hips. “If you want to paint, then paint, Feyre.”
“People in this city still don’t have homes.”
“You taking a few hours every day to paint won’t change that.”
“It’s not just that.” I leaned down until my brow rested on his, the citrus-and-sea scent of him filling my lungs, my heart. “There are too many of them—things I want to paint. Need to. Picking one …” I took an unsteady breath and pulled back. “I’m not quite certain I’m ready to see what emerges when I paint some of them.”
“Ah.” He traced soothing, loving lines down my back. “Whether you join them this week, or two months from now, I think you should go. Try it out.” He surveyed the room, the thick rug, as if he could see the entire town house beneath. “We can turn your old bedroom into a studio, if you want—” “It’s fine,” I cut him off. “It—the light isn’t ideal in there.” At his raised brows, I admitted, “I checked. The only room that’s good for it is the sitting
room, and I’d rather not fill up the house with the reek of paint.” “I don’t think anyone would mind.”
“I’d mind. And I like privacy, anyway. The last thing I want is Amren standing behind me, critiquing my work as I go.”
Rhys chuckled. “Amren can be dealt with.”
“I’m not sure you and I are talking about the same Amren, then.”
He grinned, tugging me close again, and murmured against my stomach, “It’s your birthday on Solstice.”
“So?” I’d been trying to forget that fact. And let the others forget it, too.
Rhys’s smile became subdued—feline. “So, that means you get two
I groaned. “I never should have told you.”
“You were born on the longest night of the year.” His fingers again stroked down my back. Lower. “You were meant to be at my side from the very beginning.”
He traced the seam of my backside with a long, lazy stroke. With me standing before him like this, he could instantly smell the shift in my scent as my core heated.
I managed to say down the bond before words failed me, Your turn. A thought for a thought.
He pressed a kiss to my stomach, right over my navel. “Have I told you about that first time you winnowed and tackled me into the snow?”
I smacked his shoulder, the muscle beneath hard as stone. “That’s your thought for a thought?”
He smiled against my stomach, his fingers still exploring, coaxing. “You tackled me like an Illyrian. Perfect form, a direct hit. But then you lay on top of me, panting. All I wanted to do was get us both naked.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Yet I threaded my fingers through his hair.
The fabric of my dressing gown was barely more than cobwebs between us as he huffed a laugh onto my belly. I hadn’t bothered putting on anything beneath. “You drove me out of my mind. All those months. I still don’t quite believe I get to have this. Have you.”
My throat tightened. That was the thought he wanted to trade, needed to share. “I wanted you, even Under the Mountain,” I said softly. “I chalked it up to those horrible circumstances, but after we killed her, when I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt—about how truly bad things were, I still told you. I’ve always been able to talk to you. I think my heart knew you were mine long before I ever realized it.”
His eyes gleamed, and he buried his face between my breasts again, hands caressing my back. “I love you,” he breathed. “More than life, more than my territory, more than my crown.”
I knew. He’d given up that life to reforge the Cauldron, the fabric of the world itself, so I might survive. I hadn’t had it in me to be furious with him about it afterward, or in the months since. He’d lived—it was a gift I would never stop being grateful for. And in the end, though, we’d saved each other. All of us had.
I kissed the top of his head. “I love you,” I whispered onto his blue-black hair.
Rhys’s hands clamped on the back of my thighs, the only warning before he smoothly twisted us, pinning me to the bed as he nuzzled my neck. “A week,” he said onto my skin, gracefully folding his wings behind him. “A week to have you in this bed. That’s all I want for Solstice.”
I laughed breathlessly, but he flexed his hips, driving against me, the barriers between us little more than scraps of cloth. He brushed a kiss against my mouth, his wings a dark wall behind his shoulders. “You think I’m joking.”
“We’re strong for High Fae,” I mused, fighting to concentrate as he tugged on my earlobe with his teeth, “but a week straight of sex? I don’t think I’d be able to walk. Or you’d be able to function, at least with your favorite part.”
He nipped the delicate arch of my ear, and my toes curled. “Then you’ll just have to kiss my favorite part and make it better.”
I slid a hand to that favorite part—my favorite part—and gripped him through his undershorts. He groaned, pressing himself into my touch, and the garment disappeared, leaving only my palm against the velvet hardness of him.
“We need to get dressed,” I managed to say, even as my hand stroked over him.
“Later,” he ground out, sucking on my lower lip.
Indeed. Rhys pulled back, tattooed arms braced on either side of my head. One was covered with his Illyrian markings, the other with the twin tattoo to the one on my arms: the last bargain we’d made. To remain together through all that waited ahead.
My core pounded, sister to my thunderous heartbeat, the need to have him buried inside me, to have him—
As if in mockery of those twin beats within me, a knocking rattled the bedroom door. “Just so you’re aware,” Mor chirped from the other side, “we do have to go soon.”
Rhys let out a low growl that skittered over my skin, his hair slipping over his brow as he turned his head toward the door. Nothing but predatory intent in his glazed eyes. “We have thirty minutes,” he said with remarkable smoothness.
“And it takes you two hours to get dressed,” Mor quipped through the door. A sly pause. “And I’m not talking about Feyre.”
Rhys grumbled a laugh and lowered his brow against mine. I closed my eyes, breathing him in, even while my fingers unfurled from around him. “This isn’t finished,” he promised me, his voice rough, before he kissed the hollow of my throat and pulled away. “Go terrorize someone else,” he called to Mor, rolling his neck as his wings vanished and he stalked for the bathing room. “I need to primp.”
Mor chuckled, her light footsteps soon fading away.
I slumped against the pillows and breathed deep, cooling the need that coursed through me. Water gurgled in the bathing room, followed by a soft yelp.
I wasn’t the only one in need of cooling, it seemed.
Indeed, when I strode into the bathing room a few minutes later, Rhys was still cringing as he washed himself in the tub.
A dip of my fingers into the soapy water confirmed my suspicions: it was ice-cold.