Nesta hadn’t the faintest idea how she’d look Cassian in the face the next morning, but Gwyn provided a buffer she was all too eager to use. She met the priestess on the steps up to the training pit, and Gwyn offered her a bright smile. “Morning.”
“Morning,” Nesta said, falling into step with her. “Anything on the Trove?”
Gwyn shook her head. She still wore her robes, though she’d taken to tying back her hair in a tight braid. “I even asked Merrill last night. She broke through that glamour, but beyond a few mentions in old texts, she couldn’t find anything more than what you already know. Not a hint about when or where they were lost, or who lost them. We can’t even uncover who last possessed them, since it’s information that goes back at least ten thousand years.”
It was always a shock to remember just how old the Fae were. How old Amren must be, to have remembered the Dread Trove objects when they were still free in the world. But apparently even Amren had no memory of who’d last used them.
Nesta shoved away the thought of the female, and the accompanying cold slice of pain.
“It might prove an impossible task,” Gwyn said, mouth twisting to one side. “Is there no other way of finding it?”
There was. It involved bones and stones. Nesta’s body locked up. “No,” she lied. “There’s no other way.”
“You’re going up to Windhaven?” Nesta found herself asking Cassian as Gwyn bade them farewell at the end of their lesson. Gwyn had started on fighting stances that morning, and it had taken enough focus from all of them that Nesta hadn’t had a moment to really speak to him alone. There had been one slightly overlong glance when she’d appeared, and that had been it.
She had no regrets about what she’d done in the dining room. Even if it had been glaringly obvious that Azriel had known what he was interrupting.
But standing here alone with Cassian … The taste of him lingered in her mouth, as if he’d branded himself onto her tongue.
She’d lain awake in bed last night thinking of every stroke, every sound he’d made, still feeling the press of his fingers into her head as he’d thrust into her mouth. The memory alone had made her slide a hand between her legs, and she’d needed to find release twice before her body calmed enough to sleep.
Cassian plucked his jacket from where he’d left it, shrugging into the black leather and scales. “I need to inspect the legions again. Make sure they’re preparing for possible conflict and that the recruits are in good shape.”
“Ah.” Their eyes met, and she could have sworn his darkened, as if remembering every delicious moment from the night before. But she shook her head, clearing away the cobwebs.
“Gwyn’s doing well,” Cassian said, nodding to the archway where the priestess had disappeared. “She’s a nice girl.”
Nesta had learned that Gwyn was twenty-eight—indeed, just a girl to him.
“I like her,” Nesta admitted.
Cassian blinked. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that about anyone.” She rolled her eyes, but he added, “It’s too bad the other priestesses won’t come.”
Nesta checked the sign-up sheet every day, but no one else had added their name. Gwyn told Nesta that she’d personally invited a few of the priestesses, but they were too scared, too unsure.
“I don’t know what I can do to encourage them,” Nesta said.
“Keep doing what you’re doing.” He finished fastening his jacket.
A brisk autumn breeze flowed past, bringing with it scents from the city below: bread and cinnamon and oranges; roast meats and salt. Nesta inhaled, identifying each one, wondering how they could all somehow combine to create a singular sense of autumn.
Nesta angled her head as an idea struck her. “If you’re stopping by Windhaven, can you do me a favor?”
Cassian stood in Emerie’s shop and made his best attempt at a nonthreatening smile as he laid out the contents of the sack he’d carried.
Emerie peered at what he placed onto her pristine counter. “Nesta gave you this?”
Technically, Nesta had informed him, the House had given it to her. But she’d asked the House for these items, intending them to be brought here. “She said it’s a gift.”
Emerie picked up a brass tin, pried open the top, and inhaled. The smoky, velvety scent of tea leaves floated out. “Oh, this is good stuff.” She lifted a glass vial of finely ground powder. When she twisted the lid off, a nutty, spicy scent filled the shop. “Cumin.” Her sigh was like a lover’s. She moved to another and another, six glass containers in total. “Turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and …” She peered at the label. “Black pepper.”
Cassian laid the last container on the table, a large marble box that weighed at least two pounds. Emerie yanked off the lid and let out a laugh. “Salt.” She pinched the flaky crystals between her fingers. “A lot of salt.”
Her eyes shone as a rare smile flitted across her face. It made her look younger, wiped away the weight and scars of all those years with her father. “Please tell her I say thank you.”
He cleared his throat, remembering the speech Nesta had drilled into him. “Nesta says you can thank her by showing up to training tomorrow
Emerie’s smile wavered. “I told her the other day: I have no means to attend.”
“She thought you’d say that. If you want to come, send word, and one of us will bring you.” It’d have to be Rhys, but he doubted his brother would object. “If you can’t stay the full time, that’s fine. Come for an hour, before your shop opens.”
Emerie’s fingers fell away from the spices and tea. “It’s not the right time.”
Cassian knew better than to push. “If you ever change your mind, let us know.” He turned from the counter, aiming for the door.
He knew Nesta had given the gift in part to tempt Emerie to join, but also from the kindness of her heart. He’d asked why she was sending these items, and she’d said, “Emerie needs spices and good tea.” It had stunned him, just as it had stunned him earlier to hear her admit that she liked Gwyn.
Nesta around Gwyn was a wholly different creature than who she was with the court. They didn’t tease or laugh with each other, but an easiness lay between them that he’d never witnessed, even when Nesta was with Elain. She’d always been Elain’s guardian, or Feyre’s sister, or Cauldron-Made.
With Gwyn … he wondered whether Nesta liked the girl because with her, she was simply Nesta. Perhaps she felt that way around Emerie, too.
Had she gone into Velaris, night after night, not only to distract and numb herself, but to be around people who didn’t know the weight of all she carried?
Cassian reached the door, blowing out a soft breath. He’d refused to think of what she’d done to him in the dining room while they’d been training, especially with Gwyn there, but seeing Nesta’s tentative smile as she’d shoved the tea and spices into a bag had him suppressing the urge to push her against the wall and kiss her.
He had no idea where things stood with them. If they were back to a favor for a favor. She’d given him no inkling about whether she’d let him
into her bed, or if she’d gotten on her knees to knock him out of the brooding he’d fallen into.
If she had, it implied some level of caring about his well-being, didn’t it? And pity. Fuck, if she’d sucked him because she pitied him—
No. It hadn’t been that. He’d seen the desire in her eyes, felt the softness of her mouth on his neck in those initial touches. It had been comfort, given in the only way she knew how.
Cassian opened the door and looked back, finding Emerie still at the counter, her hand resting on the array of spices and tea. Her eyes were solemn, her lips a tight line. She didn’t seem aware of his presence, so he took that as his cue to leave and leaped into the skies.
Nesta climbed the steps to the training ring, pondering the Dread Trove. She assumed the others had met with no better luck than she had, and if things were indeed as urgent as Azriel had claimed, then perhaps library research wasn’t the best route.
But her stomach clenched to weigh the other option, to recall what had occurred the first and only time she’d scried. Her hands shook as she climbed the last of the steps. She squeezed her fingers into fists, blowing out a steady breath through her nose.
Cassian already stood in the center of the ring. He grinned as she emerged.
It was a wider grin than his usual ones, excited and—pleased.
Nesta’s eyes narrowed as she stepped into the brightness of the ring. Gwyn was already waiting a few feet from Cassian, a smile lighting her own face.
And before them, drinking a glass at the water station, stood Emerie.