Chapter no 37

A Court of Silver Flames

There was a place in the Court of Nightmares where even Keir and his elite squadron of Darkbringers did not dare tread.

Once the Night Court’s enemies entered that place, they did not come out. Not alive, anyway.

Most of what remained of their bodies didn’t leave, either. Those went through the hatch in the center of the circular room—and into the pit of writhing beasts below. To their scales and claws and merciless hunger. The beasts did not feed often; they could receive a body every ten years and make it last, going into hibernation between meals.

The trickling blood of the two Autumn Court males through the black stone floor’s grate woke them.

Their snarls and hisses, their snapping tails and scraping claws should have incentivized the males chained to the chairs to talk.

Azriel leaned against the wall by the lone door, Truth-Teller bloody in his hand. Cassian, a step beside him, and Feyre, on Az’s other side, watched as Rhys and Amren approached the two males.

“Are you feeling more inclined to explain yourselves?” Rhys said, hands sliding into his pockets.

Only the knowledge that Nesta slept safely in a bedroom in Rhys’s palace above this mountain, warded by his High Lord’s power, allowed Cassian to remain in this room. The Mask, covered with a black velvet

cloth, lay on a table in another room of the palace, equally warded and bespelled. Azriel had winnowed them away from the bog moments after Nesta had passed out, and had brought them to Rhys’s residence atop the Hewn City. Cassian knew, when Rhys had vanished a heartbeat later, that he’d gone to the bog for the Autumn Court soldiers, and would bring them here.

Nesta had been unconscious ever since.

The two males were similar-looking, in the way that people from individual courts tended to share characteristics: the Autumn Court skewed toward hair of varying shades of red, brown or gold eyes—sometimes green, and mostly pale skin. The male on the left had auburn hair that was browner; the hair of the one on the right shone like bright copper. Both remained vacant-faced.

“They must be under some sort of an enchantment,” Amren observed, circling the males. “Their only drive seems to be to harm without reason, without context.”

“Why did you attack members of my court in the Bog of Oorid?” Rhys asked with that same mild calm that so many had heard right before being ripped to bloody ribbons.

Rhys had agreed that the soldiers who attacked were likely the Autumn Court soldiers who had gone missing, but how they had ended up in the Bog of Oorid … Well, that was what they intended to uncover. Rhys had tried to get into their heads, but found nothing but fog and mist.

The males only stared toward Cassian, toward Azriel, and bristled with violence.

Feyre observed from the wall, “They’re like rabid dogs, lost to sanity.” “They fought like them, too,” Cassian said. “No intelligence—just a

desire to kill.”

Rhys extended a hand toward the one with the brownish hair, the male bleeding from places Azriel knew would hurt but not kill. Az knew where to slice up a male without letting him bleed out. Knew how to make this last for days.

“If they’re under a spell from Briallyn or Koschei,” Feyre asked, “then is it right to harm them like this?”

The question echoed through the chamber, over the snarling of the hungry beasts.

Rhys said after a moment, “No. It isn’t.”

Amren said to Feyre, “The fog around their minds and the fact that they endured Azriel’s ministrations without showing an understanding of anything beyond basic pain at least confirms our suspicions.”

“If that’s how you wish to justify it,” Feyre said a tad coldly, “then fine.”

All of them, Feyre included, had been tortured at one point or another.

Feyre turned to Rhys. “We need to ask Helion to visit. Not for the—you know,” she said, glancing to the two soldiers, who might very well still be aware of everything, even trapped within their heads, “but to break the spell upon them.”

“Yes,” Rhys said, eyes shining with something like guilt and shame. Some silent conversation passed between him and his mate, and Cassian knew Rhys was asking about the torture—apologizing for making Feyre witness even the ten minutes Azriel had worked.

But Feyre, Cassian knew, had been aware of what she’d see before entering. And well aware that these ten minutes had only been the opening movements in a symphony of pain that Azriel could conduct with brutal efficiency.

Feyre’s face softened after a moment, and she offered Rhys a slight smile that made his eyes brighten. Rhys declared, “They stay here, under guard. I’ll contact Helion immediately.”

Cassian asked, “And Eris? When do we tell him we found his soldiers?

Or what we did to most of them?”

“You acted in self-defense,” Feyre said, arms crossing. “As far as I’m concerned, whoever was controlling the soldiers is to blame for their deaths, not you.”

Amren added, “We’ll tell Eris once we verify everything. There’s still a possibility that he’s somehow behind this.”

Feyre nodded her approval, but her mouth tightened. “These two males have families who are surely worried about them. We should be as quick as possible.”

Cassian shut out the thought of all the males whom he hadn’t left standing—who all had worried families as well. Every death had a weight, sent a ripple into the world, into time. It was too easy to forget that. He glanced to Az, but his brother’s face was stone-cold. If Az regretted what they’d done, he revealed no hint of it. Cassian tucked in his wings. “We’ll be as fast as we can.”

They left the males in the room, blood still trickling down to the writhing beasts.



Up they walked, out of the dungeons of the Hewn City, out of the wretched place itself, until they stood amongst the moonstone pillars of the beautiful palace above it. Rhys aimed for the room with the Mask. He opened the door and went stiff.

Nesta sat at the table, staring at the cloth-covered Mask.

“How did you get in here?” Rhys asked, night swirling at his fingertips. Cassian knew his brother had made the wards on the door impenetrable. Or they should have been.

“The door was open,” Nesta said numbly, and scanned their faces as if looking for someone. Cassian stepped into the room, and her eyes settled on him.

He offered her a grim smile.

“The Mask opened the door for you?” Amren demanded.

“I found myself beckoned here,” Nesta said, even as she looked Cassian over.

Checking for injuries, he realized. She was looking to see if he was harmed. As if he were the one with a brutalized mouth, neck marked by claws, calves and shins lacerated. Her wounds had stopped bleeding, already scabbing, but—Cauldron damn him, he couldn’t stand the sight of one bruise on her.

“Does it speak to you?” Feyre asked, angling her head.

Cassian had told them everything—as far as he’d been able to gather. Nesta had been attacked by a kelpie, dragged under the water, and had

somehow found the Mask. Summoned the dead of Oorid to her to slay the kelpie. And emerged triumphant.

“Only a desperate fool would don that Mask,” Amren said, keeping well away from the table. Whether it was to put distance between herself and Nesta or to avoid the Mask, he had no idea. “You’re lucky to have been able to pry it from your face. Most of those who have worn it could never remove it. In order to sever it, they had to be beheaded. It’s the cost of the power: you can raise an army of the dead to conquer the world, but you can never be free of the Mask.”

“I wished it to let go, and it did,” Nesta said, surveying Amren with cool disdain.

“Like calls to like,” Rhys said. “Others could not free themselves because the Mask did not recognize their power. The Mask rode them, not the other way around. Only one Made from the same dark source can wear the Mask and not be ruled by it.”

“So Queen Briallyn could use it,” Azriel said. “Perhaps that’s why the Autumn Court soldiers were in Oorid: she can’t yet risk setting foot here, but she found a unit to go in for her.”

The words rippled through the room.

Nesta again stared at the Mask. “It should be destroyed.”

“That’s not possible,” Amren said. “Perhaps if the Cauldron had been truly destroyed, the Mask might have been weakened enough for the High Lords and Feyre to join their power and do it.”

“If the Cauldron had been destroyed,” Feyre said with a shiver, “then life would have ceased to exist.”

“So the Mask remains,” Amren said wryly. “It can only be dealt with.

Not eliminated.”

“We should dump it in the sea, then,” Nesta said. “No taste for the living dead, girl?” Amren asked.

Nesta slid her eyes toward Amren in a way that had Cassian bracing for the worst. “No good can come of its power.”

“If we dump it in the sea,” Azriel said, “some wicked creature might find it. It’s safer to keep it locked up with us.”

“Even if it can open doors and undo spells?” Rhys asked.

“Like calls to like,” Feyre said into the puzzled quiet. “Perhaps Nesta could ward it and lock the room. Contain it.”

“I don’t know how to do those spells,” Nesta said. “I failed at the most basic of them while training with Amren, remember?”

Feyre’s head tilted to one side. “Is that what you think, Nesta? That you failed?”

Nesta straightened, and Cassian’s chest tightened at the wall that rose in her eyes, brick by brick. At the truth Nesta had let slip with that one word. “It doesn’t matter,” she said, her old self rearing its head as her chin lifted. “Tell me how to do the spells, and I’ll try.” She directed the last part to Amren, to Rhys.

“When Helion comes,” Rhys said gently, as if he, too, understood what Nesta had revealed, “I’ll have him show you. He knows spells for warding that even I don’t.”

The silence became tense enough that Cassian made himself grin. “Considering that Nesta brushed off Helion’s smoldering advances during the war, he might not be so inclined to help her.”

“He’ll help,” Rhys said, stars shimmering in his gaze. “If only for another shot at her.”

Nesta rolled her eyes, and the gesture was so normal that Cassian’s smile became more genuine, edged now with relief.

You wear your heart for all to see, brother, Rhys said without turning Cassian’s way.

Cassian only shrugged. He was past caring.

Feyre said to Nesta, “We should get Madja to tend to your wounds.”

“They’re already healing,” Nesta said, and Cassian wondered if she had any idea how awful she looked.

Indeed, Amren said, “You look like a cat tried to eat your face off.” She sniffed. “And you smell like a swamp.”

“Being dragged through a bog will do that to you,” Cassian said to Amren, earning a surprised look from Nesta. He asked her, “How did the kelpie snare you?”

Nesta’s scratched-up throat bobbed. “I grew … nervous when you— both of you—didn’t come back.” The silence in the room was palpable. “I

went to find you.”

Cassian didn’t dare say that he’d only been gone thirty minutes. Thirty minutes, and she’d been in a panic like that? “We wouldn’t have left you,” he said carefully.

“I wasn’t afraid of being left. I was afraid both of you were dead.”

That she kept emphasizing both of you tightened his chest. He knew what she was carefully avoiding saying. She’d been worried enough that she’d ventured into Oorid’s perils for him.

Nesta turned from his stare. “I was about to go into the water when the kelpie appeared. It crawled onto the bank, spoke to me, and then dragged me in.”

“It spoke to you?” Rhys asked. “Not in a language I knew.”

Rhys’s mouth quirked to the side. “Can you show me?”

Nesta frowned, as if unwilling to relive the memory, but nodded. Both of their gazes went vacant, and then Rhys pulled back.

“That thing …” He surveyed Nesta with blatant shock that she had survived. Rhys turned to Amren. “Have a listen.”

Their eyes became glazed, and none of them spoke as Rhys showed Amren.

Even Amren’s face paled at whatever Rhys showed her, and then she was shaking her head, her black bob of hair swaying. “That is a dialect of our tongue that has not been spoken in fifteen thousand years.”

“I could only pick up every other word,” Rhys said.

Feyre arched a brow. “You speak the language of the ancient Fae?”

Rhys shrugged. “My education was thorough.” He waved an idle, graceful hand. “For exactly these situations.”

Azriel asked, “What’d the kelpie say?”

Amren shot an alarmed glance at Nesta, then answered, “He said: Are you my sacrifice, sweet flesh? How pale and young you are. Tell me, are they resuming the sacrifices to the waters once more? And when she didn’t respond, the kelpie said, No gods can save you. I shall take you, little beauty, and you shall be my bride before you are my supper.

Nesta’s hand drifted to the marks on her face, then recoiled.

Horror slid through Cassian—then molten rage.

“People used to sacrifice to kelpies?” Feyre asked, nose crinkling with disgust and dread.

“Yes,” Amren said, scowling. “The most ancient Fae and humans believed kelpies to be river and lake gods, though I always wondered if the sacrifices started as a way to prevent the kelpies from hunting them. Keep them fed and happy, control the deaths, and they wouldn’t crawl out of the water to snatch the children.” Her teeth flashed. “For this one to still be speaking that ancient dialect … He must have retreated to Oorid a long time ago.”

“Or been raised by parents who spoke that dialect,” Azriel countered.

“No,” Amren said. “The kelpies do not breed. They rape and torment, but they do not reproduce. They were made, legend says, by the hand of a cruel god—and deposited throughout the waters of this land. The kelpie you slew, girl, was perhaps one of the last.”

Nesta gazed at the Mask again.

Rhys said, “It flew to you. The Mask.” He must have seen it in her head.

“I was trying to reach for my power,” Nesta murmured, and they all stilled—she’d never spoken of her power so explicitly. “This answered instead.”

“Like calls to like,” Feyre repeated. “Your power and the Mask’s are similar enough that to reach for one was to reach for the other.”

“So you admit your powers remain, then,” Amren said drily. Nesta met her stare. “You already knew that.”

Cassian stepped in before things went south. “All right. Let Lady Death get some rest.”

“That’s not funny,” Nesta hissed.

Cassian winked, even as the others tensed. “I think it’s catchy.”

Nesta glowered, but it was a human expression, and he’d take that any day over that silver fire. Over the being who had walked on water and commanded a legion of the dead.

He wondered if Nesta would agree.



Nesta stayed at the moonstone palace atop the Hewn City. Feyre had suggested that the bright openness would be better than the dim, red halls of the House of Wind. At least for tonight.

Nesta had been too tired to disagree, to explain that the House was her friend, and would have pampered and fussed like an old nursemaid.

She barely noted the opulent bedroom—overhanging the side of the mountain, snowcapped peaks gleaming in the sunshine all around, a bed piled with glowingly white linens and pillows, and … Well, she did notice the sunken bathing pool, open to the air beyond, water spilling over the lip that projected above the drop and trickling into the endless fall below.

Ribbons of steam snaked along its surface, inviting and scented with lavender, and she had enough presence of mind to strip off her clothes and climb in before sullying the sheets again. They’d already been changed since she’d slept earlier—she knew because she’d left a great, muddy imprint on the bed when she’d arisen, and now it was pristine.

Nesta eased into the bath, grimacing as the water stung her wounds. Beyond the peaks, the sun shifted from white gold to yellow, sinking toward the earth’s embrace. Fat, fluffy clouds drifted by, filled with peach-colored light, lovely against the purpling sky. Her fingers rose to her hair, and as she dragged her hands through the tangled, still-sodden mess, she watched the sky transform itself into the most beautiful sunset she’d ever beheld. Bits of bog weed and mud cracked out of her hair, whisked away by the water over the edge of the pool.

Sighing, Nesta slid under, her face stinging, and scrubbed at her scalp. She emerged, her hair still thick and gritty, and scanned the wall next to the pool—there. Vials of what had to be concoctions for washing one’s body and hair.

She poured a dollop into her hands, her nose filling with the scent of mint and rosemary, and scrubbed it through her hair. She let the heady scent pull the tension from her as much as it could, and lathered her heavy locks. Another dunk under the water had her rinsing out the bubbles. When she emerged, she reached for the bar of soap that smelled of sweet almonds.

Nesta washed every part of herself twice. And only when she finished did she let herself take in the view again. The sunset was at its peak, the sky ablaze with pink and blue and gold and purple, and she willed it to fill her, to clear away any lingering trace of Oorid’s darkness.

She had never experienced anything like the Mask’s power. The kelpie, at least, had felt real—her terror and anger and desperation had all been human, ordinary feelings. As soon as she’d donned the Mask, those feelings had vanished. She had become more, had become something that did not need air to breathe, something that did not understand hate or love or fear or grief.

It had scared her more than anything else. That utter lack of feeling.

How good it had felt, to be so removed.

Nesta swallowed. She hadn’t confessed it to any of them. She’d been contemplating the Mask when they’d found her in its room, contemplating that void. Wondering whether anyone had ever donned the Mask not to raise the dead, but to simply stop being inside their own minds.

She had been aware, yes. Had killed the kelpie because she wished it dead. But all the weight, the echoing thoughts, the hatred and guilt that sliced her like knives—they had vanished.

And it had been so seductive, so freeing and lovely, that she’d known the Mask had to be destroyed. If only to save herself from it.

But it could not be destroyed. And she was the sole person who might contain it.

Never mind that, for the same reason, she’d be the sole person with access to it. Everyone else would be safe from its temptation and power— except for her. The one who most needed to be barred from it.

A knock sounded on her door, and Nesta dropped below the dark surface of the pool, letting her long hair cover her breasts, before she said, “Yes?”

Cassian strode in, a tray of food in hand, and halted when he didn’t see her on the bed. His eyes shot to the sunken pool, and she could have sworn he almost dropped the tray onto the white carpet. “I … You.”

His loss of words was enough to pull her from her thoughts, to curve the corners of her mouth upward. “Me?”

He shook his head like a wet dog. “I brought some food. I assumed you’d want dinner.”

“There’s no dining room?”

“There is, but I thought you might need to unwind.”

She surveyed him, surprised that he knew her well enough to guess that the thought of speaking to everyone again, of dressing in suitable clothes, was draining—miserable. Knew her well enough to grasp that she’d rather eat in her room and piece herself together.

Cassian cleared his throat. “I’ll put it over there.” He jerked his chin to the desk next to the bathtub’s far edge, where the water tumbled off the mountain.

Nesta pivoted as he strode a shade stiffly to the desk and set down the tray.

“Right.” He cleared his throat again. “Enjoy your bath. And the meal.” Seeing Cassian so flustered pushed away the shadows in her heart.

Thoughts of the Mask became a distant rumble. “Do you want to get in?”

He sucked in a breath, but something like pain washed over his features. “You’re hurt.”

Nesta stood, water sluicing off her, her hair plastering to her breasts and doing nothing to hide her peaked nipples beneath. “Do I look injured to you?”

He nodded toward the scabbed cuts all over her body, her face. “Yes?” She snorted. “It looks worse than it feels by now.”

Cassian didn’t reply, his chest rising and falling in a sharp rhythm. With each uneven lift, she began to throb between her legs, as if her body answered his own.

Yes, her body seemed to say. This—him. Life to drive away the Mask; life to drive away the horror of Oorid. The need to touch him, feel his warmth and strength, pounded through her.

If he wouldn’t climb into the bath, then she’d have to go to him.

Nesta waded toward the steps of the sunken tub, and Cassian went rigid.

He whispered, “I thought you were dead today.”

Nesta reached the stairs. “So did I.” She stepped upward, exposing her midriff. “I thought you were dead, too.”

“You must have been happy.”

She smiled, watching his gaze drop with every piece of her revealed. Another step upward had her sex bared to him. “It did not make me happy.” She reached the floor of the room.

Through what Nesta knew was five hundred years of will, Cassian lifted his focus to her face as she walked to him, water dripping off her body. “You want to do this?” he breathed.

“Yes.” She stopped a foot away, her wet hair draped along her torso, and stared up into his face. His eyes burned like hazel stars. Nesta gave him a smile that was pure Fae. “Just sex.”

The words seemed to spark something, because Cassian blinked. “Right. Just sex.” He didn’t say it as lightly as she did. And still didn’t reach for her.

So she said, “There can be nothing more than sex, Cassian.”

His jaw tightened, and he seemed to struggle with some internal battle before he said darkly, “Then I’ll take whatever you offer me.” He leaned in, his body still not touching hers, and said against her ear, “And I’ll take you however you wish me to.”

Her toes curled on the stones, her hair dripping. “And if I wish to take


He smiled against her ear. “Then I’ll beg you to ride me into oblivion.”

She went molten, and from the way his wings tucked in, she knew he could scent the wetness building between her thighs.

Cassian gently pulled her wet hair from her breasts. Her breathing came in sharp pants as he traced the tip of a finger around her nipple. Then did it again.

Words eluded her. She couldn’t remember any of them, couldn’t remember anything except that one finger, circling her nipple, her entire body throbbing with need.

Cassian flicked her nipple, a hard, sharp bite that made her whimper.

Desperate for more of him, for all of him, Nesta said, “Do what you want.”

He circled her nipple again, a predator playing with its dinner. “That doesn’t sound very exciting, do what you want.” He clamped her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, the demand in it enough that she looked up at his face. He was the portrait of male arrogance, a warrior poised to conquer, and she nearly climaxed at the sight of it. His eyes darkened. “The way you sometimes look at me makes me think such filthy things, Nesta.”

“Do them. Do all of them.”

He pinched her nipple just short of drawing pain, and she arched into the touch, a silent plea for more, for him to unleash himself. “We don’t have time in one night for all the things I want to do to you, with you. Every place I want to touch and fill you.”

She rubbed her thighs together, desperate for any friction. “Then do your best.”

Cassian laughed darkly, but his other hand came up to her untouched breast, circling as well. She watched his light brown fingers play against her pale skin, watched him touch her like he wanted to map every inch of her body and had all the time in the world to do it. Below his waist, she could just make out his hardness.

“Do you want to suck me again?” he whispered against her ear. “Do you want me down your throat again?”

Nesta let out a confirming whimper. “Did you still taste me days later?”

She couldn’t answer, couldn’t reveal the truth.

His fingers clamped on her nipples, drawing just enough pain that she went wholly wet. “Did you?”

“Yes. I tasted you for days.” The words tumbled out, and with them, clarity and hunger sharpened her focus. Ripped her from that needy daze. “I’ve thought about your cock in my mouth every night since, while I had my hand between my legs.”

He growled, and she skimmed a hand against his hardness, squeezing. She lifted her head and met his darkened stare, baring her teeth. “I thought about your head between my legs, too,” she said, heart thundering, “and how your tongue slid into me.” She squeezed him again.

Cassian groaned, and his thumbs caressed her too-sensitive nipples.

Nesta put her other hand on his chest, backing him toward the bed, and he went willingly, letting her set the pace, the location. “I promised that you could fuck me wherever you wanted in the House,” she said, her voice a deep, rolling purr that she barely recognized. The backs of his thighs hit the bed, and he halted her, one hand dropping to her waist to steady them. “But this isn’t the House.” His breathing rasped around them as she smiled up at his drawn, taut features. “So I think that means we’ll fuck wherever want.”

Cassian grinned, and the hand at her waist swept down to cup her bare ass. He squeezed one cheek. “As long as I still get to fuck you in the House.”

She met his savage grin. “Good.”

His hand drifted further south, between her legs, feeling her from behind. His fingers brushed against the wetness pooled there, and he swore, drawing his hand back, holding it between them. Her wetness gleamed on his two fingers, and his eyes glittered with predatory intent as he lifted them to his mouth and licked them, one by one.

Her body ached, clamping around emptiness, desperate for something to fill it. For him to fill it. She stroked her fingers down the length of his cock, still trapped within his pants. And as she made a second pass, he slanted his mouth over hers.

It was a grazing, taunting kiss.

She bit his lower lip. And then he was grabbing her to him, crushing their bodies together, both hands now gripping her ass as he pressed her against his length. Their open mouths clashed and met, and she tasted herself on his tongue, her fingers grappling in his silken hair, dragging against his scalp.

Cassian twisted, flipping them, and then she was lying flat against the mattress as he stood before her.

He tore his mouth away as he propped her legs on the bed, folding them at the knees. As he tugged her to the mattress’s edge, so that her sex was on display for him.

He knelt, wings rising above him, and dragged his tongue clean up her center.

Nesta moaned at the same moment he did, and he let her writhe, as if he knew it’d torment her more to undulate, but to have nothing to fill her, not until he wished it. He gave her another savoring lick, lingering at the apex of her thighs, sucking the bundle of nerves into his mouth, nipping with his teeth, before he began again.

Again. Again.

He was devouring her, melting her body like a piece of chocolate on his tongue.

She couldn’t endure it, and she clasped her own breast, desperate for more touch, more sensation. He looked up from between her legs and marked her hand kneading her breast. Marked it and smiled, his teeth flashing white against the flushed gleam of her. “Do you like seeing me kneel before you?” he asked, the words rumbling into her very core. He dipped his tongue into her. “You taste like you do.”

Nesta arched, thrusting herself further onto his tongue, but Cassian only laughed against her and denied her what she wished. He gave her another slow, slow lick from base to top, and as he reached that bundle of nerves, he slid two fingers into her.

Two, not one, because he seemed to know she was already waiting for him, that she wanted him unbound and rough and wild. She bowed off the bed, and he thrust his fingers in again, his breathing uneven as he said, “How do you want it?”

He pumped his hand into her again, wringing out her reply. “Hard,” she gasped.

“Thank the Mother,” he swore, and she heard metal clicking and leather whispering, and then his tongue caressed her again, past that bundle of nerves, up her stomach, to her breasts, until he was over her.

Cassian moved her further onto the bed. She didn’t care that her legs fell open for him, only cared that he was now naked, and all that rippling muscle and golden skin gleamed above her.

He lowered himself to the cradle of her thighs, and his eyes were so wide she could see the whites around them. He opened his mouth, but she didn’t want to hear the words, didn’t want to know whatever he’d been

about to say. She framed his face in her hands and kissed him savagely, her tongue scraping over his teeth as she ground their mouths together.

The broad tip of his cock nudged at her entrance, slipping in the slickness there, and he reached down to guide himself in.

At Cassian’s first prod into her body, fire erupted within her. She panted into his mouth, nipping at his bottom lip as he eased himself in. Just an inch.

He halted. He was large enough that the stretching was edged in sweetest pain—large enough that she wondered if she’d be able to fit all of him. He trembled, holding himself barely inside her, as if he were now wondering the same.

His hesitation, his care, melted some ice-cold shard within her. And made her snap free of any restraint.

Nesta gripped his ass, muscles flexing beneath her fingertips, and hauled him into her.

Only another inch. Only another inch, because Cassian braced his arms against the bed, hips pulling against her hold. “I’ll hurt you.”

“I don’t care.” She ran her tongue over his jaw.

“I do,” he ground out, body straining as she attempted to pull him into her. “Nesta.”

Her fingers dug in again, her very blood and bones crying out for more of him, but he refused to move.

“Nesta. Look at me.”

Fighting the roaring of her body, she obeyed. Heat blazed in his eyes, and something more than that. “Look at me,” Cassian breathed.

Gods spare her, but she did. She couldn’t take her gaze off him. Found herself free-falling into his darkened eyes, his beautiful face.

His hips flexed, and he slid in another inch—then retreated nearly to her edge.

Their breathing synced, and Nesta stilled beneath him, a feeling of utter calm, utter fullness spreading through her as his hips moved again, and he pushed back in, a little farther this time.

Cassian held her gaze through each small thrust, each retreat. He stretched her, filling her inch by inch, and Nesta knew he’d been right to go

slow for this first joining.

Retreating and advancing, Cassian filled her. They said nothing, only shared breath, their eyes wide as they gazed at each other.

He pulled outward again, the movement long enough this time that she knew he was nearly all the way in. He halted, his cock barely inside her, and studied her face. A conquering warrior-god. He had called her Lady Death, and he was her sword.

Cassian leaned down to kiss her. And as his tongue slid into her mouth, he thrust home in a mighty, final push.

Nesta moaned as he slammed to the hilt, and the full impact of him hit her, stretched her, and she couldn’t breathe fast enough. Cassian withdrew again, and slammed back into her, propelling their bodies farther onto the bed.

He groaned this time, and the sound was her undoing. She wrapped her legs around his back, careful of his wings, and lifted her hips to meet his. He sank even deeper, and she dug her nails into his shoulders.

Gods—nothing had ever felt so good, so full, so burning with pleasure.

Nothing had ever felt like this, nothing.

Cassian set the pace, smooth and deep, and for a moment, it was all Nesta could do to match him stroke for stroke. For a moment, she looked between their bodies to where his cock plunged into her, so thick and long and gleaming with her that she tightened around him, her release already building.

He felt her inner muscles squeeze him harder and growled, “Fuck, Nesta.”

And she liked seeing him undone enough that she did it again, clenching on him just as he seated himself fully. He arched into it, fingers digging into the bed. “Fuck,” he repeated.

It wasn’t enough, though. Wasn’t close to enough. She wanted Cassian roaring, wanted him so lost that he couldn’t remember his own name.

Nesta halted him with a hand on his chest. Just one hand, and he stopped, utterly at her command. If she wanted it to end here, it would.

It softened her enough that she couldn’t quite keep the tremor out of her voice as she said, “I want you deeper.”

Cassian panted, eyes wild, as she crawled out of his arms. As she turned onto her stomach and lifted her backside for him, offering herself.

He made a low sound of need. She arched her hips higher, inviting him to take, to feast.

His restraint shattered. He was on her in an instant, lifting her hips higher as he sheathed himself in a single thrust. Nesta screamed then, a sound of such pleasure she knew it echoed off the mountains, feeling him hit the deepest spot of her.

Cassian pounded into her, a hand moving from her hip to her hair, tugging her head back, baring her throat. She gave herself over to it, to him, and the lack of control was heady, so pleasurable that she could barely stand it. He thrust harder, so deep with this angle that she might have been screaming again, might have been sobbing.

His other hand drifted between her legs, his cock pounding into her, her hair gripped like reins in one hand, her pleasure in his other. She was utterly at his mercy, and he knew it—he was snarling with desire, slamming home so hard his balls slapped against her.

The silken touch had her erupting.

Her climax crashed upon her, out of her, her inner muscles clenching him tight.

Cassian roared, the sound echoing through the room, and he became utterly wild as release found him and he spilled into her with such force that his seed ran down her thighs.

And then his weight fell upon her back, and only an arm that he threw out to brace them kept them from collapsing.

Reeling, Nesta could only breathe, breathe, breathe.

Cassian lay buried in her, and it felt so good, so right, that she wanted him always this deep in her, his seed spilling down her legs, forever.

“Oh, gods,” he whispered against her spine, over the tattoo inked along it. “That was …”

“I know,” she panted. “I know.”

It was as much as she’d confess. As much as she’d let herself admit.

Too good. It had felt too good, and nothing and no one would ever compare to it.

He said, voice shaking, “I’ve made a mess of you.” She buried her face in the blanket. “I like it.”

Cassian went still, but he gently extracted himself from her in a long, long pull. He dragged his seed with him, and another rush of it tickled down her thighs, dripping on the blanket, as he pulled out fully. She didn’t move. Couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move.

She felt him kneeling behind her, staring at the ass she still held upward, the view it presented.

“I shouldn’t enjoy seeing that so much,” he growled.

Her breasts tightened. But she asked coyly, “Seeing what?” “You. Covered in me. That beautiful sex of yours.”

She blushed and lowered her body to the mattress. “No one has ever called it beautiful.”

“It is. It’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.” She smiled into the blanket. “Liar.”

“I’m beyond lies right now, Nesta.”

His voice was so rough she looked over a shoulder. Cassian still knelt, and his face … It was utterly devastated, as if she’d taken him apart and left him in ruin. “What is it?” she asked, but he moved off the bed and reached for his fallen clothes.

Nesta twisted, her legs and core drenched in his essence and hers, but he donned his pants, gathering up his shirt and jacket, and the weapons she hadn’t realized he’d carried. When he lifted his head, he threw her a wicked smile. “Just sex, right?”

It was a trap, somehow. She couldn’t discern in what way, but the words were dangerous. She’d meant them, though. Or had wanted to, at least. So Nesta said, “Right.”

His eyes flickered, and he grinned again, aiming for the door. “Thanks for the ride, Nes.” He winked, and was gone.

She stared at the door, puzzling over his exit, so swift that his seed still leaked out of her.

Was it punishment? Had he not enjoyed it? She had the proof of his enjoyment between her legs, but males could find their pleasure and still not deem it good.

Was he trying to demonstrate what she’d done to all those males?

Bedded them and then kicked them out?

She’d said just sex, but had thought it might at least come with some … cuddling. A few minutes to enjoy the feel of his body against hers before pride made her order him to leave.

Nesta knelt in the bed, and stared at the door, the silence her only answer.

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