After the feast, Raihn and I returned to the same apartment. It was out of habit, at first. Then we had stopped at the door and looked at each other, both
clearly thinking the same thing. It was unwise for us to remain together.
“Might be safer,” Raihn said, at last. “For us to stick together. If you want to.”
I told myself he was right. Told myself that, for one more day, it would be good to keep him close. Protection from the others. Protection from him, where I could keep an eye on him.
All bullshit, of course. At least I was self-aware.
I threw open the door. “If you’re afraid to sleep alone in an empty apartment, you can just say so,” I’d said, and that was the last we spoke of it.
The truth was, I wanted to stay. The thought of leaving him to go be by myself made a lonely ache throb in my chest. And I saw that ache in him, too, when I watched him pack up the rest of Mische’s things that night, putting away the bloodstained sheets that we hadn’t had time to fold up before the Halfmoon, tucking away the bag she had left behind.
When he was done, I stayed there with him in the sitting room instead of returning to my bedchamber, remaining in
It was worth something to know you weren’t alone. And I think he felt it just as I did, because he didn’t leave, either. We slept that day sprawled out over couches and armchairs, but neither of us uttered a single word of complaint when we woke up to a symphony of aches and pains.
I didn’t kill him the next night, either. Or the night after that.
I didn’t kill him during any of the countless, meticulously tracked moments when he left himself unguarded.
I didn’t even kill him when, the next day, I walked by his bedchamber door to find that, in a stunning display of either trust or stupidity, he had left it slightly ajar.
I peered through to see him sprawled out in bed, body illuminated by the faint flicker of lantern light from the hall and the sliver of daylight that slipped between the gaps in the curtains—distinct warm and cool shades highlighting every hollow and ripple of bare muscle. He slept with every limb sprawled in a different direction, and yet it still managed to look somewhat poetic, like a master’s sculpture
—albeit one that snored loudly.
I was struck by how much it reminded me of the painting in the great hall of Vincent’s castle. That one Rishan, falling, reaching. More beautiful now than tragic.
It is perfect timing, Vincent whispered in my ear. If I was going to kill him, now would be the time to do it.
He was fast asleep. I could throw open the blinds. Could let all that sunlight keep him from retaliating as I crawled over that beautiful naked body, gripped his hips with my knees, and plunged my sword into his chest. The sheets would be soaked by the time we were done.
I imagined myself doing it—imagined crossing the room, pulling myself on top of him. I imagined the way his bare body would look beneath me, his torso stretched out and his hair messy around his face—imagined the way it would
feel, hard and powerful, like limitless potential encased in skin, firm along the inside of my thighs, along the apex of my core.
I imagined lifting my blade—
But before I could bring it down, his eyes snapped open. His hands, rough and calloused, ran up my thigh, my waist, my breast, a familiar curve to his mouth as he murmured, “Are you going to kill me, princess?”
And he didn’t wait for an answer before—
I jerked awake, my face hot, sweat plastering my hair to my skin. It took a long time for my heartbeat to slow. When I got out of bed and peered through my door to see his open, I gazed at him for a few long moments, then walked away.
No, I didn’t kill him that day, either.
Three days passed, and Raihn and I didn’t talk about leaving, and we didn’t kill each other, and I realized that I didn’t want to kill him at all.
Raihn was cooking.
I’ll admit it: I had been very, very skeptical when Mische had said that Raihn was “a very good cook.” The thought of Raihn, hulking and battle-scarred, leaning over a stove seemed ridiculous. Well, it looked just as ridiculous as I imagined.
But it did smell fantastic.
I didn’t know what he was making, only that he’d assembled it from a collection of ingredients he’d hauled back from town in a burlap bag, and that he managed to construct the entire meal using a single dented pot in the fireplace.
“Come here.” He beckoned to me from the next room, where I practiced my still woefully inconsistent magic and tried to pretend that I wasn’t paying any attention to him.
I did, and he held out a wooden spoon. “I need your help. Taste.”
I eyed the spoon. It looked like some kind of stew, with chunks of vegetables and liberally applied spices suspended in a thick, creamy-brown sauce. I lowered my head and tasted it.
My knees almost gave out. Whatever words I was about to say collapsed into a jumble on my tongue, melting beneath the—the—Mother, there weren’t words for the flavors. I’d never tasted anything so good.
When I finally came back to my senses, I blinked and looked at Raihn, who was watching me with a strange, bemused expression.
“That wasn’t how I’d imagined making you come for the first time,” he remarked.
I stopped chewing.
Raihn didn’t say anything, but the flinch over his face as he turned away told me he, too, heard that his joke implied more than he had intended.
Imagined. First time.
The air went heavy. I wiped a bit of stew from the corner of my mouth.
“I didn’t believe Mische when she told me you were a good cook.” I spoke very casually. “But… it’s not awful.”
It was enough to break the tension—or at least enough to make us both pretend it had.
“It’s a fucking travesty that you grew up eating vampire food. Vampires don’t know how to cook.”
“Only because it’s dear to my heart. None of it tastes the same anymore.”
Right. Vampires never stopped eating food, but their tastes were very different than humans’. I’d never stopped to think about what that might be like for Turned vampires. “It changed over time?” I asked, and he nodded as he
removed the pot from the fire and placed it on the table.
“Slowly, over the years. This? This tastes very bland to me, now. But Mische is younger than me, so her tastes are more human. It’ll be more like it was for you.”
My ears perked. “Mische?” I glanced to the table—to the little covered pot waiting for the stew. “This is for Mische?”
“I figured she earned it.” “You’re going to see her?”
“I am. If you don’t mind me sacrificing one training day.”
I didn’t think about the fact that he so easily assumed we would still train together.
Instead, I was thinking about Mische—Mische, and her bright smiles and easy laughs, and the way she’d treated me like I was an actual friend. The image was so different than how she had looked when she was taken away, just a shell of herself.
I touched my wrist—the bandage from the still-not-quite-healed bite from the Ministaer—without intending to.
It took a long moment for me to recognize that the feeling I was struggling to put into words was concern.
“Can I come?”
I blurted it out before I could stop myself.
Raihn, whose back was to me again, paused long enough that a wave of uncertainty flooded through me. Of course he wouldn’t want to take me, an enemy in every sense of the word that mattered, to see Mische outside the bounds of the Moon Palace. Hell, if she even wanted to see me at all.
But when Raihn turned around, he was smiling—no, grinning.
He said simply, “She’d like that.”