The dismissal was clear enough.
As one, they rose, cards abandoned, and swiped up their drinks. “We’ll get a refill,” the golden-haired one declared.
I waited until they were at the bar, pointedly not gazing over their shoulders, before I slid into the rickety seat the dark-haired one had vacated.
Slowly, Nesta’s eyes lifted toward mine.
I leaned back in the chair, wood groaning. “So which one was going home with you tonight?”
Nesta snapped her cards together, setting the stack facedown on the table. “I hadn’t decided.”
Icy, flat words. The perfect accompaniment to the expression on her face.
I simply waited.
Nesta waited, too.
Still as an animal. Still as death.
I’d once wondered if that was her power. Her curse, granted by the Cauldron.
Nothing I’d seen of it, glimpsed in those moments against Hybern, had seemed like death. Just brute power. But the Bone Carver had whispered of it. And I’d seen it, shining cold and bright in her eyes.
But not for months now.
Not that I’d seen much of her.
A minute passed. Then another.
Utter silence, save for the merry music from the four-piece band on the other side of the room.
I could wait. I’d wait here all damn night.
Nesta settled back in her chair, inclined to do the same.
My money’s on your sister.
I’m getting cold out here.
A dark chuckle, then the bond went silent again.
“Is that mate of yours going to stand in the cold all night?”
I blinked, wondering if she’d somehow sensed the thoughts between us. “Who says he’s here?”
Nesta snorted. “Where one goes, the other follows.”
I refrained from voicing all of the potential retorts that leaped onto my tongue.
Instead, I asked, “Elain invited you to dinner tonight. Why didn’t you come?”
Nesta’s smile was slow, sharp as a blade. “I wanted to hear the musicians play.”
I cast a pointed look to the band. More skilled than the usual tavern set, but not a real excuse. “She wanted you there.” I wanted you there.
Nesta shrugged. “She could have eaten with me here.”
“You know Elain wouldn’t feel comfortable in a place like this.”
She arched a well-groomed brow. “A place like this? What sort of place is that?”
Indeed, some people were turning our way. High Lady—I was High Lady. Insulting this place and the people in it wouldn’t win me any supporters. “Elain is overwhelmed by crowds.”
“She didn’t used to be that way.” Nesta swirled her glass of amber liquid. “She loved balls and parties.”
The words hung unspoken. But you and your court dragged us into this world. Took that joy away from her.
“If you bothered to come by the house, you’d see that she’s readjusting. But balls and parties are one thing. Elain never patronized taverns before this.”
Nesta opened her mouth, no doubt to lead me down a path away from the reason I’d come here. So I cut in before she could. “That’s beside the point.”
Steel-cold eyes held mine. “Can you get to it, then? I’d like to return to my game.”
I debated scattering the cards to the ale-slick ground. “Solstice is the day after tomorrow.”
Nothing. Not a blink.
I interlaced my fingers and set them on the table between us. “What will it take to get you to come?”
“For Elain’s sake or yours?”
Another snort. Nesta surveyed the room, everyone carefully not watching us now. I knew without asking that Rhys had slid a sound barrier around us.
Finally, my sister looked back at me. “So you’re bribing me, then?”
I didn’t flinch. “I’m seeing if you’re willing to be reasoned with. If there’s a way to make it worth your while.”
Nesta planted the tip of her pointer finger atop her stack of cards and fanned them out across the table. “It’s not even our holiday. We don’t have holidays.”
“Perhaps you should try it. You might enjoy yourself.”
“As I told Elain: you have your lives, and I have mine.”
Again, I cast a pointed glance to the tavern. “Why? Why this insistence on distancing yourself?”
She settled back in her seat, crossing her arms. “Why do I have to be a part of your merry little band?”
“You’re my sister.”
Again, that empty, cold look.
“I’m not going to your party,” she said.
If Elain hadn’t been able to convince her, I certainly wouldn’t succeed. I didn’t know why I hadn’t realized it before. Before wasting my time. But I tried—one last time. For Elain’s sake. “Father would want you to—”
“Don’t you finish that sentence.”
Despite the sound shield around us, there was nothing to block the view of my sister baring her teeth. The view of her fingers curling into invisible claws.
Nesta’s nose crinkled with undiluted rage as she snarled, “Leave.”
A scene. This was about to become a scene in the worst way.
So I rose, hiding my trembling hands by balling them into tight fists at my sides. “Please come,” was all I said before turning back toward the door, the walk between her table and the exit feeling so much longer. All the staring faces I’d have to pass looming.
“My rent,” Nesta said when I’d walked two steps.
I paused. “What about your rent?”
She swigged from her glass. “It’s due next week. In case you forgot.”
She was completely serious.
I said flatly, “Come to Solstice and I’ll make sure it’s delivered.”
Nesta opened her mouth, but I turned again, staring down every gaping face that peered up at me as I passed.
I felt my sister’s gaze piercing the space between my shoulder blades the entire walk to that front door. And the entire flight home.
Even with workers seldom halting their repairs, the rebuilding was still ye
ars from being finished. Especially along the Sidra, where Hybern had hit hardest.
Little more than rubble remained of the once-great estates and homes along the southeastern bend of the river, their gardens overgrown and private boathouses half sunken in the gentle flow of the turquoise waters.
I’d grown up in these houses, attending the parties and feasts that lasted long into the night, spending bright summer days lazing on the sloping lawns, cheering the summer boat races on the Sidra. Their facades had been as familiar as any friend’s face. They’d been built long before I was born. I’d expected them to last long after I was gone.
“You haven’t heard from the families about when they’ll be returning, have you?”
Mor’s question floated to me above the crunch of pale stone beneath our feet as we ambled along the snow-dusted grounds of one such estate.
She’d found me after lunch—a rare, solitary meal these days. With Feyre and Elain out shopping in the city, when my cousin had appeared in the foyer of the town house, I hadn’t hesitated to invite her for a walk.
It had been a long while since Mor and I had walked together.
I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that though the war had ended, all wounds had been healed. Especially between Mor and me.
And I wasn’t stupid enough to delude myself into thinking that I hadn’t put off this walk for a while now—and so had she.
I’d seen her eyes go distant the other night at the Hewn City. Her silence after her initial snarled warning at her father had told me enough about where her mind had drifted.
Another casualty of this war: working with Keir and Eris had dimmed something in my cousin.
Oh, she hid it well. Save for when she was face-to-face with the two males who had—
I didn’t let myself finish the thought, summon the memory. Even five centuries later, the rage threatened to swallow me until I’d left the Hewn City and Autumn Court in ruins.
But those were her deaths to claim. They always had been. I had never asked why she’d waited so long.
We’d quietly meandered through the city for half an hour now, going mostly unnoticed. A small blessing of Solstice: everyone was too busy with their own preparations to mark who strolled through the packed streets.