Cassian continued past her, tossing the present in his hands. “You’ll want this one.”
He prayed she would. It had taken him months to find it.
He hadn’t wanted to give it to her in front of the others. Hadn’t even known she’d be there tonight. He’d been well aware of Elain’s and Feyre’s cajoling. Just as he’d been well aware of the money he’d seen Feyre give to Nesta moments before she left.
As promised, his High Lady had said.
He wished she hadn’t. Wished for a lot of things.
Nesta fell into step beside him, huffing as she kept up with his long strides. “I don’t want anything from you.”
He made himself arch an eyebrow. “You sure about that, sweetheart?”
I have no regrets in my life, but this. That we did not have time.
Cassian shut out the words. Shut out the image that chased him from his dreams, night after night: not Nesta holding up the King of Hybern’s head like a trophy; not the way her father’s neck had twisted in Hybern’s hands. But the image of her leaning over him, covering Cassian’s body with her own, ready to take the full brunt of the king’s power for him. To die for him—with him. That slender, beautiful body, arching over him, shaking in terror, willing to face that end.
He hadn’t seen a glimpse of that person in months. Had not seen her smile or laugh.
He knew about the drinking, about the males. He told himself he didn’t care.
He told himself he didn’t want to know who the bastard was who had taken her maidenhead. Told himself he didn’t want to know if the males meant anything—if he meant anything.
He didn’t know why the hell he cared. Why he’d bothered. Even from the start. Even after she’d kneed him in the balls that one afternoon at her father’s house.
Even as she said, “I’ve made my thoughts clear enough on what I want from you.”
He’d never met someone able to imply so much in so few words, in placing so much emphasis on you as to make it an outright insult.
Cassian clenched his jaw. And didn’t bother to restrain himself when he said, “I’m tired of playing these bullshit games.”
She kept her chin high, the portrait of queenly arrogance. “I’m not.”
“Well, everyone else is. Perhaps you can find it in yourself to try a little harder this year.”
Those striking eyes slid toward him, and it was an effort to stand his ground. “Try?”
“I know that’s a foreign word to you.”
Nesta stopped at the bottom of the street, right along the icy Sidra. “Why should I have to try to do anything?” Her teeth flashed. “I was dragged into this world of yours, this court.”
“Then go somewhere else.”
Her mouth formed a tight line at the challenge. “Perhaps I will.”
But he knew there was no other place to go. Not when she had no money, no family beyond this territory. “Be sure to write.”
She launched into a walk again, keeping along the river’s edge.
Cassian followed, hating himself for it. “You could at least come live at the House,” he began, and she whirled on him.
“Stop,” she snarled.
He halted in his tracks, wings spreading slightly to balance him.
“Stop following me. Stop trying to haul me into your happy little circle. Stop doing all of it.”
He knew a wounded animal when he saw one. Knew the teeth they could bare, the viciousness they displayed. But it couldn’t keep him from saying, “Your sisters love you. I can’t for the life of me understand why, but they do. If you can’t be bothered to try for my happy little circle’s sake, then at least try for them.”
A void seemed to enter those eyes. An endless, depthless void.
She only said, “Go home, Cassian.”
He could count on one hand the number of times she’d used his name. Called him anything other than you or that one.
She turned away—toward her apartment, her grimy part of the city.
It was instinct to lunge for her free hand.
Her gloved fingers scraped against his calluses, but he held firm. “Talk to me. Nesta. Tell me—”
She ripped her hand out of his grip. Stared him down. A mighty, vengeful queen.
He waited, panting, for the verbal lashing to begin. For her to shred him into ribbons.
But Nesta only stared at him, her nose crinkling. Stared, then snorted—and walked away.
As if he were nothing. As if he weren’t worth her time. The effort.
A low-born Illyrian bastard.
This time, when she continued onward, Cassian didn’t follow.
He watched her until she was a shadow against the darkness—and then she vanished completely.
He remained staring after her, that present in his hands.
Cassian’s fingertips dug into the soft wood of the small box.
He was grateful the streets were empty when he hurled that box into the Sidra. Hurled it hard enough that the splash echoed off the buildings flanking the river, ice cracking from the impact.
Ice instantly re-formed over the hole he’d blown open. As if it, and the present, had never been.
Nesta sealed the fourth and final lock on her apartment door and slumped against the creaking, rotting wood.
Silence settled in around her, welcome and smothering.
Silence, to soothe the trembling that had chased her across this city.
She’d known it in her bones, her blood. He’d kept high in the skies, but he’d followed until she’d entered the building.
She knew he was now waiting on a nearby rooftop to see her light kindle.
Twin instincts warred within her: to leave the faelight untouched and make him wait in the freezing dark, or to ignite that bowl and just get rid of his presence. Get rid of everything he was.
She opted for the latter.
In the dim, thick silence, Nesta lingered by the table against the wall near her front door. Slid her hand into her pocket and pulled out the folded banknote.
Enough for three months’ rent.
She tried and failed to muster the shame. But nothing came.
Nothing at all.
There was anger, occasionally. Sharp, hot a
nger that sliced her.
But most of the time it was silence.
Ringing, droning silence.
She hadn’t felt anything in months. Had days when she didn’t really know where she was or what she’d done. They passed swiftly and yet dripped by.
So did the months. She’d blinked, and winter had fallen. Blinked, and her body had turned too thin. As hollow as she felt.
The night’s frosty chill crept through the worn shutters, drawing another tremble from her. But she didn’t light the fire in the hearth across the room.
She could barely stand to hear the crack and pop of the wood. Had barely been able to endure it in Feyre’s town house. Snap; crunch.
How no one ever remarked that it sounded like breaking bones, like a snapping neck, she had no idea.
She hadn’t lit one fire in this apartment. Had kept warm with blankets and layers.
Wings rustled, then boomed outside the apartment.
Nesta loosed a shuddering sigh and slid down the wall until she was sitting against it.
Until she drew her knees to her chest and stared into the dimness.
Still the silence raged and echoed around her.
Still she felt nothing.
It was three by the time the others went to bed. By the time Cassian returned, quiet and brooding, and knocked back a glass of liquor before stalking upstairs. Mor followed him, worry dancing in her eyes.
Azriel and Elain remained in the sitting room, my sister showing him the plans she’d sketched to expand the garden in the back of the town house, using the seeds and tools my family had given her tonight. Whether he cared about such things, I had no idea, but I sent him a silent prayer of thanks for his kindness before Rhys and I slipped upstairs.
I reached to remove my diamond cuffs when Rhys stopped me, his hands wrapping around my wrists. “Not yet,” he said softly.
My brows bunched.
He only smiled. “Hold on.”
Darkness and wind swept in, and I clung to him as he winnowed—
Candlelight and crackling fire and colors …
“The cabin?” He must have altered the wards to allow us to winnow directly inside.
Rhys grinned, letting go of me to swagger to the couch before the fireplace and plop down, his wings draping to the floor. “For some peace and quiet, mate.”