Cassian said at last, “You look like you could use a few big meals, a bath, and some real clothes.”
She rolled her eyes, but fingered the shirt she wore.
Cassian added, “Eleven o’clock. Kick the sorry prick out of here, get washed, and I’ll bring you breakfast myself.”
Her brows rose slightly.
He gave her a half-smile. “You think I can’t hear that male in your bedroom, trying to quietly put on his clothes and sneak out the window?”
As if in answer, a muffled thud came from the bedroom. Nesta hissed.
Cassian said, “I’ll be back in an hour to see how things are proceeding.” He put enough bite behind the words that his soldiers would know not to push him, that he wore seven Siphons for a damned good reason. But Nesta did not fly in his legions, did not train under his command, and certainly did not seem to bother to remember that he was five hundred years old and—
“Don’t bother. I’ll be there on time.”
He pushed off the door, wings flaring slightly as he retreated a few steps and grinned in that way he knew made her see red. “That’s not what I was asked to do. I’m to see you from door to door.”
Her face indeed tightened. “Go perch on a chimney.”
He sketched a bow, not daring to take his eyes off her. She’d emerged from that Cauldron with gifts. Considerable, dark gifts. And though she had not used them, or explained to even Feyre and Amren what they were, or even shown a hint of them in the year since the war … he knew better than to make himself vulnerable to another predator. “Do you want your tea with milk or lemon?”
She slammed the door in his face.
Then locked each of those four locks. Slowly. Loudly.
Whistling to himself, wondering if that poor bastard inside the apartment would indeed flee out the window—mostly to escape her—Cassian strode down the dim hallway, and went to find some food.
He’d need it today, too—especially once Nesta learned precisely why her sister had summoned her.
Nesta Archeron didn’t know the male’s name.
She ransacked her wine-soaked memory as she strode for the bedroom, dodging columns of books and piles of clothing, recalling heated glances at the tavern, the initial wet, hot meeting of their mouths, the sweat coating her as she rode him until pleasure and drink sent her into oblivion, but … not the name.
The male was already at the window, Cassian no doubt lurking on the street below to witness this spectacularly pathetic exit, when Nesta reached the dim, cramped bedroom. The sheets on the brass poster bed were rumpled, half-spilled on the creaky wood floor, and the cracked window was already open as the male turned to her.
Handsome, in the way most Fae males were handsome. A bit thinner than she liked them—practically a boy compared to the towering mass of muscle that had just lurked outside her door. He winced as she padded in, and gave a pointed look to her shirt. “I … That’s …”
Nesta reached over her head and tugged off his shirt, leaving nothing but bare skin in its wake. His eyes widened, but the scent of his fear remained—not at her, but at who he’d heard at the front door. As he remembered who she was, both in the court, and to Cassian. She chucked his white shirt to him. “You can use the front door now.”
He swallowed, slinging the shirt over his head. “I—is he still—” His gaze kept snagging on her breasts, peaked against the chill morning, her bare skin. The apex of her thighs.
“Good-bye,” was all Nesta said, striding for the rusty and leaky bathroom attached to her bedroom. At least the place had hot running water.
Feyre and the others had tried to convince her to move more times than she could count. Each time, she’d ignored it.
Elain was happily ensconced in the new riverfront estate, and had spent the spring and summer planning and nurturing its spectacular gardens—all while avoiding her mate—but Nesta … She was immortal, she was beautiful, and she had no intention of beginning an eternity of working for these people anytime soon. Before she’d gotten to enjoy all that the Fae had to offer.
She had no doubt Feyre planned a scolding at their little meeting today.
After all, Nesta had signed the outrageous tab at the pleasure hall last night to her sister’s account. But neither Feyre nor her mate would do anything about it beyond idle threats.
Nesta snorted, twisting the ancient faucet in the bath. It groaned, the metal icy to the touch, and water sputtered—then sprayed into the cracked, stained tub.
This was her place. No servants, no eyes monitoring and judging every move, no company unless … Unless busybody, puffed-up warriors made it their business to stop by.
It took five minutes for the water to actually heat enough to fill the tub. That she would even get into it was the biggest accomplishment she’d made in the past year. It had begun with willing herself, forcing herself to put in her feet. Then, each time, going a little further. Until she’d been able to stomach sitting fully submerged in the tub without her heart thundering. It had taken her months to get that far.
Today, at least, she slid into the hot water with little hesitation. By the time she’d finished washing away the sweat and other remnants of last night, a glance in the bedroom revealed the male had indeed taken the window out.
The sex hadn’t been bad. She’d had better, but also had much worse. Immortality still wasn’t enough to teach some males the art of the bedroom.
So she’d taught herself. Starting with the first male she’d taken here, who had no idea that her maidenhead was intact until he’d spied the speckled blood on the sheets. His face had gone white with terror—pure, ghastly white.
Not for fear of Feyre and Rhysand’s wrath.
But the wrath of that insufferable Illyrian brute.
Everyone somehow knew what had happened during the war; that final battle with Hybern.
That Cassian had nearly bled out defending her against the King of Hybern, that she’d chosen to shield him with her body in those last moments.
They had never spoken of it.
She still barely spoke to anyone about anything, let alone the war.
Yet as far as anyone was now concerned, the events of that last battle had bound them. Her and Cassian. No matter that she could scarcely stand to be around him. No matter that she had once, long ago, in a mortal body and in a house that no longer existed, let him kiss her throat. Being near him made her want to shatter things.
As her power sometimes did, unbidden. Secretly.
Nesta surveyed the ramshackle, dark apartment, the sagging and filthy furniture that had come with it, the clothes and dishes she left untended.
Rhysand had offered her jobs. Positions.
She didn’t want them.
They were pity offerings, some attempt to get her to be a part of their life, to be gainfully occupied. Done not because Rhysand particularly liked her, but because he loved Feyre that much. No, the High Lord had never liked her—and their conversations were coldly civil at best.
So any offering, she knew, was made to appease his mate. Not because Nesta was truly needed for it. Truly … wanted.
Better to spend her time the way she wished to. They kept paying for it, after all.
The knock on the door rattled the entire apartment.
She glared toward the front room, debating pretending she’d left, but … he could hear her, smell her.
And if Cassian broke down the door, which he was likely to do, she’d just have the headache of explaining it to her stingy landlord.
So she freed all four locks.
Locking them each night was part of the ritual. Even when the nameless male had been here, even with the wine, she’d remembered to lock them all. Some muscle memory buried deep. She’d installed them that first day she’d arrived months and months ago, and had locked them every night since.
Nesta yanked open the door enough to spy Cassian’s cocky grin and left it ajar as she stormed back inside for her shoes.
He took the unspoken invitation and walked in, a mug of tea in his hand—the cup no doubt borrowed from the shop at the corner. Or outright given to him, considering how people tended to worship the ground his muddy boots walked on.
He surveyed the squalor and let out a low whistle. “You do know that you could hire a maid, don’t you?”
She scanned the small living area for her shoes—a sagging couch, a soot-stained hearth, a moth-eaten armchair—then the cracked and ancient kitchenette, then traced her steps into her bedroom. Where had she kicked them last night?
“Some fresh air would be a good start,” he added from the other room, the window groaning as he no doubt cracked it open to let in the early-autumn breeze.
She found her shoes in opposite corners of the bedroom. One reeked of spilled wine and ale.
Nesta perched on the edge of her bed, sliding on her shoes, tugging at the laces. She didn’t bother to look up as Cassian’s steady steps approached, then halted at the threshold.
He sniffed once. Loudly.
It said enough.
“I’d hoped you at least changed the sheets between visitors, but … apparently that doesn’t bother you, either.”
She tied the lace on the first shoe and looked up at him beneath lowered brows. “Again, what business is it of yours?”