He shrugged, though the tightness on his face didn’t reflect it. “If I can smell a few different males in here, then surely your … companions can, too.”
“Hasn’t stopped them yet.” She tied the other shoe, Cassian’s hazel eyes tracking the movement.
“Your tea is getting cold,” he said through his teeth.
She ignored him and rose to her feet, searching the bedroom again. Her coat …
“Your coat is on the floor by the front door,” he said sharply. “And it’s going to be brisk out, so bring a scarf.”
She ignored that, too, but strode past him, careful to avoid touching him, and found her dark blue overcoat exactly where he’d said it was. Only a few days ago had summer begun to yield to fall, drastically enough that she’d needed to pull out her warmer attire.
Nesta yanked open the front door, pointing for him to go.
Cassian held her gaze as he strode for her, then reached out an arm—
And plucked the cerulean-and-cream scarf Elain had given her for her birthday this spring off the brass hook on the wall. He gripped it in his fist as he stalked out, the scarf dangling like a strangled snake.
Something was eating at him. Usually, Cassian held out a bit longer before yielding to his temper. Perhaps it had to do with whatever Feyre wanted to tell her up at the house.
Her gut twisted a bit as she strode into the hall and set each lock, including the magical one Feyre had insisted Rhys install, linked to her blood and will.
She wasn’t stupid—she knew there had been unrest, both in Prythian and on the continent, since the war had ended. Knew some Fae territories were pushing their new limits on what they could get away with in terms of territory claims and how they treated humans.
But if some new threat had arisen …
Nesta shoved out the thought. She’d think about it when the time came. If the time came. No use wasting her energy on a phantom fear.
The four locks seemed to laugh at her before she silently followed Cassian out of the building, and into the bustling city beyond.
The riverfront house was more of an estate, and so new and clean and beautiful that Nesta realized that she was wearing two-day-old clothes, hadn’t washed her hair, and her shoes were indeed covered in stale wine precisely as she strode through the towering marble archway and into the shining white-and-sand-colored front hall.
A sweeping staircase bisected the enormous space, either side of it shaped like a pair of spread wings, and a chandelier of hand-blown Velaris glass fashioned after a cluster of shooting stars drooped from the carved ceiling to meet it. The faelights in each golden orb cast shimmering reflections on the polished white marble floors, interrupted only by potted plants, wood furniture also made in Velaris, and art-art-art. Plush blue rugs broke up the perfect floors, a long runner leading down the cavernous hallway on either side of the entry, and one flowing straight beneath the stairs—to the sloping lawn and gleaming river beyond.
Trailing Cassian, Nesta headed to the left—toward the formal rooms for business, Feyre had told her, during that first and only tour two months ago.
She’d been half-drunk at the time, and had hated every second of it, every perfect, happy room.
Most males bought their wives and mates jewelry for an outrageous Solstice present.
Rhys had bought Feyre a palace.
No—he’d purchased the war-decimated property, and then given his mate free rein to design the residence of both their dreams.
And somehow, Nesta thought as she silently followed an unnaturally quiet Cassian down the hall toward one of the studies whose doors were already open, Feyre and Rhys had managed to make this place seem cozy, welcoming. A behemoth of a building, but a home, somehow.
Even the formal furniture, while beautiful, seemed designed for comfort and lounging, for long conversations over good food. Every piece of art had been picked by Feyre herself, or painted by her, so many of them portraits and depictions of them—her friends, her new family.
There was not one of her, naturally.
Even their gods-damned father had a picture in here, with him and Elain, smiling and happy, as they’d been before the world went to shit.
But during that tour, Nesta had noted the lack of herself here. Said nothing, of course, but it was a pointed absence.
It was enough to set her teeth on edge as Cassian slipped inside the study and said to whoever was inside, “She’s here.”
Nesta braced herself for whatever waited within, but Feyre merely chuckled and said, “You’re five minutes early. I’m impressed.”
“Seems like a good omen for gambling. We should head to Rita’s,” Cassian drawled just as Nesta stepped into the wood-paneled room.
The study opened into a garden courtyard, the space warm and merry and rich, and Nesta might have admitted that she liked the floor-to-ceiling oak bookshelves, the plush green-velvet furniture before the pale marble hearth, had she not seen who was sitting inside.
Feyre perched on the couch, clad in a heavy cream sweater and dark leggings.
Rhys, clad in his usual black, leaned against the marble mantel, arms crossed.
And Amren, in her usual gray—cross-legged in the Illyrian armchair by the roaring hearth, those uptilted silver eyes sweeping over Nesta with distaste. So much had changed between her and the small lady, perhaps more than any other relationship.
Nesta didn’t let herself think about that argument at the end-of-summer party on the river barge. Or the silence between her and Amren since then.
Feyre, at least, smiled. “I heard you had quite the night.”
Nesta merely glanced between where Cassian took a seat in the armchair across from Amren, the empty spot on the couch beside Feyre, and where Rhys stood by the hearth.
In far more formal clothes than he usually wore.
The High Lord’s clothes.
Even if the High Lady of the Night Court was in attire fit for lounging on the sunny autumn day around them.
Nesta kept her spine straight, her chin high, hating that they all stared at her as she sat on the couch beside her sister. Hating that Rhys and Amren undoubtedly noted the filthy shoes, scented her old clothes, and probably still smelled that male on her.
“You look horrible,” Amren said.
Nesta wasn’t stupid enough to glare.
So she simply ignored her.
“Though it’s hard to look good,” Amren went on, “when you’re out until the darkest hours of the night, drinking yourself stupid and fucking anything that comes your way.”
Feyre whipped her head to the High Lord’s Second. But Rhysand looked inclined to agree with Amren.
> Cassian, at least, kept his mouth shut, and before Feyre could say anything to confirm or deny it, Nesta beat them to it and said, “I wasn’t aware that my physical looks were under your jurisdiction.”
Cassian loosed a breath that sounded like a warning.
Amren’s silver eyes glowed, a small remnant of the terrible power she’d once wielded. “They are when you spend that many of our gold marks on wine and garbage.”
Perhaps she had pushed them too far with last night’s tab. Interesting.
Nesta looked to Feyre, who was wincing on the other end of the couch. “So you made me come to you for a scolding?”
Feyre’s eyes—the eyes they both shared—seemed to soften slightly. “No. It’s not a scolding.” She cut a sharp glance at Rhys, still icily silent against the mantel, and then to Amren, seething in her chair. “Think of this as a … discussion.”
“I don’t see how my life is any of your concern, or up for any sort of discussion,” Nesta bit out, and shot to her feet.
“Sit down,” Rhys snarled.
And the raw command in that voice, the utter dominance and power …
Nesta froze, fighting it, hating that Fae part of her that bowed to such things. Cassian leaned forward in his chair, as if he’d leap between them.
But Nesta held Rhysand’s lethal gaze. Threw every ounce of defiance she could into it, even as his order held her still. Made her knees want to bend, to sit.
Rhys said too quietly, “You are going to sit. You are going to listen.”
She let out a low laugh. “You’re not my High Lord. You don’t give me orders.”
But she knew how powerful he was. Had seen it, felt it. Still trembled to be near him. The most powerful High Lord in history.
Rhys scented that fear. She knew it from the second one side of his mouth curled up in a cruel smile.
“That’s enough,” Feyre said, more to Rhys than her. Then indeed snapped at her mate, “I told you to keep out of it.”