“We will keep planning for the future, war or no war. I will keep planning for our future.”
My throat burned, and I nodded.
He’d kept his shields up so I wouldn’t see, because I wouldn’t have said yes, I would have rather the world ended than this, this thing he had done and this emptiness where he was, where we were—
“But I forgot to tell him,” I said quietly, opening the door, “that the villain is usually the person who locks up the maiden and throws away the key.”
I shrugged. “He was the one who let me out.”
If there is a way to save Feyre from a death sentence, Rhys will find it. He will stop at nothing until he figures out a way to spare her.
“I’ve had a long, long time to think about how and where I want you,” Rhys said onto the skin of my neck, his fingers sliding under the band of my pants.... “I have no intention of doing it all in one night. Or in a room where I can’t even f*ck you against the wall.”
“Cassian said you’ve been moody. Why?” I believed Cassian, but Rhys hadn’t been moody around me at all. Whenever my mate had looked at me lately, only pure love gleamed in his eyes.
“Cruel?” Rhys purred the word against my skin. “You wound me.” I let him lay me down on the cushions, savouring the weight of him as he braced himself on his elbows. “You look happy.” He said, his smile soft and tender in a way so few in the world beyond Velaris ever saw.
“Someone thinks mighty highly of herself.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You seem to have difficulty not staring at me day and night.”
There it was—a kernel of truth and a question.
“Am I supposed to deny,” he drawled, but something sparked in those eyes, “that I find you attractive?”
I deigned to glance at him, brows raised.
“Delicious,” he purred.
My brows now knotted. I read the next two words, then whipped my face toward him. “You look absolutely delicious today, Feyre?! That’s what you wrote?”
Alis squeezed my hand. “Blood rubies or no, you will always have one friend in the Summer Court.”
My throat bobbed. “And you will always have one in mine,” I promised her.
She knew which court I meant. And did not look afraid.
I felt it then, the bond between us, like an unbreakable chain, like an undimmable ray of light.
“My name is Feyre Archeron. I am High Lady of the Night Court. This is Rhysand, my—husband.” I doubted mate would go over well as a term.
Even now, with that bond again flowing between us like a river of star-flecked night, the echo of its vanishing lingered. Drew me from sleep; drew me from a conversation, a painting, a meal.
His jaw clenched. “You scared the shit out of me for a long while, Feyre. Checking in that way… I couldn’t very well stroll into the Spring Court and ask how you were doing, could I?”
“I do have more important things to do,” he purred. “But I find myself unable to resist the temptation. The same way you can’t resist watching me whenever we’re out. So territorial.”
“Tonight. Let’s find out if you, Feyre darling, are all talk—or if you’ll allow a Lord of Night to take you out on the town.”
He didn’t know—he had no inkling of the personal history, the secrets, that had opened my heart to the High Lord of the Night Court. They were not my stories to tell.
“I love you,” he breathed. “More than life, more than my territory, more than my crown.”
I saw the flash of protest at the pinned wings. But I crooned, “Illyrian baby,” and ran my hands down his muscled abdomen—farther. He stopped objecting.
Rhys’s naked body was wrapped around mine, his face softened with sleep. In the blackness of the tent, I listened.
But he wrapped his arm around my waist and squeezed, breathing me in. “I heard you, even in death. It made me look back. Made me stay—a little longer.”
“We could also go before a priestess and be declared husband and wife as well as mates, if you want a more human thing to call me.”
“What will you call me?”
“Mate,” he said. “Though also calling you my wife sounds mighty appealing, too.”
“We deserve each other. And we deserve to be happy.”
Rhys shuddered against me. And when his lips found mine, I let him lay me down upon the roof tiles and make love to me under the stars.
My friend through many dangers.
My lover who had healed my broken and weary soul.
My mate who had waited for me against all hope, despite all odds.
“I heard you were going to marry him, and I told myself you were happy. I should let you be happy, even if it killed me. Even if you were my mate, you’d earned that happiness.”
“I only decided I wanted to live when she killed me, and I knew I had not finished whatever … whatever it was I’d been born to do.”
I dared a glance at Rhys, and there was something like devastation on his beautiful face. It was gone in a blink.
Rhys held out a hand for me to ascend the dais steps. I kept my head high, back straight, as I gripped his fingers and strode up the few stairs. Toward that solitary throne.
Rhys only winked as he gracefully escorted me right into that throne.
“Because it’s fun.”
I nudged him with an elbow.
“Because you’re my equal,” he said. “And as much as that means having each other’s backs in public, it also means that we grant each other the gift of honesty. Of truth.”
“As wonderful as it is to see you, Feyre, darling,” Rhysand said, sprawled on the bed, his head propped up by a hand, “do I want to know why you’re digging through my fireplace?”
'Go lick your wounds and leave me be.' The paper vanished.
It was gone for a while—far longer than it should have taken to write the few words that appeared on the paper when it returned.
'I’d much rather you licked my wounds for me.'
“Rhys knew?” Tears spilled down Feyre’s cheeks, smearing the paint splattered there. “About the threat to our lives?” She peered down at herself, at the tattooed hand cradling her abdomen.
“I’m sorry I didn’t find a way to spare you from what happened Under the Mountain,” Rhys said with equal quiet. “From dying. From wanting to die.”
“You haven’t been able to keep away from me since Calanmai, it seems.”
Something rippled in his eyes that I couldn’t place, but he flicked my nose—hard enough that I hissed and batted his hand away.
His eyes locked on mine, wide and wild, and his nostrils flared. Shock—pure shock flashed across his features at whatever he saw on my face, and he stumbled back a step. Actually stumbled. “What is—” I began. He disappeared—simply disappeared...
And in our minds, down that bond, his magic erupted, his soul washing over mine, filling every crack and pit so that there was not one part of me that was not full of him, brimming with his dark, glorious essence and undimming love.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated, hand still outstretched. “Let’s eat breakfast, then go home.”
“Velaris isn’t my home.”
I could have sworn hurt flashed in his eyes before he spirited us back to my family’s house.
“None of that,” Rhysand said, clicking his tongue and lightly shoving Tamlin away with a single hand. “Not with a lady present.” His eyes shifted to my face. “What’s your name, love?”
“You never told me you loved the wings—or the flying.” No, he’d made his shape-shifting seem … base, useless, boring.
He shrugged. “Everything I love has always had a tendency to be taken from me. I tell very few about the wings. Or the flying.”
Rhys’s face was a portrait of smug, male pride. Cassian knew he’d shred anyone who so much as blinked wrong at Feyre into a million bloody ribbons. Indeed, cold violence rippled off Rhys as they walked toward the dais, Feyre’s baby-rich scent filling the air.
'Lick you where, exactly?'
The paper vanished before I’d even completed the final mark.
His reply was a long time coming. Then,
'Wherever you want to lick me, Feyre. I’d like to start with “Everywhere,” but I can choose, if necessary.'
He gave it to me. Rhys handed over everything.
I was a bearer, a vessel, a link.
I love you, he whispered into my mind.
I only leaned back into him, savouring his warmth, even in this non-place.
“But was there anyone there—were you seeing anything beyond?”
“There was only that bond in the darkness.”
Rhysand’s face had gone pale, his mouth a tight line.
I found Rhysand straightening the lapels of his black jacket.
“Hello, Feyre darling,” he purred.
That vision of the future Feyre had shown me, more beautiful than anything I could have ever wished for—anything I had wished for, on those long-ago, solitary nights with only the stars for company. A dream still unanswered—but not forever.
“You sent that music into my cell. Why?”
Rhysand’s voice was hoarse. “Because you were breaking. And I couldn’t find another way to save you.”
I linked my arm through his, nestling into his warmth. “It’s strange,” I murmured.
Rhys angled his head. “What is?”
I smiled. At him, at the Rainbow, at the city. “This feeling, this excitement to wake up every day. To see you, and to work, and to just be here.”
'Life is better when you’re around. And look at how lovely your handwriting is.'
I could almost feel him waiting on the other side...
A faint smile curved my lips. 'You’re a shameless flirt,' I wrote back.
He took my face in his hands, kissing me once. “Never. I can never be ashamed of you. Certainly not over this.” He kept his mouth close to mine, sharing breath.
Rhys kissed the top of my head, and we stared at the dying stars in silence.
“I’m grateful,” he said after a while, as the camp beneath us stirred in the building light. “To have you at my side. I don’t know if I ever told you that—how grateful I am to have you stand with me.”
His hand tightened on mine. "Well, even if Thesan has a prettier palace, I’m the only one blessed with a High Lady at my side."
I couldn’t help my blush.
“But I’ve never had food like this. Food that makes me…feel awake.”
I turned back to my plate, but found Rhysand’s eyes on me. His face was softer, more contemplative than I’d ever seen it, his mouth slightly open.
“I promise I won’t let the wind destroy your hair.” He lifted a hand as if he might tug on one of those loose curls, then lowered it.
I felt him tremble behind me, heard his wet rasp of breath. I tried to turn—
I love you, he said again.
The third and final crack began to heal over. His power began to sputter.
I lifted my eyes to his again and found stars and darkness waiting. Found home waiting.
Never enough. Not to paint him, know him. Eons would never be enough for all I wanted to do, see with him. For all I wanted to love him.
“Isn’t that what High Lords do?” My breath clouded in front of me in the brisk night. “Whatever they please?”
He studied my face. “There are a great many things that I wish to do, and don’t get to.”
But I was being ripped apart from the inside out, and I thrashed, unable to out-scream the pain.
“Feyre!” someone roared. No, not someone—Rhysand.
Rhysand yelled my name again—yelled it as though he cared.
"Thank you for finding her for me,” my savior said to them, smooth and polished. “Enjoy the Rite."
There, in that hole in my chest—I saw the image there. At first interpretation, he’d look terrifying, vengeance and wrath incarnate. But if you came closer … the painting would show the beauty on his face, the wings flared not to hurt, but to carry me from danger, to shield me.
“Because,” he went on, his eyes locked with mine, “I didn’t want you to fight alone. Or die alone.”
Rhys kissed beneath my ear. “That’ll come out of your salary, you know.”
I whipped my head to him and released my grip on his shoulders to flick his nose. He laughed, brushing his lips against my temple.
I love you, I said down the bond.
What’s not to love?
Before I could elbow him, Rhys kissed me again, breathless and swift.
To the stars who listen, Feyre
To the dreams that are answered, Rhys.
But I would glow—for him, I’d glow. For my own future, I’d glow.
I took his paint-smeared face between my own colorful hands and made him look at me.
His eyes were radiant like the stars I’d painted once, long ago.
And I smiled at Rhys as I let that mating bond shine clear and luminous between us.
We held each other in silence for minutes. Hours. Two souls, twining in the dark. I lowered my shields, let him in fully. His mind curled around mine.
I twisted to face him, his arms tightening slightly, as if to keep me from vanishing with the morning mist.
His eyes were open when I nestled my head against his arm. We watched each other.
And I realized I might very well be content to do exactly that forever.
“You cruel, wicked thing,” he purred, his nose grazing the exposed bit of neck I’d arched beneath him. “Didn’t anyone ever teach you manners?”
“I never knew Illyrians were such sensitive babies,” I said, sliding another finger down the inside of his wing.
“We’re sharing one from now on. Just tell me whether I should move my clothes or yours. If that’s all right with you.”
“Don’t you—you don’t want your own space?”
“No,” he said baldly. “Unless you do. I need you protecting me from our enemies with your water-wolves.”
“Perhaps I’ll model for you later, then.” A sensuous brush down the bond that had my blood heating. It’s been a while since we had paint involved.
That cabin and kitchen table flashed into my mind, and my mouth went a bit dry. “Rogue.”
“I’m a lucky male to have her as my mate.”
The king smiled again. “For the little time you have remaining.”
I could have sworn Rhys blocked out the words.
There was the silent, too-small babe in Mor’s arms.
There was Feyre, sliced open and bleeding out on the bed.
There was Rhysand screaming, as if his soul were being shredded, but Cassian and Azriel were there, hauling him away from the bed as Madja tried to save Feyre—
“What’s wrong is that those pieces of shit got into my house and attacked my mate. What’s wrong is that my own damn wards worked against me, and you had to make a bargain with that thing to keep yourself from being taken. What’s wrong—”
A tiara—which he gently, reverently, set before the braid we’d pinned into place atop my head. The original crown … it appeared atop Rhys’s head a moment later.
Together, we stared at our reflection. Lord and Lady Night.
“Ready to be wicked?” he purred in my ear.
“Poor baby High Lord," I crooned. "Having to run away to find solitude perfect for brooding.”
Rhys pinched my behind, and I clamped down on my lip to keep from yelping.
“Do you want to go over what happened at the Spring Court?” I asked, voice raw, as I studied my mate’s face.
No amusement, nothing but that predatory intensity, focused on my every breath. “There are other things I’d rather do first.”
And when the night had shifted toward dawn and the music became soft and honeyed, I had let Rhys take me in his arms and dance with me, slowly, until the other guests had left.
He had stayed. And fought for me.
Week after week, he’d fought for me, even when I had no reaction, even when I had barely been able to speak or bring myself to care if I lived or died or ate or starved. I couldn’t leave him to his own dark thoughts, his own guilt.
“You should see how I make her beg,” Rhys murmured, nudging my neck with his nose.
“If you were going to die, I was going to die with you. I couldn’t stop thinking it over and over as you screamed, as I tried to kill her: you were my mate, my mate, my mate.”
No babe—and Feyre’s face… It was white as death. Her eyes were closed, her breathing too shallow.
Rhys crouched at her side, gripping her hand. Panic and terror and pain warred on his face.
“I want to share this bed with you, though," I breathed. "I want you to hold me."
Stars flickered to life in his eyes. "Always," he promised, kissing my brow, his wings now enveloping me completely. "Always.”
I write to you not as a High Lord, but as a male in love with a woman who was once human. I write to you to beg you to act quickly.
So I might one day be able to live in a world where the woman I love may visit her family without fear of hatred and reprisal. A better world.
To the stars who listen, Feyre. I brushed a hand over his cheek to wipe away the last of his tears, his skin warm and soft, and we turned down the street that would lead us home. Toward our future—and all that waited within it. To the dreams that are answered, Rhys.
"I heard you begging someone, anyone, to rescue you, to get you out. I heard you say no."
"I didn't say anything."
He turned my bare hand over, his hold tightening as he examined the eye he'd tattooed. He tapped the pupil. Once. Twice. "I heard it loud and clear.”
A snap of Rhys’s fingers, and my nightclothes—and some flimsy underthings—appeared on the bed. “I couldn’t decide which scrap of lace I wanted you to wear, so I brought you a few to choose from.”
“Pig,” I barked
“She's mine. And if any of you lay a hand on her, you lose that hand. And then lose your head. And once Feyre is done killing you, then I'll grind your bones to dust.”
“I fell in love with you, smartass, because you were one of us—because you weren’t afraid of me, and you decided to end your spectacular victory by throwing that piece of bone at Amarantha like a javelin.”
“And will you come with me? On this adventure—and all the rest?”
Rhys leaned forward and kissed me. “Always.”
“You were born on the longest night of the year.” His fingers again stroked down my back. Lower. “You were meant to be at my side from the very beginning.”
His words were a lethal caress as he said, “Did you enjoy the sight of me kneeling before you?”
I stepped out of the shelter of my savior’s arm and turned to thank him. Standing before me was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen.
“I see all of you, Rhys. And there is not one part that I do not love with everything I am.”
“She is my mate. And my spy," I said too quietly. "And she is the High Lady of the Night Court.”
I smiled. Smiled wider as Feyre’s laugh sounded again—as I felt it down the bond, sparkling brighter than the entirety of Starfall.
“Give a shout down the bond if you get anything accomplished before breakfast.”
I frowned at the eye in my palm. “What—literally shout at the tattoo?”
“You could try rubbing it on certain body parts and I might come faster.”
Rhys said to his mate, “Feyre darling—”
“No good-byes,” Feyre panted. “No good-byes, Rhys.”
“You declared yourself High Lady.”
“Was I not supposed to?”
He released my arm to brush his knuckles across my cheek. “I’ve wanted to roar it from the rooftops of Velaris from the moment the priestess anointed you. How typical of you to upend my grand plans.”
“You and this city helped wake me up—helped bring me back to life.” His eyes flickered as I smiled up at him. “I will fight with everything I have, too, Rhys. Everything.”
He only kissed the top of my head, tugging me closer as we crossed the Sidra under the starry sky.
“Rhysand, that I love you. I want you to know… ” His lips trembled, and I brushed away the tear that escaped down his cheek. “I want you to know,” I whispered, “that I am broken and healing, but every piece of my heart belongs to you. And I am honored—honored to be your mate.”
Maybe it’d be a mercy to be ended—
A broad hand gripped my face—gently enough not to hurt, but hard enough to make me look at him. “Don’t you ever think that,” Rhysand hissed, his eyes livid. “Not for one damned moment.”
“You are selfless, and brave, and kind. You are more than I ever dreamed for myself, more than I…” The words choked off, and I swallowed, taking a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if he needed to hear it after what the king had said, but I needed to say it.
My mate murmured, “Feyre Cursebreaker, the Defender of the Rainbow.”
I slid my arms around his waist and sobbed.
And even as his city wailed, the High Lord of the Night Court held me until I could at last face this blood-drenched new world.
“What about your firstborn?” A secret smile as he gestured with that small boy’s hand to himself.
Rhys’s attention slid to me, surprise—surprise and something deeper, more tender—flickering on his face. Not just any boy, then.
My cheeks heated. No. Not just any boy.
His eyes were star-bright. “Long ago, when I was still a boy, she made them—all your gowns. A trousseau for my future bride.” His throat bobbed. “Every piece … Every piece I have ever given you to wear, she made them. For you."
Rhys would do that, she knew without a doubt. The High Lord would go to the ends of the world for a way to save Feyre.
“It killed me to know he was sharing your bed. Not just because you were my mate, but because I… ” He glanced down, then up at me again. “I knew… I knew I was in love with you that moment I picked up the knife to kill Amarantha.”
So I leaned into him, into that unfailing strength, and said down the bond, You make me so very happy. My life is happy, and I will never stop being grateful that you are in it.
I looked up to find him not at all ashamed to have tears slipping down his cheeks in public.
And the sight of that face… I slid my arms around his waist, gripping tightly as he pressed a silent kiss to my hair, reminding myself over and over that we were out. We had survived. Never again—never again would I let someone hurt him like that. Hurt my sisters like that.
“Of course I’ll dance with you,” Rhys said, his voice still raw. “All night, if you wish.”
“Even if I step on your toes?”
He leaned in, brushing his mouth against my heated cheek. I closed my eyes at the whisper of a kiss, at the hunger that ravaged me in its wake.
“Do you—do you want to dance with me?” I whispered.
He was silent for long enough that I lifted my head to scan his face. But his eyes were bright—silver-lined. “You want to dance?” he rasped, his fingers curling around mine.
And it was precisely because of it that I said, “I love you.”
His head lifted, eyes churning. “There was a time when I dreamed of hearing that,” he murmured. “When I never thought I’d hear it from you.”
“You seemed to be going along just fine with it, until Keir said—”
“I will kill anyone who harms you,” Rhys snarled. “I will kill them, and take a damn long time doing it.” He panted. “Go ahead. Hate me—despise me for it.”
“And if he had grabbed me?”
There was nothing but uncompromising will in his eyes. “Then I would have torn apart the world to get you back.”
He said softly, “I love it when you look at me like that.”
The purr in his voice heated my blood. “Like what?”
“Like my power isn’t something to run from. Like you see me.”
“What do you care?” I barked.
“What do I care?” he breathed, wrath twisting his features. Wings—those membranous, glorious wings—flared from his back, crafted from the shadows behind him. “What do I care?”
“And, Feyre,” he added, his voice a caressing murmur, “I don’t like my belongings tampered with.”
“Build a house with a nursery, Feyre.”
My heart tightened to the point of pain, and I kissed him back. Kissed him again, and again, the property wide and clear around us. “I will,” I promised.
“Rhys—it’s too much.”
His face became deadly serious. “Not for you. Never for you.” He slid his arms around my waist, kissing my temple.
“I was willing to lose my mate to another male. I was willing to let them marry, if it brought her joy. But what I was not willing to do was let her suffer. To let her fade away into a shadow.”
“I missed you every moment,” Rhys said, leaning down to kiss the corner of my mouth. “Your smile.” His lips grazed over the shell of my ear and my back arched slightly. “Your laugh.”
“I wish I had days to spend with you—like this,” I managed to say as my eyelids drooped. “Just me and you.”
“We will.” He kissed my hair. “We will.”
“But then she snapped your neck.”
Tears rolled down his face.
“And I felt you die,” he whispered.
Tears were sliding down my own cheeks.
“And this beautiful, wonderful thing that had come into my life, this gift from the Cauldron… It was gone.”
Gently, he took my cheeks in his hands and brushed away my tears.
I didn’t care that we had an audience as I lifted my head and beheld the joy and concern and love shining in those remarkable eyes.
Neither did Rhys as he murmured, “My love,” and kissed me.
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