“Accountable?” I sputtered, placing my hands flat on the table. “You cornered me in the hall like a wolf with a rabbit!”
Lucien propped an arm on the table and covered his mouth with his hand, his russet eye bright.
“While I might not have been myself, Lucien and I both told you to stay in your room,” Tamlin said, so calmly that I wanted to rip out my hair.
I couldn’t help it. Didn’t even try to fight the red-hot temper that razed my senses. “Faerie pig!” I yelled, and Lucien howled, almost tipping back in his chair. At the sight of Tamlin’s growing smile, I left.
It took me a couple of hours to stop painting little portraits of Tamlin and Lucien with pigs’ features. But as I finished the last one—Two faerie pigs wallowing in their own filth, I would call it—I smiled into the clear, bright light of my private painting room. The Tamlin I knew had returned.
And it made me … happy.
We apologized at dinner. He even brought me a bouquet of white roses from his parents’ garden, and while I dismissed them as nothing, I made certain that Alis took good care of them when I returned to my room. She gave me only a wry nod before promising to set them in my painting room. I fell asleep with a smile still on my lips.
For the first time in a long, long while, I slept peacefully.
“Don’t know if I should be pleased or worried,” Alis said the next night as she slid the golden underdress over my upraised arms, then tugged it down.
I smiled a bit, marveling at the intricate metallic lace that clung to my arms and torso like a second skin before falling loosely to the rug. “It’s just a dress,” I said, lifting my arms again as she brought over the gossamer turquoise overgown. It was sheer enough to see the gleaming gold mesh beneath, and light and airy and full of movement, as if it flowed on an invisible current.
Alis just chuckled to herself and guided me over to the vanity to work on my hair. I didn’t have the courage to look at the mirror as she fussed over me.
“Does this mean you’ll be wearing gowns from now on?” she asked, separating sections of my hair for whatever wonders she was doing to it.
“No,” I said quickly. “I mean—I’ll be wearing my usual clothes during the day, but I thought it might be nice to … try it out, at least for tonight.”
“I see. Good that you aren’t losing your common sense entirely, then.”
I twisted my mouth to the side. “Who taught you how to do hair like this?”
Her fingers stilled, then continued their work. “My mother taught me and my sister, and her mother taught her before that.”
“Have you always been at the Spring Court?”
“No,” she said, pinning my hair in various, subtle places. “No, we were originally from the Summer Court—that’s where my kin still dwells.”
“How’d you wind up here?”
Alis met my eyes in the mirror, her lips a tight line. “I made a choice to come here—and my kin thought me mad. But my sister and her mate had been killed, and for her boys …” She coughed, as if choking on the words. “I came here to do what I could.” She patted my shoulder. “Have a look.”
I dared a glimpse at my reflection.
I hurried from the room before I could lose my nerve.
I had to keep my hands clenched at my sides to avoid wiping my sweaty palms on the skirts of my gown as I reached the dining room, and immediately contemplated bolting upstairs and changing into a tunic and pants. But I knew they’d already heard me, or smelled me, or used whatever heightened senses they had to detect my presence, and since fleeing would only make it worse, I found it in myself to push open the double doors.
Whatever discussion Tamlin and Lucien had been having stopped, and I tried not to look at their wide eyes as I strode to my usual place at the end of the table.
“Well, I’m late for something incredibly important,” Lucien said, and before I could call him on his outright lie or beg him to stay, the fox-masked faerie vanished.
I could feel the full weight of Tamlin’s undivided attention on me—on every breath and movement I took. I studied the candelabras atop the mantel beside the table. I had nothing to say that didn’t sound absurd—yet for some reason, my mouth decided to start moving.
“You’re so far away.” I gestured to the expanse of table between us. “It’s like you’re in another room.”
The quarters of the table vanished, leaving Tamlin not two feet away, sitting at an infinitely more intimate table. I yelped and almost tipped over in my chair. He laughed as I gaped at the small table that now stood between us. “Better?” he asked.
I ignored the metallic tang of magic as I said, “How … how did you do that? Where did it go?”
He cocked his head. “Between. Think of it as … a broom closet tucked between pockets of the world.” He flexed his hands and rolled his neck, as if shaking off some pain.
“Does it tax you?” Sweat seemed to gleam on the strong column of his neck.
He stopped flexing his hands and set them flat on the table. “Once, it was as easy as breathing. But now … it requires concentration.”
Because of the blight on Prythian and the toll it had taken on him. “You could have just taken a closer seat,” I said.
Tamlin gave me a lazy grin. “And miss a chance to show off to a beautiful woman? Never.” I smiled down at my plate.
“You do look beautiful,” he said quietly. “I mean it,” he added when my mouth twisted to the side. “Didn’t you look in the mirror?”
Though his bruise still marred my neck, I had looked pretty. Feminine. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a beauty, but … I hadn’t cringed. A few months here had done wonders for the awkward sharpness and angles of my face. And I dared say that some kind of light had crept into my eyes—my eyes, not my mother’s eyes or Nesta’s eyes. Mine.
“Thank you,” I said, and was grateful to avoid saying anything else as he served me and then himself. When my stomach was full to bursting, I dared to look at him—really look at him—again.
Tamlin leaned back in his chair, yet his shoulders were tight, his mouth a thin line. He hadn’t been called to the border in a few days—hadn’t come back weary and covered in blood since before Fire Night. And yet … He’d grieved for that nameless Summer Court faerie with the hacked-off wings. What grief and burdens did he bear for whoever else had been lost in this conflict—lost to the blight, or to the attacks on the borders? High Lord—a position he hadn’t wanted or expected, yet he’d been forced to bear its weight as best he could.