I couldn’t look away from him. “I thought about sending you away at first,” he murmured. “Part of me still thinks I should have found somewhere else for you to live. But maybe I was selfish. Even when you made it so clear that you were more interested in ignoring the Treaty or finding a way out of it, I couldn’t bring myself to let you go—to find someplace in Prythian where you’d be comfortable enough to not attempt to flee.”
He picked up the small painting of the frozen forest and examined it again. “I’ve had many lovers,” he admitted. “Females of noble birth, warriors, princesses …” Rage hit me, low and deep in the gut at the thought of them—rage at their titles, their undoubtedly good looks, at their closeness to him. “But they never understood. What it was like, what it is like, for me to care for my people, my lands. What scars are still there, what the bad days feel like.” That wrathful jealousy faded away like morning dew as he smiled at my painting. “This reminds me of it.”
“Of what?” I breathed.
He lowered the painting, looking right at me, right into me. “That I’m not alone.”
I didn’t lock my bedroom door that night.
The next afternoon I lay on my back in the grass, savoring the warmth of the sunshine filtering through the canopy of leaves, noting how I might incorporate it into my next painting. Lucien, claiming that he had miserable emissary business to attend to, had left Tamlin and me to our own devices, and the High Lord had taken me to yet another beautiful spot in his enchanted forest.
But there were no enchantments here—no pools of starlight, no rainbow waterfalls. It was just a grassy glen watched over by a weeping willow, with a clear brook running through it. We lounged in comfortable silence, and I glanced at Tamlin, who dozed beside me. His golden hair and mask glistened bright against the emerald carpet. The delicate arch of his pointed ears made me pause.
He opened an eye and smiled lazily at me. “That willow’s singing always puts me to sleep.”
“The what of what?” I said, propping myself on my elbows to stare at the tree above us.
Tamlin pointed toward the willow. The branches sighed as they moved in the breeze. “It sings.”
“I suppose it sings war-camp limericks, too?”
He smiled and half sat up, twisting to look at me. “You’re human,” he said, and I rolled my eyes. “Your senses are still sealed off from everything.”
I made a face. “Just another of my many shortcomings.” But the word—shortcomings—had somehow stopped finding its mark.
He plucked a strand of grass from my hair. Heat radiated from my face as his fingers grazed my cheek. “I could make you able to see it,” he said. His fingers lingered at the end of my braid, twirling the curl of hair around. “See my world—hear it, smell it.” My breathing became shallow as he sat up. “Taste it.” His eyes flicked to the fading bruise on my neck.
“How?” I asked, heat blooming as he crouched before me.
“Every gift comes with a price.” I frowned, and he grinned. “A kiss.”
“Absolutely not!” But my blood raced, and I had to clench my hands in the grass to keep from touching him. “Don’t you think it puts me at a disadvantage to not be able to see all this?”
“I’m one of the High Fae—we don’t give anything without gaining something from it.”
To my own surprise, I said, “Fine.”
He blinked, probably expecting me to have fought a little harder. I hid my smile and sat up so that I faced him, our knees touching as we knelt in the grass. I licked my lips, my heart fluttering so quickly it felt as if I had a hummingbird inside my chest.
“Close your eyes,” he said, and I obeyed, my fingers grappling onto the grass. The birds chattered, and the willow branches sighed. The grass crunched as Tamlin rose up on his knees. I braced myself at the brush of his mouth on one of my eyelids, then on the other. He pulled away, and I was left breathless, the kisses still lingering on my skin.
The singing of birds became an orchestra—a symphony of gossip and mirth. I’d never heard so many layers of music, never heard the variations and themes that wove between their arpeggios. And beyond the birdsong, there was an ethereal melody—a woman, melancholy and weary … the willow. Gasping, I opened my eyes.
The world had become richer, clearer. The brook was a near-invisible rainbow of water that flowed over stones as invitingly smooth as silk. The trees were clothed in a faint shimmer that radiated from their centers and danced along the edges of their leaves. There was no tangy metallic stench—no, the smell of magic had become like jasmine, like lilac, like roses. I would never be able to paint it, the richness, the feel … Maybe fractions of it, but not the whole thing.
Magic—everything was magic, and it broke my heart.
I looked to Tamlin, and my heart cracked entirely.
It was Tamlin, but not. Rather, it was the Tamlin I’d dreamed of. His skin gleamed with a golden sheen, and around his head glowed a circlet of sunshine. And his eyes—
Not merely green and gold, but every hue and variation that could be imagined, as though every leaf in the forest had bled into one shade. This was a High Lord of Prythian—devastatingly handsome, captivating, powerful beyond belief.
My breath caught in my throat as I touched the contours of his mask. The cool metal bit into my fingertips, and the emeralds slipped against my callused skin. I lifted my other hand and gently grasped either side of the mask. I pulled lightly.
It wouldn’t move.
He began smiling as I pulled again, and I blinked, dropping my hands. Instantly, the golden, glowing Tamlin vanished, and the one I knew returned. I could still hear the singing of the willow and the birds, but …
“Why can’t I see you anymore?”
“Because I willed my glamour back into place.”
“Glamour for what?”
“To look normal. Or as normal as I can look with this damned thing,” he added, gesturing to the mask. “Being a High Lord, even one with … limited powers, comes with physical markers, too. It’s why I couldn’t hide what I was becoming from my brothers—from anyone. It’s still easier to blend in.”
“But the mask truly can’t come off—I mean, are you sure there’s no one who knows how to fix what the magic did that night? Even someone in another court?” I don’t know why the mask bothered me so greatly. I didn’t need to see his entire face to know him.