Tamlin continued cleaning his nails, and in front of me, Lucien assumed a position of appearing to be looking out the window. The footsteps grew louder—the scuff of boots on marble tiles.
And then he appeared.
No mask. He, like the Attor, belonged to something else. Someone else.
And worse … I’d met him before. He’d saved me from those three faeries on Fire Night.
With steps that were too graceful, too feline, he approached the dining table and stopped a few yards from the High Lord. He was exactly as I remembered him, with his fine, rich clothing cloaked in tendrils of night: an ebony tunic brocaded with gold and silver, dark pants, and black boots that went to his knees. I’d never dared to paint him—and now knew I would never have the nerve to.
“High Lord,” the stranger crooned, inclining his head slightly. Not a bow.
Tamlin remained seated. With his back to me, I couldn’t see his face, but Tamlin’s voice was laced with the promise of violence as he said, “What do you want, Rhysand?”
Rhysand smiled—heartbreaking in its beauty—and put a hand on his chest. “Rhysand? Come now, Tamlin. I don’t see you for forty-nine years, and you start calling me Rhysand? Only my prisoners and my enemies call me that.” His grin widened as he finished, and something in his countenance turned feral and deadly, more so than I’d ever seen Tamlin look. Rhysand turned, and I held my breath as he ran an eye over Lucien. “A fox mask. Appropriate for you, Lucien.”
“Go to Hell, Rhys,” Lucien snapped.
“Always a pleasure dealing with the rabble,” Rhysand said, and faced Tamlin again. I still didn’t breathe. “I hope I wasn’t interrupting.”
“We were in the middle of lunch,” Tamlin said—his voice void of the warmth to which I’d become accustomed. The voice of the High Lord. It turned my insides cold.
“Stimulating,” Rhysand purred.
“What are you doing here, Rhys?” Tamlin demanded, still in his seat.
“I wanted to check up on you. I wanted to see how you were faring. If you got my little present.”
“Your present was unnecessary.”
“But a nice reminder of the fun days, wasn’t it?” Rhysand clicked his tongue and surveyed the room. “Almost half a century holed up in a country estate. I don’t know how you managed it. But,” he said, facing Tamlin again, “you’re such a stubborn b*****d that this must have seemed like a paradise compared to Under the Mountain. I suppose it is. I’m surprised, though: forty-nine years, and no attempts to save yourself or your lands. Even now that things are getting interesting again.”
“There’s nothing to be done,” conceded Tamlin, his voice low.
Rhysand approached Tamlin, each movement smooth as silk. His voice dropped into a whisper—an erotic caress of sound that brought heat to my cheeks. “What a pity that you must endure the brunt of it, Tamlin—and an even greater pity that you’re so resigned to your fate. You might be stubborn, but this is pathetic. How different the High Lord is from the brutal war-band leader of centuries ago.”
Lucien interrupted, “What do you know about anything? You’re just Amarantha’s w***e.”
“Her w***e I might be, but not without my reasons.” I flinched as his voice whetted itself into an edge. “At least I haven’t bided my time among the hedges and flowers while the world has gone to Hell.”
Lucien’s sword rose slightly. “If you think that’s all I’ve been doing, you’ll soon learn otherwise.”
“Little Lucien. You certainly gave them something to talk about when you switched to Spring. Such a sad thing, to see your lovely mother in perpetual mourning over losing you.”
Lucien pointed his sword at Rhysand. “Watch your filthy mouth.”
Rhysand laughed—a lover’s laugh, low and soft and intimate. “Is that any way to speak to a High Lord of Prythian?”
My heart stopped dead. That was why those faeries had run off on Fire Night. To cross him would have been suicide. And from the way darkness seemed to ripple from him, from those violet eyes that burned like stars …
“Come now, Tamlin,” Rhysand said. “Shouldn’t you reprimand your lackey for speaking to me like that?”
“I don’t enforce rank in my court,” Tamlin said.
“Still?” Rhysand crossed his arms. “But it’s so entertaining when they grovel. I suppose your father never bothered to show you.”
“This isn’t the Night Court,” Lucien hissed. “And you have no power here—so clear out. Amarantha’s bed is growing cold.”
I tried not to breathe too loudly. Rhysand—he’d been the one to send that head. As a gift. I flinched. Was the Night Court where this woman—this Amarantha—was located, too?
Rhysand snickered, but then he was upon Lucien, too fast for me to follow with my human eyes, growling in his face. Lucien pressed me into the wall with his back, hard enough that I stifled a cry as I was squished against the wood.
“I was slaughtering on the battlefield before you were even born,” Rhysand snarled. Then, as quickly as he had come, he withdrew, casual and careless. No, I would never dare to paint that dark, immortal grace—not in a hundred years. “Besides,” he said, stuffing his hands into his pockets, “who do you think taught your beloved Tamlin the finer aspects of swords and females? You can’t truly believe he learned everything in his father’s little war-camps.”
Tamlin rubbed his temples. “Save it for another time, Rhys. You’ll see me soon enough.”
Rhysand meandered toward the door. “She’s already preparing for you. Given your current state, I think I can safely report that you’ve already been broken and will reconsider her offer.” Lucien’s breath hitched as Rhysand passed the table. The High Lord of the Night Court ran a finger along the back of my chair—a casual gesture. “I’m looking forward to seeing your face when you—”
Rhysand studied the table.
Lucien went stick-straight, pressing me harder against the wall. The table was still set for three, my half-eaten plate of food sitting right before him.
“Where’s your guest?” Rhysand asked, lifting my goblet and sniffing it before setting it down again.
“I sent them off when I sensed your arrival,” Tamlin lied coolly.
Rhysand now faced the High Lord, and his perfect face was void of emotion before his brows rose. A flicker of excitement—perhaps even disbelief—flashed across his features, but he whipped his head to Lucien. Magic seared my nostrils, and I stared at Rhysand in undiluted terror as his face contorted with rage.