I let out a stark laugh. “Nesta,” I said, and she went rigid. I laughed again. “Nesta, don’t you recognize your own sister?”
Elain gasped. “Feyre?” She reached for me, but paused. “What of Aunt Ripleigh, then? Is she … dead?”
That was the story, I remembered—that I’d gone to care for a long-lost, wealthy aunt. I nodded slowly. Nesta took in my clothes and carriage, the pearls that were woven into her gold-brown hair gleaming in the sunlight. “She left you her fortune,” Nesta stated flatly. It wasn’t a question.
“Feyre, you should have told us!” Elain said, still gaping. “Oh, how awful—and you had to endure losing her all on your own, you poor thing. Father will be devastated that he didn’t get to pay his respects.”
Such … such simple things: relatives dying and fortunes being left and paying respect to the dead. And yet—yet … a weight I hadn’t realized I’d still been carrying eased. These were the only things that worried them now.
“Why are you being so quiet?” Nesta said, keeping her distance.
I’d forgotten how cunning her eyes were, how cold. She’d been made differently, from something harder and stronger than bone and blood. She was as different from the humans around us as I had become.
“I’m … glad to see how well your own fortunes have improved,” I managed. “What happened?” The driver—glamoured to look human, no mask in sight—began unloading trunks for the footmen. I hadn’t known Tamlin had sent me off with belongings.
Elain beamed. “Didn’t you get our letters?” She didn’t remember—or maybe she’d never actually known, then, that I wouldn’t have been able to read them, anyway. When I shook my head, she complained about the uselessness of the post and then said, “Oh, you’ll never believe it! Almost a week after you went to care for Aunt Ripleigh, some stranger appeared at our door and asked Father to invest his money for him! Father was hesitant because the offer was so good, but the stranger insisted, so Father did it. He gave us a trunk of gold just for agreeing! Within a month, he’d doubled the man’s investment, and then money started pouring in. And you know what? All those ships we lost were found in Bharat, complete with Father’s profits!”
Tamlin—Tamlin had done that for them. I ignored the growing hollowness in my chest.
“Feyre, you look as dumbfounded as we were,” Elain said, hooking elbows with me. “Come inside. We’ll show you the house! We don’t have a room decorated for you, because we thought you’d be with poor old Aunt Ripleigh for months yet, but we have so many bedrooms that you can sleep in a different one each night if you wish!”
I glanced over my shoulder at Nesta, who watched me with a carefully blank face. So she hadn’t married Tomas Mandray after all.
“Father will likely faint when he sees you,” Elain babbled on, patting my hand as she escorted me toward the main door. “Oh, maybe he’ll throw a ball in your honor, too!”
Nesta fell into step behind us, a quiet, stalking presence. I didn’t want to know what she was thinking. I wasn’t certain whether I should be furious or relieved that they’d gotten on so well without me—and whether Nesta was wondering the same.
Horseshoes clopped, and the carriage began ambling down the driveway—away from me, back to my true home, back to Tamlin. It took all my will to keep from running after it.
He had said he loved me, and I’d felt the truth of it with our lovemaking, and he’d sent me away to keep me safe; he’d freed me from the Treaty to keep me safe. Because whatever storm was about to break in Prythian was brutal enough that even a High Lord couldn’t stand against it.
I had to stay; it was wise to stay here. But I couldn’t fight the sensation, like a darkening shadow within me, that I’d made a very, very big mistake in leaving, no matter Tamlin’s orders. Stay with the High Lord, the Suriel had said. Its only command.
I shoved the thought from my mind as my father wept at the sight of me and did indeed order a ball in my honor. And though I knew that the promise I had once made to my mother was fulfilled—though I knew that I truly was free of it, and that my family was forever cared for … that growing, lengthening shadow blanketed my heart.
Inventing stories about my time with Aunt Ripleigh required minimal effort: I read to her daily, she instructed me on deportment from her bedside, and I nursed her until she died in her sleep two weeks ago, leaving her fortune to me.
And what a tremendous fortune it was: the trunks that accompanied me hadn’t contained just clothing—several of them had been filled with gold and jewels. Not cut jewels, either, but enormous, raw jewels that would pay for a thousand estates.
My father was currently taking inventory of those jewels; he’d holed himself up in the office that overlooked the garden in which I was sitting beside Elain in the grass. Through the window, I spied my father hunched over his desk, a little scale before him as he weighed an uncut ruby the size of a duck’s egg. He was clear-eyed again, and moved with a sense of purpose, of vibrancy, that I hadn’t seen since before the downfall. Even his limp was improved—made miraculously better by some tonic and a salve a strange, passing healer had given him for free. I would have been forever grateful to Tamlin for that kindness alone.
Gone were his hunched shoulders and downcast, misty eyes. My father smiled freely, laughed readily, and doted on Elain, who in turn doted on him. Nesta, though, had been quiet and watchful, only giving Elain answers not longer than a word or two.
“These bulbs,” Elain said, pointing with a gloved hand to a cluster of purple-and-white flowers, “came all the way from the tulip fields of the continent. Father promised that next spring he’ll take me to see them. He claims that for mile after mile, there’s nothing but these flowers.” She patted the rich, dark soil. The little garden beneath the window was hers: every bloom and shrub had been picked and planted by her hand; she would allow no one else to care for it. Even the weeding and watering she did on her own.
Though the servants did help her carry over the heavy watering cans, she admitted. She would have marveled—likely wept—at the gardens I’d become so accustomed to, at the flowers in perpetual bloom at the Spring Court.
“You should come with me,” Elain went on. “Nesta won’t go, because she says she doesn’t want to risk the sea crossing, but you and I … Oh, we’d have fun, wouldn’t we?”