The Faerie Queen straightened a little bit—even Jurian’s eye seemed fixed on me, on Rhysand. For the rest of my life—he said it as if it were going to be a long, long while.
He thought I was going to beat her tasks.
I stared at his profile, at the elegant nose and sensuous lips. Games—Rhysand liked to play games, and it seemed I was now to be a key player in whatever this one was.
“Enjoy my party” was Amarantha’s only reply as she toyed with the bone at the end of her necklace. Dismissed, Rhysand put a hand on my back to steer us away, to turn me from Tamlin, who still gripped the throne.
The crowd kept a good distance, and I couldn’t acknowledge any of them, out of fear I might have to look at Tamlin again, or might spy Lucien—glimpse the expression on his face when he beheld me.
I kept my chin up. I wouldn’t let the others notice that weakness—wouldn’t let them know how much it killed me to be so exposed to them, to have Rhysand’s symbols painted over nearly every inch of my skin, to have Tamlin see me so debased.
Rhysand stopped before a table laden with exquisite foods. The High Fae around it quickly cleared away. If there were any other members of the Night Court present, they didn’t ripple with darkness the way Rhysand and his servants did; didn’t dare approach him. The music grew loud enough to suggest there was probably dancing somewhere in the room. “Wine?” he said, offering me a goblet.
Alis’s first rule. I shook my head.
He smiled, and extended the goblet again. “Drink. You’ll need it.”
Drink, my mind echoed, and my fingers stirred, moving toward the goblet. No. No, Alis said not to drink the wine here—wine that was different from that joyous, freeing solstice wine. “No,” I said, and some faeries who were watching us from a safe distance chuckled.
“Drink,” he said, and my traitorous fingers latched onto the goblet.
I awoke in my cell, still clad in that handkerchief he called a dress. Everything was spinning so badly that I barely made it to the corner before I vomited. Again. And again. When I’d emptied my stomach, I crawled to the opposite corner of the cell and collapsed.
Sleep came fitfully as the world continued to twirl violently around me. I was tied to a spinning wheel, going around and around and around—
Needless to say, I was sick a fair amount that day.
I’d just finished picking at the hot dinner that had appeared moments before when the door creaked and a golden fox-face appeared—along with a narrowed metal eye. “Shit,” said Lucien. “It’s freezing in here.”
It was, but I was too nauseated to notice. Keeping my head up was an effort, let alone keeping the food down. He unclasped his cloak and set it around my shoulders. Its heavy warmth leaked into me. “Look at all this,” he said, staring at the paint on me. Thankfully, it was all intact, save for a few places on my waist. “Bastard.”
“What happened?” I got out, even though I wasn’t sure I truly wanted the answer. My memory was a dark blur of wild music.
Lucien drew back. “I don’t think you want to know.” I studied the few smudges on my waist, marks that looked like hands had held me.
“Who did that to me?” I asked quietly, my eyes tracing the arc of the spoiled paint.
“Who do you think?”
My heart clenched and I looked at the floor. “Did—did Tamlin see it?”
Lucien nodded. “Rhys was only doing it to get a rise out of him.”
“Did it work?” I still couldn’t look Lucien in the face. I knew, at least, that I hadn’t been violated beyond touching my sides. The paint told me that much.
“No,” Lucien said, and I smiled grimly.
“What—what was I doing the whole time?” So much for Alis’s warning.
Lucien let out a sharp breath, running a hand through his red hair. “He had you dance for him for most of the night. And when you weren’t dancing, you were sitting in his lap.”
“What kind of dancing?” I pushed.
“Not the kind you were doing with Tamlin on Solstice,” Lucien said, and my face heated. From the murkiness of my memories of last night, I recalled the closeness of a certain pair of violet eyes—eyes that sparkled with mischief as they beheld me.
“In front of everyone?”
“Yes,” Lucien replied—more gently than I’d heard him speak to me before. I stiffened. I didn’t want his pity. He sighed and grabbed my left arm, examining the tattoo. “What were you thinking? Didn’t you know I’d come as soon as I could?”
I yanked my arm from him. “I was dying! I had a fever—I was barely able to keep conscious! How was I supposed to know you’d come? That you even understood how quickly humans can die of that sort of thing? You told me you hesitated that time with the naga.”
“I swore an oath to Tamlin—”
“I had no other choice! You think I’m going to trust you after everything you said to me at the manor?”
“I risked my neck for you during your task. Was that not enough?” His metal eye whirred softly. “You offered up your name for me—after all that I said to you, all I did, you still offered up your name. Didn’t you realize I would help you after that? Oath or no oath?”
I hadn’t realized it would mean anything to him at all. “I had no other choice,” I said again, breathing hard.
“Don’t you understand what Rhys is?”
“I do!” I barked, then sighed. “I do,” I repeated, and glared at the eye in my palm. “It’s done with. So you needn’t hold to whatever oath you swore to Tamlin to protect me—or feel like you owe me anything for saving you from Amarantha. I would have done it just to wipe the smirk off your brothers’ faces.”
Lucien clicked his tongue, but his remaining russet eye shone. “I’m glad to see you didn’t sell your lively human spirit or stubbornness to Rhys.”
“Just a week of my life every month.”
“Yes, well—we’ll see about that when the time comes,” he growled, that metal eye flicking to the door. He stood. “I should go. The rotation’s about to shift.”
He made it a step before I said, “I’m sorry—that she still punished you for helping me during my task. I heard—” My throat tightened. “I heard what she made Tamlin do to you.” He shrugged, but I added, “Thank you. For helping me, I mean.”