Amarantha laughed, and a mask of stone slammed down on Tamlin’s face, void of feeling, void of anything vaguely like the Tamlin I’d been tangled up with moments before.
Rhys casually released me with a flick of his tongue over my bottom lip as a crowd of High Fae appeared behind Amarantha and chimed in with her laughter. Rhysand gave them a lazy, self-indulgent grin and bowed. But something sparked in the queen’s eyes as she looked at Rhysand. Amarantha’s whore, they’d called him.
“I knew it was a matter of time,” she said, putting a hand on Tamlin’s arm. The other she lifted—lifted so Jurian’s eye might see as she said, “You humans are all the same, aren’t you.”
I kept my mouth shut, even as I could have died for shame, even as I ached to explain. Tamlin had to realize the truth.
But I wasn’t given the luxury of learning whether Tamlin understood as Amarantha clicked her tongue and turned away, taking her entourage with her. “Typical human trash with their inconstant, dull hearts,” she said to herself—nothing more than a satisfied cat.
Following them, Rhys grabbed my arm to drag me back into the throne room. It was only when the light hit me that I saw the smudges and smears on my paint—smudges along my breasts and stomach, and the paint that had mysteriously appeared on Rhysand’s hands.
“I’m tired of you for tonight,” Rhys said, giving me a light shove toward the main exit. “Go back to your cell.” Behind him, Amarantha and her court smiled with glee, their grins widening when they beheld the marred paint. I looked for Tamlin, but he was stalking for his usual throne on the dais, keeping his back to me. As if he couldn’t stand to look.
I don’t know what time it was, but hours later, footsteps sounded inside my cell. I jolted into a sitting position, and Rhys stepped out of a shadow.
I could still feel the heat of his lips against mine, the smooth glide of his tongue inside my mouth, even though I’d washed my mouth out three times with the bucket of water in my cell.
His tunic was unbuttoned at the top, and he ran a hand through his blue-black hair before he wordlessly slumped against the wall across from me and slid to the floor.
“What do you want?” I demanded.
“A moment of peace and quiet,” he snapped, rubbing his temples.
I paused. “From what?”
He massaged his pale skin, making the corners of his eyes go up and down, out and in. He sighed. “From this mess.”
I sat up farther on my pallet of hay. I’d never seen him so candid.
“That damned bitch is running me ragged,” he went on, and dropped his hands from his temples to lean his head against the wall. “You hate me. Imagine how you’d feel if I made you serve in my bedroom. I’m High Lord of the Night Court—not her harlot.”
So the slurs were true. And I could imagine very easily how much I would hate him—what it would do to me—to be enslaved to someone like that. “Why are you telling me this?”
The swagger and nastiness were gone. “Because I’m tired and lonely, and you’re the only person I can talk to without putting myself at risk.” He let out a low laugh. “How absurd: a High Lord of Prythian and a—”
“You can leave if you’re just going to insult me.”
“But I’m so good at it.” He flashed one of his grins. I glared at him, but he sighed. “One wrong move tomorrow, Feyre, and we’re all doomed.”
The thought struck a chord of such horror that I could hardly breathe.
“And if you fail,” he went on, more to himself than to me, “then Amarantha will rule forever.”
“If she captured Tamlin’s power once, who’s to say she can’t do it again?” It was the question I hadn’t yet dared voice.
“He won’t be tricked again so easily,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. “Her biggest weapon is that she keeps our powers contained. But she can’t access them, not wholly—though she can control us through them. It’s why I’ve never been able to shatter her mind—why she’s not dead already. The moment you break Amarantha’s curse, Tamlin’s wrath will be so great that no force in the world will keep him from splattering her on the walls.”
A chill went through me.
“Why do you think I’m doing this?” He waved a hand to me.
“Because you’re a monster.”
He laughed. “True, but I’m also a pragmatist. Working Tamlin into a senseless fury is the best weapon we have against her. Seeing you enter into a fool’s bargain with Amarantha was one thing, but when Tamlin saw my tattoo on your arm … Oh, you should have been born with my abilities, if only to have felt the rage that seeped from him.”
I didn’t want to think much about his abilities. “Who’s to say he won’t splatter you as well?”
“Perhaps he’ll try—but I have a feeling he’ll kill Amarantha first. That’s what it all boils down to, anyway: even your servitude to me can be blamed on her. So he’ll kill her tomorrow, and I’ll be free before he can start a fight with me that will reduce our once-sacred mountain to rubble.” He picked at his nails. “And I have a few other cards to play.”
I lifted my brows in silent question.
“Feyre, for Cauldron’s sake. I drug you, but you don’t wonder why I never touch you beyond your waist or arms?”
Until tonight—until that damned kiss. I gritted my teeth, but even as my anger rose, a picture cleared.
“It’s the only claim I have to innocence,” he said, “the only thing that will make Tamlin think twice before entering into a battle with me that would cause a catastrophic loss of innocent life. It’s the only way I can convince him I was on your side. Believe me, I would have liked nothing more than to enjoy you—but there are bigger things at stake than taking a human woman to my bed.”
I knew, but I still asked, “Like what?”
“Like my territory,” he said, and his eyes held a far-off look that I hadn’t yet seen. “Like my remaining people, enslaved to a tyrant queen who can end their lives with a single word. Surely Tamlin expressed similar sentiments to you.” He hadn’t—not entirely. He hadn’t been able to, thanks to the curse.
“Why did Amarantha target you?” I dared ask. “Why make you her whore?”
“Beyond the obvious?” He gestured to his perfect face. When I didn’t smile, he loosed a breath. “My father killed Tamlin’s father—and his brothers.”