Fallen Too Far (Too Far #1) Everfound (Skinjacker #3)

Despite the heat and sun, Elide shuddered. Clenched her teeth, bottling up all the words that swelled within her. Find someone else. Find a way to use your own powers to forge the Lock. Find a way to accept your fates to be trapped in this world, so we neednt pay a debt that wasnt ours to begin with.

Members of the Högdragen had a pair of iron shackles on the back of their belts in case they needed to restrain someone, and Elliot pulled them out now. He walked over to his friend, giving Kasper an apologetic look before locking the cuff around his wrist.Then Elliot moved on to me, meaning to lock the other cuff around my wrist, but I pulled away.

Your Highness, please, you have to listen to me, I persisted.I am the Queen. Mina sneered. How dare you tell me what I have to do.It was then that I realized my pleas were falling on deaf ears. There was no point in fighting, and I let Elliot arrest me.

The iron shackle around my wrist felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Kasper and I walked with our heads down, saying nothing because there was nothing to say. Another guard had joined Elliot, in case we decided to put up a fight, and the four of us walked in silence through the cold corridors of the palace.I heard hushed whispers as we walked by, but I never looked up to see who was speaking. As defeated as I felt, my mind raced to figure out how to get out of the situation. My father might be able to leverage his position as the Chancellor to get us free, and while I normally hated nepotism, I didnt want Kasper to spend years in prison for a crime he hadnt committed.

Both of us would most certainly lose our careers, but if we were lucky we might not have to forfeit our lives. There was a chance King Evert might not act as harshly as his wife, so hopefully we wouldnt end up in prison for life or exiled.

The highest punishment for treason was execution, but I had to believe it wouldnt come to that.And before the crowd could begin murmuring, I felt it. Felt—him. The very rock beneath my feet seemed to tremble—a pulsing, steady beat. His footsteps. As if the mountain shuddered at each touch. Everyone in that room went still as death. As if petrified that their very breathing would draw the attention of the predator now strolling toward us. Mors shoulders were back, her chin high—feral, wanton pride at her masters arrival. Remembering my role, I kept my own chin lowered, watching beneath my brows. First Cassian and Azriel appeared in the doorway. The High Lords general and shadowsinger—and the most powerful Illyrians in history. They were not the males I had come to know. Clad in battle-black that hugged their muscled forms, their armor was intricate, scaled—their shoulders impossibly broader, their faces a portrait of unfeeling brutality. They reminded me, somehow, of the ebony beasts carved into the pillars they passed. More Siphons, I realized, glimmered in addition to the ones atop each of their hands. A Siphon in the center of their chest. One on either shoulder. One on either knee. For a moment, my knees quaked, and I understood what the camp-lords had feared in them. If one Siphon was what most Illyrians needed to handle their killing power … Cassian and Azriel had seven each. Seven. The courtiers had the good sense to back away a step as Cassian and Azriel strolled through the crowd, toward the dais. Their wings gleamed, the talons at the apex sharp enough to pierce air—like theyd honed them. Cassians focus had gone right to Mor, Azriel indulging in all of a glance before scanning the people around them. Most shirked from the spymasters eyes—though they trembled as they beheld Truth-Teller at his side, the Illyrian blade peeking above his left shoulder. Azriel, his face a mask of beautiful death, silently promised them all endless, unyielding torment, even the shadows shuddering in his wake. I knew why; knew for whom hed gladly do it. They had tried to sell a seventeen-year-old girl into marriage with a sadist—and then brutalized her in ways I couldnt, wouldnt, let myself consider. And these people now lived in utter terror of the three companions who stood at the dais. Good. They should be afraid of them. Afraid of me. And then Rhysand appeared. He had released the damper on his power, on who he was. His power filled the throne room, the castle, the mountain. The world. It had no end and no beginning. No wings. No weapons. No sign of the warrior. Nothing but the elegant, cruel High Lord the world believed him to be. His hands were in his pockets, his black tunic seeming to gobble up the light. And on his head sat a crown of stars. No sign of the male who had been drinking on the roof; no sign of the fallen prince kneeling on his bed. The full impact of him threatened to sweep me away. Here—here was the most powerful High Lord ever born. The face of dreams and nightmares. Rhyss eyes met mine briefly from across the room as he strolled between the pillars. To the throne that was his by blood and sacrifice and might. My own blood sang at the power that thrummed from him, at the sheer beauty of him. Mor stepped off the dais, dropping to one knee in a smooth bow. Cassian and Azriel followed suit. So did everyone in that room. Including me. The ebony floor was so polished I could see my red-painted lips in it; see my own expressionless face. The room was so silent I could hear each of Rhyss footsteps toward us. Well, well, he said to no one in particular. Looks like youre all on time for once. Raising his head as he continued kneeling, Cassian gave Rhys a half grin—the High Lords commander incarnate, eager to do his bloodletting. Rhyss boots stopped in my line of sight. His fingers were icy on my chin as he lifted my face. The entire room, still on the floor, watched. But this was the role he needed me to play. To be a distraction and novelty. Rhyss lips curved upward. Welcome to my home, Feyre Cursebreaker. I lowered my eyes, my kohl-thick lashes tickling my cheek. He clicked his tongue, his grip on my chin tightening. Everyone noticed the push of his fingers, the predatory angle of his head as he said, Come with me. A tug on my chin, and I rose to my feet. Rhys dragged his eyes over me and I wondered if it wasnt entirely for show as they glazed a bit. He led me the few steps onto the dais—to the throne. He sat, smiling faintly at his monstrous court. He owned every inch of the throne. These people. And with a tug on my waist, he perched me on his lap. The High Lords whore. Who Id become Under the Mountain—who the world expected me to be. The dangerous new pet that Mors father would now seek to feel out. Rhyss hand slid along my bare waist, the other running down my exposed thigh. Cold—his hands were so cold I almost yelped. He must have felt the silent flinch. A heartbeat later, his hands had warmed. His thumb, curving around the inside of my thigh, gave a slow, long stroke as if to say Sorry. Rhys indeed leaned in to bring his mouth near my ear, well aware his subjects had not yet risen from the floor. As if they had once done so before they were bidden, long ago, and had learned the consequences. Rhysand whispered to me, his other hand now stroking the bare skin of my ribs in lazy, indolent circles, Try not to let it go to your head. I knew they could all hear it. So did he. I stared at their bowed heads, my heart hammering, but said with midnight smoothness, What? Rhyss breath caressed my ear, the twin to the breath hed brushed against it merely an hour ago in the skies. That every male in here is contemplating what theyd be willing to give up in order to get that pretty, red mouth of yours on them.

I waited for the blush, the shyness, to creep in. But I was beautiful. I was strong. I had survived—triumphed. As Mor had survived in this horrible, poisoned house … So I smiled a bit, the first smile of my new mask. Let them see that pretty, red mouth, and my white, straight teeth. His hand slid higher up my thigh, the proprietary touch of a male who knew he owned someone body and soul. Hed apologized in advance for it—for this game, these roles wed have to play. But I leaned into that touch, leaned back into his hard, warm body. I was pressed so closely against him that I could feel the deep rumble of his voice as he at last said to his court, Rise. As one, they did. I smirked at some of them, gloriously bored and infinitely amused. Rhys brushed a knuckle along the inside of my knee, and every nerve in my body narrowed to that touch. Go play, he said to them all. They obeyed, the crowd dispersing, music striking up from a distant corner. Keir, Rhys said, his voice cutting through the room like lightning on a stormy night. It was all he needed to summon Mors father to the foot of the dais. Keir bowed again, his face lined with icy resentment as he took in Rhys, then me—glancing once at Mor and the Illyrians. Cassian gave Keir a slow nod that told him he remembered—and would never forget—what the Steward of the Hewn City had done to his own daughter. But it was from Azriel that Keir cringed. From the sight of Truth-Teller. One day, I realized, Azriel would use that blade on Mors father. And take a long, long while to carve him up. Report, Rhys said, stroking a knuckle down my ribs. He gave a dismissive nod to Cassian, Mor, and Azriel, and the trio faded away into the crowd. Within a heartbeat, Azriel had vanished into shadows and was gone. Keir didnt even turn. Before Rhys, Keir was nothing more than a sullen child. Yet I knew Mors father was older. Far older. The Steward clung to power, it seemed. Rhys was power. Greetings, milord, Keir said, his deep voice polished smooth. And greetings to your … guest. Rhyss hand flattened on my thigh as he angled his head to look at me. She is lovely, isnt she? Indeed, Keir said, lowering his eyes. There is little to report, milord. All has been quiet since your last visit. No one for me to punish? A cat playing with his food. Unless youd like for me to select someone here, no, milord. Rhys clicked his tongue. Pity. He again surveyed me, then leaned to tug my earlobe with his teeth. And damn me to hell, but I leaned farther back as his teeth pressed down at the same moment his thumb drifted high on the side of my thigh, sweeping across sensitive skin in a long, luxurious touch. My body went loose and tight, and my breathing … Cauldron damn me again, the scent of him, the citrus and the sea, the power roiling off him … my breathing hitched a bit. I knew he noticed; knew he felt that shift in me. His fingers stilled on my leg. Keir began mentioning people I didnt know in the court, bland reports on marriages and alliances, blood-feuds, and Rhys let him talk. His thumb stroked again—this time joined with his pointer finger. A dull roaring was filling my ears, drowning out everything but that touch on the inside of my leg. The music was throbbing, ancient, wild, and people ground against each other to it. His eyes on the Steward, Rhys made vague nods every now and then. While his fingers continued their slow, steady stroking on my thighs, rising higher with every pass. People were watching. Even as they drank and ate, even as some danced in small circles, people were watching. I was sitting in his lap, his own personal plaything, his every touch visible to them … and yet it might as well have been only the two of us. Keir listed the expenses and costs of running the court, and Rhys gave another vague nod. This time, his nose brushed the spot between my neck and shoulder, followed by a passing graze of his mouth. My breasts tightened, becoming full and heavy, aching—aching like what was now pooling in my core. Heat filled my face, my blood. But Keir said at last, as if his own self-control slipped the leash, I had heard the rumors, and I didnt quite believe them. His gaze settled on me, on my breasts, peaked through the folds of my dress, of my legs, spread wider than theyd been minutes before, and Rhyss hand in dangerous territory. But it seems true: Tamlins pet is now owned by another master. You should see how I make her beg, Rhys murmured, nudging my neck with his nose. Keir clasped his hands behind his back. I assume you brought her to make a statement. You know everything I do is a statement. Of course. This one, it seems, you enjoy putting in cobwebs and crowns. Rhyss hand paused, and I sat straighter at the tone, the disgust. And I said to Keir in a voice that belonged to another woman, Perhaps Ill put a leash on you. Rhyss approval tapped against my mental shield, the hand at my ribs now making lazy circles. She does enjoy playing, he mused onto my shoulder. He jerked his chin toward the Steward. Get her some wine. Pure command. No politeness. Keir stiffened, but strode off. Rhys didnt dare break from his mask, but the light kiss he pressed beneath my ear told me enough. Apology and gratitude—and more apologies. He didnt like this any more than I did. And yet to get what we needed, to buy Azriel time … Hed do it. And so would I.I wondered, then, with his hands beneath my breasts and between my legs, what Rhys wouldnt give of himself. Wondered if … if perhaps the arrogance and swagger … if they masked a male who perhaps thought he wasnt worth very much at all. A new song began, like dripping honey—and edged into a swift-moving wind, punctuated with driving, relentless drums. I twisted, studying his face. There was nothing warm in his eyes, nothing of the friend Id made. I opened my shield enough to let him in. What? His voice floated into my mind. I reached down the bond between us, caressing that wall of ebony adamant. A small sliver cracked—just for me. And I said into it, You are good, Rhys. You are kind. This mask does not scare me. I see you beneath it. His hands tightened on me, and his eyes held mine as he leaned forward to brush his mouth against my cheek. It was answer enough—and … an unleashing. I leaned a bit more against him, my legs widening ever so slightly. Whyd you stop? I said into his mind, into him. A near-silent growl reverberated against me. He stroked my ribs again, in time to the beat of the music, his thumb rising nearly high enough to graze the underside of my breasts. I let my head drop back against his shoulder. I let go of the part of me that heard their words—whore, whore, whore— Let go of the part that said those words alongside them—traitor, liar, whore— And I just became. I became the music, and the drums, and the wild, dark thing in the High Lords arms. His eyes were wholly glazed—and not with power or rage. Something red-hot and edged with glittering darkness exploded in my mind. I dragged a hand down his thigh, feeling the hidden warriors strength there. Dragged it back up again in a long, idle stroke, needing to touch him, feel him. I was going to catch fire and burn. I was going to start burning right here— Easy, he said with wicked amusement through the open sliver in my shield. If you become a living candle, poor Keir will throw a hissy fit. And then youd ruin the party for everyone. Because the fire would let them all know I wasnt normal—and no doubt Keir would inform his almost-allies in the Autumn Court. Or one of these other monsters would. Rhys shifted his hips, rubbing against me with enough pressure that for a second, I didnt care about Keir, or the Autumn Court, or what Azriel might be doing right now to steal the orb. I had been so cold, so lonely, for so long, and my body cried out at the contact, at the joy of being touched and held and alive. The hand that had been on my waist slid across my abdomen, hooking into the low-slung belt there. I rested my head between his shoulder and neck, staring at the crowd as they stared at me, savoring every place where Rhys and I connected and wanting more more more. At last, when my blood had begun to boil, when Rhys skimmed the underside of my breast with his knuckle, I looked to where I knew Keir was standing, watching us, my wine forgotten in his hand. We both did. The Steward was staring unabashedly as he leaned against the wall. Unsure whether to interrupt. Half terrified to. We were his distraction. We were the sleight of hand while Az stole the orb. I knew Rhys was still holding Keirs gaze as the tip of his tongue slid up my neck. I arched my back, eyes heavy-lidded, breathing uneven. Id burn and burn and burn— I think hes so disgusted that he might have given me the orb just to get out of here, Rhys said in my mind, that other hand drifting dangerously south. But there was such a growing ache there, and I wore nothing beneath that would conceal the damning evidence if he slid his hand a fraction higher. You and I put on a good show, I said back. The person who said that, husky and sultry—Id never heard that voice come out of me before. Even in my mind. His hand slid to my upper thigh, fingers curving in. I ground against him, trying to shift those hands away from what hed learn— To find him hard against my backside. Every thought eddied from my head. Only a thrill of power remained as I writhed along that impressive length. Rhys let out a low, rough laugh. Keir just watched and watched and watched. Rigid. Horrified. Stuck here, until Rhys released him—and not thinking twice about why. Or where the spymaster had gone. So I turned around again, meeting Rhysands now-blazing eyes, and then licked up the column of his throat. Wind and sea and citrus and sweat. It almost undid me. I faced forward, and Rhys dragged his mouth along the back of my neck, right over my spine, just as I shifted against the hardness pushing into me, insistent and dominating. Precisely as his hand slid a bit too high on my inner thigh. I felt the predatory focus go right to the slickness hed felt there. Proof of my traitorous body. His arms tightened around me, and my face burned—perhaps a bit from shame, but— Rhys sensed my focus, my fire slip. Its fine, he said, but that mental voice sounded breathless. It means nothing. Its just your body reacting— Because youre so irresistible? My attempt to deflect sounded strained, even in my mind. But he laughed, probably for my benefit. Wed danced around and teased and taunted each other for months. And maybe it was my bodys reaction, maybe it was his bodys reaction, but the taste of him threatened to destroy me, consume me, and— Another male. Id had another males hands all over me, when Tamlin and I were barely— Fighting my nausea, I pasted a sleepy, lust-fogged smile on my face. Right as Azriel returned and gave Rhys a subtle nod. Hed gotten the orb.

Mor slid up to the spymaster, running a proprietary hand over his shoulders, his chest, as she circled to look into his face. Azs scar-mottled hand wrapped around her bare waist—squeezing once. The confirmation she also needed. She offered him a little grin that would no doubt spread rumors, and sauntered into the crowd again. Dazzling, distracting, leaving them thinking Az had been here the whole time, leaving them pondering if shed extend Azriel an invitation to her bed. Azriel just stared after Mor, distant and bored. I wondered if he was as much of a mess inside as I was. Rhys crooked a finger to Keir, who, scowling a bit in his daughters direction, stumbled forward with my wine. Hed barely reached the dais before Rhyss power took it from him, floating the goblet to us. Rhys set it on the ground beside the throne, a stupid task hed thought up for the Steward to remind him of his powerlessness, that this throne was not his. Should I test it for poison? Rhys drawled even as he said into my mind, Cassians waiting. Go. Rhys had the same, sex-addled expression on his perfect face—but his eyes … I couldnt read the shadows in his eyes. Maybe—maybe for all our teasing, after Amarantha, he didnt want to be touched by a woman like that. Didnt even enjoy being wanted like that. I had been tortured and tormented, but his horrors had gone to another level. No, milord, Keir groveled. I would never dare harm you. Another distraction, this conversation. I took that as my cue to stride to Cassian, who was snarling by a pillar at anyone who came too close. I felt the eyes of the court slide to me, felt them all sniff delicately at what was so clearly written over my body. But as I passed Keir, even with the High Lord at my back, he hissed almost too quietly to hear, Youll get whats coming to you, whore. Night exploded into the room. People cried out. And when the darkness cleared, Keir was on his knees. Rhys still lounged on the throne. His face a mask of frozen rage. The music stopped. Mor appeared at the edge of the crowd—her own features set in smug satisfaction. Even as Azriel approached her side, standing too close to be casual. Apologize, Rhys said. My heart thundered at the pure command, the utter wrath. Keirs neck muscles strained, and sweat broke out on his lip. I said, Rhys intoned with such horrible calm, apologize. The Steward groaned. And when another heartbeat passed— Bone cracked. Keir screamed. And I watched—I watched as his arm fractured into not two, not three, but four different pieces, the skin going taut and loose in all the wrong spots— Another crack. His elbow disintegrated. My stomach churned. Keir began sobbing, the tears half from rage, judging by the hatred in his eyes as he looked at me, then Rhys. But his lips formed the words, Im sorry. The bones of his other arm splintered, and it was an effort not to cringe. Rhys smiled as Keir screamed again and said to the room, Should I kill him for it? No one answered. Rhys chuckled. He said to his Steward, When you wake up, youre not to see a healer. If I hear that you do … Another crack—Keirs pinkie finger went saggy. The male shrieked. The heat that had boiled my blood turned to ice. If I hear that you do, Ill carve you into pieces and bury them where no one can stand a chance of putting you together again. Keirs eyes widened in true terror now. Then, as if an invisible hand had struck the consciousness from him, he collapsed to the floor. Rhys said to no one in particular, Dump him in his room. Two males who looked like they could be Mors cousins or brothers rushed forward, gathering up the Steward. Mor watched them, sneering faintly—though her skin was pale. Hed wake up. Thats what Rhys had said. I made myself keep walking as Rhys summoned another courtier to give him reports on whatever trivial matters. But my attention remained on the throne behind me, even as I slipped beside Cassian, daring the court to approach, to play with me. None did. And for the long hour afterward, my focus half remained on the High Lord whose hands and mouth and body had suddenly made me feel awake—burning. It didnt make me forget, didnt make me obliterate hurts or grievances, it just made me … alive. Made me feel as if Id been asleep for a year, slumbering inside a glass coffin, and he had just shattered through it and shaken me to consciousness. The High Lord whose power had not scared me. Whose wrath did not wreck me. And now—now I didnt know where that put me. Knee-deep in trouble seemed like a good place to start. CHAPTER 43 The wind roared around Rhys and me as he winnowed from the skies above his court. But Velaris didnt greet us. Rather, we were standing by a moonlit mountain lake ringed in pine trees, high above the world. Wed left the court as wed come in—with swagger and menace. Where Cassian, Azriel, and Mor had gone with the orb, I had no idea. Alone at the edge of the lake, Rhys said hoarsely, Im sorry. I blinked. What do you possibly have to be sorry for? His hands were shaking—as if in the aftermath of that fury at what Keir had called me, what hed threatened. Perhaps hed brought us here before heading home in order to have some privacy before his friends could interrupt. I shouldnt have let you go. Let you see that part of us. Of me. Id never seen him so raw, so … stumbling.Im fine. I didnt know what to make of what had been done. Both between us and to Keir. But it had been my choice. To play that role, to wear these clothes. To let him touch me. But … I said slowly, We knew what tonight would require of us. Please—please dont start … protecting me. Not like that. He knew what I meant. Hed protected me Under the Mountain, but that primal, male rage hed just shown Keir … A shattered study splattered in paint flashed through my memory. Rhys rasped, I will never—never lock you up, force you to stay behind. But when he threatened you tonight, when he called you … Whore. Thats what theyd called him. For fifty years, theyd hissed it. Id listened to Lucien spit the words in his face. Rhys released a jagged breath. Its hard to shut down my instincts. Instincts. Just like … like someone else had instincts to protect, to hide me away. Then you should have prepared yourself better, I snapped. You seemed to be going along just fine with it, until Keir said— I will kill anyone who harms you, Rhys snarled. I will kill them, and take a damn long time doing it. He panted. Go ahead. Hate me—despise me for it. You are my friend, I said, and my voice broke on the word. I hated the tears that slipped down my face. I didnt even know why I was crying. Perhaps for the fact that it had felt real on that throne with him, even for a moment, and … and it likely hadnt been. Not for him. Youre my friend—and I understand that youre High Lord. I understand that you will defend your true court, and punish threats against it. But I cant … I dont want you to stop telling me things, inviting me to do things, because of the threats against me. Darkness rippled, and wings tore from his back. I am not him, Rhys breathed. I will never be him, act like him. He locked you up and let you wither, and die. He tried— Stop comparing. Stop comparing me to him. The words cut me short. I blinked. You think I dont know how stories get written—how this story will be written? Rhys put his hands on his chest, his face more open, more anguished than Id seen it. I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is the golden prince—the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying of stupidity and arrogance. The things I love have a tendency to be taken from me. Hed admitted that to me Under the Mountain. But his words were kindling to my temper, to whatever pit of fear was yawning open inside of me. And what about my story? I hissed. What about my reward? What about what I want? What is it that you want, Feyre? I had no answer. I didnt know. Not anymore. What is it that you want, Feyre? I stayed silent. His laugh was bitter, soft. I thought so. Perhaps you should take some time to figure that out one of these days. Perhaps I dont know what I want, but at least I dont hide what I am behind a mask, I seethed. At least I let them see who I am, broken bits and all. Yes—its to save your people. But what about the other masks, Rhys? What about letting your friends see your real face? But maybe its easier not to. Because what if you did let someone in? And what if they saw everything, and still walked away? Who could blame them—who would want to bother with that sort of mess? He flinched. The most powerful High Lord in history flinched. And I knew Id hit hard—and deep. Too hard. Too deep. Rhys, I said. Lets go home. The word hung between us, and I wondered if hed take it back—even as I waited for my own mouth to bark that it wasnt home. But the thought of the clear, crisp blue skies of Velaris at sunset, the sparkle of the city lights … Before I could say yes, he grabbed my hand, not meeting my stare, and winnowed us away. The wind was hollow as it roared around us, the darkness cold and foreign. Cassian, Azriel, and Mor were indeed waiting at the town house. I bid them good night while they ambushed Rhysand for answers about what Keir had said to provoke him. I was still in my dress—which felt vulgar in the light of Velaris—but found myself heading into the garden, as if the moonlight and chill might cleanse my mind. Though, if I was being honest … I was waiting for him. What Id said … I had been awful. Hed told me those secrets, those vulnerabilities in confidence. And Id thrown them in his face. Because I knew itd hurt him. And I knew I hadnt been talking about him, not really. Minutes passed, the night still cool enough to remind me that spring had not fully dawned, and I shivered, rubbing my arms as the moon drifted. I listened to the fountain, and the city music … he didnt come. I wasnt sure what Id even tell him. I knew he and Tamlin were different. Knew that Rhysands protective anger tonight had been justified, that I would have had a similar reaction. Id been bloodthirsty at the barest details of Mors suffering, had wanted to punish them for it. I had known the risks. I had known Id be sitting in his lap, touching him, using him. Id been using him for a while now. And maybe I should tell him I didnt … I didnt want or expect anything from him.

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