“I should go to bed,” she said. He raised his eyebrows. “Alone,” she added. He removed her fingers from his mouth. He tried to kiss her, but she easily swung under his arm and reached for the door handle. She had opened the bedroom door and slid inside before he could stop her. She peered into the foyer, watching as he continued to smile. “Good night.”
Dorian leaned against the door, bringing his face close to hers. “Good night,” he whispered, and she didn’t stop him as he kissed her again. He broke it off before she was ready, and she almost fell onto the ground as he removed his weight from the door. He laughed softly.
“Good night,” she said again, heat rushing to her face. Then he was gone.
Celaena strode to the balcony and flung open the doors, embracing the chill air. Her hand rose to her lips and she stared up at the stars, feeling her heart grow, and grow, and grow.
Dorian walked slowly back to his rooms, his heart racing. He could still feel her lips on his, smell the scent of her hair, and see the gold in her eyes flickering in the candlelight.
Consequences be damned. He’d find a way to make it work; he’d find a way to be with her. He had to.
He had leapt from the cliff. He could only wait for the net.
In the garden, the Captain of the Guard stared up at the young woman’s balcony, watching as she waltzed alone, lost in her dreams. But he knew that her thoughts weren’t of him.
She stopped and stared upward. Even from a distance, he could see the blush upon her cheeks. She seemed young—no, new. It made his chest ache.
Still, he watched, watched until she sighed and went inside. She never bothered to look below.
Celaena groaned as something cold and wet brushed her cheek and moved to lick her face. She opened an eye and found the puppy looking down at her, its tail wagging. Adjusting herself in the bed, she winced at the sunlight. She hadn’t meant to sleep in. They had a Test in two days, and she needed to train. It was their last Test before the final duel—the Test that decided who the four finalists would be.
Celaena rubbed an eye and then scratched the dog behind the ears. “Have you peed somewhere and wish to tell me about it?”
“Oh no,” said someone as the bedroom door swung open—Dorian. “I took her out at dawn with the other dogs.”
She smiled weakly as he approached. “Isn’t it rather early for a visit?”
“Early?” He laughed, sitting on the bed. She inched away. “It’s almost one in the afternoon! Philippa told me you’ve been sleeping like the dead all morning.”
One! She’d slept that long? What about lessons with Chaol? She scratched her nose and pulled the puppy onto her lap. At least nothing had happened last night; if there had been another attack, she would have heard about it already. She almost sighed with relief, though the guilt of what she’d done—how little faith she’d had in Nehemia—still made her a tad miserable.
“Have you named her yet?” he asked—casual, calm, collected. Was he acting that way for show, or was their kiss just not that important to him?
“No,” she said, keeping her face neutral, even though she wanted to scream from the awkwardness. “I can’t think of anything appropriate.”
“What about,” he said, tapping his chin, “Gold . . . ie?”
“That’s the stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”
“Can you think of something better?”
She picked up one of the dog’s legs and examined the soft paws. She squished the padded foot beneath her thumb. “Fleetfoot.” It was a perfect name. In fact, it felt as if the name had existed all along, and she’d finally been clairvoyant enough to stumble across it. “Yes, Fleetfoot it is.”
“Does it mean anything?” he asked, and the dog raised her head to look at him.
“It’ll mean something when she outruns all of your purebreds.” Celaena scooped the dog into her arms and kissed her head. She bounced her arms up and down, and Fleetfoot stared up into her eyes with a wrinkled brow. She was absurdly soft and cuddly.
Dorian chuckled. “We’ll see.” Celaena set the dog down on the bed. Fleetfoot promptly crawled under the blankets and disappeared.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked.
“Yes. Though it seems you didn’t, if you were up so early.”
“Listen,” he began, and Celaena wanted to throw herself from the balcony. “Last night . . . I’m sorry if I was too forward with you.” He paused. “Celaena, you’re grimacing.”
Had she been making a face? “Er—sorry.”
“It did upset you, then!”
Phlegm caught in her throat, and the assassin coughed. “Oh, it was nothing,” she said, thumping her chest as she cleared her throat. “I didn’t mind it. But I didn’t hate it, if that’s what you’re thinking!” She immediately regretted saying it.
“So, you liked it?” He grinned lazily.
“No! Oh, go away!” She flung herself onto her pillows, pulling the blankets above her head. She was going to die from embarrassment.
Fleetfoot licked her face as she hid in the darkness of the sheets. “Come now,” he said. “From your reaction, one would think you’d never been kissed.”
She threw back the blankets, and Fleetfoot burrowed farther beneath. “Of course I’ve been kissed,” she snapped, trying not to think about Sam and what she’d shared with him. “But it wasn’t by some stuffed shirt, pompous, arrogant princeling!”
He looked down at his chest. “Stuffed shirt?”
“Oh, hush up,” she said, hitting him with a pillow. She moved to the other side of the bed, got up, and walked to the balcony.
She felt him watching her, staring at her back and the three scars she knew her low-cut nightgown did nothing to hide. “Are you going to remain here while I change?”
She faced him. He wasn’t looking at her the way he had the night before. There was something wary in his gaze—and something unspeakably sad. Her blood thrummed in her veins. “Well?”
“Your scars are awful,” he said, almost whispering.
She put a hand on a hip and walked to the dressing room door. “We all bear scars, Dorian. Mine just happen to be more visible than most. Sit there if you like, but I’m going to get dressed.” She strode from the room.
Kaltain walked beside Duke Perrington through the endless tables of the palace greenhouse. The giant glass building was full of shadows and light, and she fanned herself as the steamy heat smothered her face. The man picked the most absurd places to walk. She had about as much interest in the plants and flowers as she did in a mud puddle on the side of a street.
He picked a lily—snow white—and handed it to her with a bow of his head. “For you.” She tried not to cringe at the sight of his pocked, ruddy skin and orange mustache. The thought of being stuck with him made her want to rip all the plants out by their roots and throw them into the snow.
“Thank you,” she said huskily.
But Perrington studied her closely. “You seem out of spirits today, Lady Kaltain.”
“Do I?” She cocked her head in her coyest expression. “Perhaps today pales in comparison to the fun I had at the ball last night.”
The duke’s black eyes bored into her, though, and he frowned as he put a hand on her elbow and steered her on. “You needn’t pretend with me. I noticed you watching the Crown Prince.”
Kaltain gave away nothing as she raised her manicured brows and looked sidelong at him. “Was I?”
Perrington ran a meaty finger down the spine of a fern. The black ring on his finger pulsed, and her head gave a throb of pain in response. “I noticed him, too. The girl, specifically. She’s troublesome, isn’t she?”
“Lady Lillian?” Kaltain blinked this time, unsure whether she could sag with relief just yet. He hadn’t noticed her wanting the prince, but rather that she’d noticed how Lillian and Dorian clung to each other all night.
“So she calls herself,” Perrington murmured.
“That’s not her name?” Kaltain asked before she could think.
The duke turned to her, his eyes as black as his ring. “You don’t honestly believe that girl is a purebred lady?”
Kaltain’s heart stopped. “She’s truly not?” And then Perrington smiled, and finally told her everything.
When Perrington finished, Kaltain could only stare at him. An assassin. Lillian Gordaina was Celaena Sardothien, the world’s most notorious assassin. And she had her claws in Dorian’s heart. If Kaltain wanted Dorian’s hand, then she’d need to be far, far cleverer. Simply revealing who Lillian truly was might be enough. But it might not. Kaltain couldn’t afford to take risks. The greenhouse was silent, as if it held its breath.
“How can we let this go on? How can we allow the prince to endanger himself like that?” Perrington’s face shifted for a moment, toward something pained and ugly—but it was so fast she barely noticed it above the pounding rising in her head. She needed her pipe—needed to calm down before she had a fit.
“We can’t,” Perrington said.
“But how can we stop them? Tell the king?”
Perrington shook his head, putting a hand on his broadsword as he thought for a moment. She examined a rosebush and traced a long nail along the curve of a thorn. “She’s to face the remaining Champions in a duel,” he said slowly. “And in the duel, she’ll drink a toast in honor of the Goddess and gods.” It wasn’t just her too-tight corset that stole the breath from Kaltain as the duke went on. She lowered her hand from the thorn. “I was going to ask you to preside over the toast—as a representation of the Goddess. Perhaps you could slip something into her drink.”
“Kill her myself?” Hiring someone was one thing, but to do it herself . . .
The duke raised his hands. “No, no. But the king has agreed that drastic measures should be taken, in a way that will make Dorian believe things were . . . an accident. If we were merely to give her a dose of bloodbane, not lethal, but just enough to cause her to lose control, it would give Cain the advantage he needs.”
“Cain can’t kill her on his own? Accidents happen all the time in duels.” Her head gave a sharp, intense throb that echoed through her body. Maybe drugging her might be easier . . .
“Cain thinks he can, but I don’t like taking risks.” Perrington grasped her hands. His ring was ice-cold against her skin, and she fought the urge to rip her hands from his grip. “Don’t you want to help Dorian? Once he’s free of her . . .”
Then he’ll be mine. He’ll be mine, as he should be.
But to kill for it . . . He’ll be mine.
“Then we’ll be able to get him on the right path, won’t we?” Perrington finished with a broad smile that made her instincts tell her to run and run and never look back.
But all her mind could see was a crown and throne, and the prince who would sit by her side. “Tell me what I need to do,” she said.
The clock chimed ten, and Celaena, seated at the small desk in her bedroom, looked up from her book. She should be sleeping, or at least trying to. Fleetfoot, dozing in her lap, yawned widely. Celaena scratched her behind the ears and ran a hand along the page of the book. Wyrdmarks stared up at her, their intricate curves and angles speaking a language she couldn’t yet begin to decipher. How long had it taken Nehemia to learn them? And, she wondered darkly, how could their power possibly still work when magic itself was gone?
She hadn’t seen Nehemia since the ball last night, hadn’t dared to approach her, or tell Chaol what she’d learned. Nehemia had been deceitful about her language skills, and how much she knew about the Wyrdmarks, but she could have any number of reasons for that. Celaena had been wrong to go to the ball last night, wrong to believe Nehemia was capable of such bad things. Nehemia was one of the good ones. She wouldn’t target Celaena, not when they’d been friends. They had been friends. Celaena swallowed the tightness in her throat and turned the page. Her heart stopped.