Thursday, 30 July 2020




He was lost—lost in a world of which he’d always dreamed. Her body was warm beneath his hand, and her fingers were soft around his. He spun her and led her about the floor, waltzing as smoothly as he could. She didn’t falter a single step, nor did she seem to care about the many angry female faces that watched as dance after dance passed and they didn’t switch partners.

Of course, it wasn’t polite for a prince to dance with only one lady, but he couldn’t focus on anything beyond his partner and the music that carried them onward.

“You certainly have a lot of stamina,” she said. When had they last spoken? It could have been ten minutes or an hour ago. The masked faces around them blurred together.

“While some parents hit their children, mine also punished me with dancing lessons.”

“Then you must have been a very naughty boy.” She glanced around the ball, as if she were looking for something—or someone.

“You’re gracious with your compliments tonight.” He twirled her. The skirts of her gown sparkled underneath the chandelier.

“It’s Yulemas,” she said. “Everyone’s kind on Yulemas.” A flash of what he could have sworn was pain shone in her eyes, but it was gone before he could be certain of it.

He caught her around the waist, his feet moving to the beat of the waltz. “And how’s your present?”

“Oh, she hid under my bed, then in the dining room, which is where I left her.”

“You locked the dog in your dining room?”

“Should I have kept her in my bedroom, where she could ruin the carpets? Or in the gaming room, where she might eat the chess pieces and choke?”

“Perhaps you should have sent her to the kennels, where dogs belong.”

“On Yulemas? I couldn’t think of sending her back to that wretched place!”

He suddenly felt the urge to kiss her—hard—upon the mouth. But this—what he felt, it could never be real. Because once the ball was over, she would go back to being an assassin, and he would still be a prince. Dorian swallowed hard. For tonight, though . . .

He held her closer. Everyone transformed into mere shadows on the wall.

Frowning, Chaol watched his friend dance with the assassin. He wouldn’t have danced with her, anyway. And he was glad he hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her, not after seeing the color that Duke Perrington’s face turned upon discovering the pair.

A courtier named Otho stepped beside Chaol. “I thought she was with you.”

“Who? Lady Lillian?”

“So that’s her name! I’ve never seen her before. Is she newly arrived to court?”

“Yes,” said Chaol. Tomorrow, he’d have a word with her guards about letting Celaena out tonight. Hopefully by then, he’d be less inclined to knock their heads together.

“How are you doing, Captain Westfall?” Otho said, clapping him on the back a bit too hard. His breath reeked of wine. “You don’t dine with us anymore.”

“I stopped dining at your table three years ago, Otho.”

“You should come back—we miss your conversation.” It was a lie. Otho only wanted information about the foreign young lady. His reputation with women was well known in the castle—so well known that he had to seize courtiers as they arrived or go into Rifthold for a different sort of woman.

Chaol watched Dorian dip Celaena, watched the way her lips widened in a smile and her eyes burst with light as the Crown Prince said something. Even with the mask on, Chaol could see the happiness written across her face. “Is he with her?” Otho asked.

“The Lady Lillian belongs to herself, and no one else.”

“So she’s not with him?”


Otho shrugged. “That’s strange.”

“Why?” Chaol had the sudden urge to strangle him.

“Because it looks like he’s in love with her,” he said, and walked away.

Chaol’s eyes lost focus for a moment. Then Celaena laughed, and Dorian kept staring at her. The prince hadn’t once taken his eyes off her. Dorian’s expression was full of—something. Joy? Wonder? His shoulders were straight, his back erect. He looked like a man. Like a king.

It was impossible for such a thing to have occurred; and when would it have happened? Otho was a drunk and a womanizer. What did he know of love?

Dorian spun Celaena with speed and dexterity, and she snapped into his arms, her shoulders rising with exhilaration. But she wasn’t in love with him—Otho hadn’t said that. He had seen no attachment on her part. And Celaena would never be that stupid. It was Dorian who was the fool—Dorian who would have his heart broken, if he did actually love her.

Unable to look at his friend any longer, the Captain of the Guard left the ball.

Kaltain watched in rage and agony as Lillian Gordaina and the Crown Prince of Adarlan danced and danced and danced. Even with a much more concealing mask, she would have recognized the upstart. And what sort of a person wore gray to a ball? Kaltain looked down at her dress and smiled. Bright shades of blue, emerald, and soft brown, her gown and matching peacock mask had cost as much as a small house. It was all a gift from Perrington, of course, along with the jewelry that decorated much of her neck and arms. It was certainly not the dull, drab mess of crystal that the conniving harlot wore.

Perrington stroked her arm, and Kaltain turned to him with fluttering eyelashes. “You look handsome tonight, my love,” she said, adjusting a gold chain across his red tunic. His face quickly matched the color of his clothes. She wondered if she could bear the repulsion of kissing him. She could always keep refusing, just as she had for the past month; but when he was this drunk . . .

She would have to think of a way out as soon as possible. But she was no closer to Dorian than she’d been in early autumn, and would certainly make no progress with Lillian in the way.

A precipice opened before her. Her head gave a brief, faint throb of pain. There were no other options now. Lillian had to be eliminated.

When the clock chimed three and most of the guests—including the queen and Chaol—had left, Celaena finally decided that it was safe for her to leave. So she slipped from the ball when Dorian went to get a drink and found Ress waiting outside to escort her back. The halls of the castle were silent as they strode to her room, taking the empty servants’ passages to avoid any too-curious courtiers learning more about her. Even if she’d gone to the ball for the wrong reasons, she had had some fun dancing with Dorian. More than some, actually. She smiled to herself, picking at her nails as they entered the hallway that led to her rooms. The rush of having Dorian look only at her, talk only to her, treat her as if she were his equal and more hadn’t yet worn off. Maybe her plan hadn’t been such a failure after all.

Ress cleared his throat, and Celaena looked up to see Dorian standing outside her rooms, chatting with the guards. He couldn’t have stayed long at the ball if he’d beaten her back here. Her heart pounded, but she managed a coy smile as Dorian bowed to her, opened the door, and they went inside. Let Ress and the guards think what they wanted.

She unfastened the mask from her face, tossing it onto the table in the center of the foyer, and sighed as the cool air met her flushed skin. “Well?” she asked, leaning against the wall beside the door to her bedroom.

Dorian approached her slowly, halting only a hand’s breath away. “You left the ball without saying good-bye,” he said, and braced an arm against the wall beside her head. She raised her eyes, examining the black detail on the sleeve that fell just above her hair.

“I’m impressed you got up here so quickly—and without a pack of court ladies hounding after you. Perhaps you should try your hand at being an assassin.”

He shook the hair out of his face. “I’m not interested in court ladies,” he said thickly, and kissed her.

His mouth was warm, and his lips were smooth, and Celaena lost all sense of time and place as she slowly kissed him back. He pulled away for a moment, looked into her eyes as they opened, and kissed her again. It was different this time—deeper, full of need.

Her arms were heavy and light all at once, and the room twirled round and round. She couldn’t stop. She liked this—liked being kissed by him, liked the smell and the taste and the feel of him.

His arm slipped around her waist and he held her tightly to him as his lips moved against hers. She put a hand on his shoulder, her fingers digging into the muscle that lay beneath. How different things were between them than when she’d first seen him in Endovier!

Her eyes opened. Endovier. Why was she kissing the Crown Prince of Adarlan? Her fingers loosened and her arm dropped to her side.

He removed his mouth from hers and smiled. It was infectious. Dorian leaned forward again, but she smoothly put two fingers against his lips.

“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.



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