Tamlin’s jaw tightened. “Your family is alive and well-cared for. You think so low of faeries that you believe I’d take their only source of income and nourishment and not replace it?”
I straightened. “You swear it?” Even if faeries couldn’t lie, I had to hear it.
A low, incredulous laugh. “On everything that I am and possess.”
“Why not tell me that when we left the cottage?”
“Would you have believed me? Do you even believe me now?” Tamlin’s claws embedded in the arms of his chair.
“Why should I trust a word you say? You’re all masters of spinning your truths to your own advantage.”
“Some would say it’s unwise to insult a Fae in his home,” Tamlin ground out. “Some would say you should be grateful for me finding you before another one of my kind came to claim the debt, for sparing your life and then offering you the chance to live in comfort.”
I shot to my feet, wisdom be damned, and was about to kick back my chair when invisible hands clapped on my arms and shoved me back into the seat.
“Do not do whatever it was you were contemplating,” Tamlin said.
I went still as the tang of magic seared my nose. I tried to twist in the chair, testing the invisible bonds. But my arms were secured, and my back was pressed into the wood so hard that it ached. I glanced at the knife beside my plate. I should have gone for it first—futile effort or no.
“I’m going to warn you once,” Tamlin said too softly. “Only once, and then it’s on you, human. I don’t care if you go live somewhere else in Prythian. But if you cross the wall, if you flee, your family will no longer be cared for.”
His words were like a stone to the head. If I escaped, if I even tried to run, I might very well doom my family. And even if I dared risk it … even if I succeeded in reaching them, where would I take them? I couldn’t stow my sisters away on a ship—and once we arrived somewhere else, somewhere safe, we’d have nowhere to live. But for him to hold my family’s well-being against me, to throw away their survival if I stepped out of line …
I opened my mouth, but his snarl rattled the glasses. “Is that not a fair bargain? And if you flee, then you might not be so lucky with whoever comes to retrieve you next.” His claws slipped back under his knuckles. “The food is not enchanted, or drugged, and it will be your own damn fault if you faint. So you’re going to sit at this table and eat, Feyre. And Lucien will do his best to be polite.” He threw a pointed look in his direction. Lucien shrugged.
The invisible bonds loosened, and I winced as I whacked my hands on the underside of the table. The bonds on my legs and middle remained intact. One glance at Tamlin’s smoldering green eyes told me what I wanted to know: his guest or not, I wasn’t going to get up from this table until I’d eaten something. I’d think about the sudden change in my plans to escape later. Now … for now I eyed the silver fork and carefully picked it up.
They still watched me—watched my every move, the flare of my nostrils as I sniffed the food on my plate. No metallic stench of magic. And faeries couldn’t lie. So he had to be right about the food, then. Stabbing a piece of chicken, I took a bite.
It was an effort to keep from grunting. I hadn’t had food this good in years. Even the meals we’d had before our downfall were little more than ashes compared to this. I ate my entire plate in silence, too aware of the High Fae observing every bite, but as I reached for a second helping of chocolate torte, the food vanished. Just—vanished, as if it had never existed, not a crumb left behind.
Swallowing hard, I set my fork down so they wouldn’t see my hand start to shake.
“One more bite and you’ll hurl your guts up,” Tamlin said, drinking deeply from his goblet.
The bonds holding me loosened. Silent permission to leave.
“Thank you for the meal,” I said. It was all I could think of.
“Won’t you stay for wine?” Lucien said with sweet venom from where he lounged in his seat.
I braced my hands on my chair to rise. “I’m tired. I’d like to sleep.”
“It’s been a few decades since I last saw one of you,” Lucien drawled, “but you humans never change, so I don’t think I’m wrong in asking why you find our company to be so unpleasant, when surely the men back home aren’t much to look at.”
At the other end of the table, Tamlin gave his emissary a long, warning look. Lucien ignored it.
“You’re High Fae,” I said tightly. “I’d ask why you’d even bother inviting me here at all—or dining with me.” Fool—I really should have been killed ten times over already.
Lucien said, “True. But indulge me: you’re a human woman, and yet you’d rather eat hot coals than sit here longer than necessary. Ignoring this”—he waved a hand at the metal eye and brutal scar on his face—“surely we’re not so miserable to look at.” Typical faerie vanity and arrogance. That, at least, the legends had been right about. I tucked the knowledge away. “Unless you have someone back home. Unless there’s a line of suitors out the door of your hovel that makes us seem like worms in comparison.”
There was enough dismissal there that I took a little bit of satisfaction in saying, “I was close with a man back in my village.” Before that Treaty ripped me away—before it became clear that you are allowed to do as you please to us, but we can hardly strike back against you.
Tamlin and Lucien exchanged glances, but it was Tamlin who said, “Are you in love with this man?”
“No,” I said as casually as I could. It wasn’t a lie—but even if I’d felt anything like that for Isaac, my answer would have been the same. It was bad enough that High Fae now knew my family existed. I didn’t need to add Isaac to that list.
Again, that shared look between the two males. “And do you … love anyone else?” Tamlin said through clenched teeth.
A laugh burst out of me, tinged with hysteria. “No.” I looked between them. Nonsense. These lethal, immortal beings really had nothing better to do than this? “Is this really what you care to know about me? If I find you more handsome than human men, and if I have a man back home? Why bother to ask at all, when I’ll be stuck here for the rest of my life?” A hot line of anger sliced through my senses.
“We wanted to learn more about you, since you’ll be here for a good while,” Tamlin said, his lips a thin line. “But Lucien’s pride tends to get in the way of his manners.” He sighed, as if ready to be done with me, and said, “Go rest. We’re both busy most days, so if you need anything, ask the staff. They’ll help you.”