She waited for the scolding, saw it simmering in Rowan’s eyes. But then he quietly said, “What do you mean, another set of shackles?”

He loosened his grip to reveal the two thin bands of scars that wrapped around her wrist. His mouth tightened, and she yanked her wrist back hard enough that he let go.

“Nothing,” she said. “Arobynn, my master, liked to use them for training every now and then.” Arobynn had chained her to make her learn how to get free. But the shackles at Endovier had been crafted with people like her in mind. It ­wasn’t until Chaol had removed them that she’d gotten out.

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She didn’t want Rowan knowing that—­any of it. Anger and hatred she could handle, but pity . . . And she ­couldn’t talk about Chaol, ­couldn’t explain just how much he had rebuilt and then shattered her heart, not without explaining Endovier. Not without explaining how one day, she didn’t know how distant, she was going back to Endovier and freeing them all. Each and every slave, even if she had to unshackle them all herself.

Celaena went back to her work, and Rowan’s face remained tight—­as if he could smell her half truth. “Why did you stay with Arobynn?”

“I knew I wanted two things: First, to disappear from the world and from my enemies, but . . . ah.” It was hard to look him in the eye. “I wanted to hide from myself, mostly. I convinced myself I should disappear, because the second thing I wanted, even then, was to be able to someday . . . hurt people the way I had been hurt. And it turned out that I was very, very good at it.

“If he had tossed me away, I would either have died or wound up with the rebels. If I had grown up with them, I probably would have been found by the king and slaughtered. Or I would have grown up so hateful that I would have been killing Adarlanian soldiers from a young age.” His brows ­rose, and she clicked her tongue. “You thought I was just going to spread my ­whole history at your feet the moment I met you? I’m sure you have even more stories than I do, so stop looking so surprised. Maybe we should just go back to beating each other into a pulp.”

His eyes gleamed with near-­predatory intent. “Oh, not a chance, Princess. You can tell me what you want, when you want, but there’s no going back now.”

She lifted her tools again. “I’m sure your other friends just adore having you around.”

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A feral smile, and he grabbed her by the chin—­not hard enough to hurt, but to get her to look at him. “First thing,” he breathed, “we’re not friends. I’m still training you, and that means you’re still under my command.” The flicker of hurt must have shown, because he leaned closer, his grip tightening on her jaw. “Second—­whatever we are, what­ever this is? I’m still figuring it out, too. So if I’m going to give you the space you deserve to sort yourself out, then you can damn well give it to me.”

She studied him for a moment, their breath mingling.

“Deal,” she said.

40

“Tell me your greatest wish,” Dorian murmured into Sorscha’s hair as he entwined their fingers, marveling at the smoothness of her tan skin against the calluses of his. Such pretty hands, like mourning doves.

She smiled onto his chest. “I don’t have a greatest wish.”

“Liar.” He kissed her hair. “You’re the world’s worst liar.”

She turned toward the window of his bedroom, the morning light making her dark hair glow. It had been two weeks since that night she’d kissed him, two weeks since she’d started creeping up ­here after the castle had gone to sleep. They’d been sharing a bed, though not in the manner he still yearned to. And he detested the sneaking and the hiding.

But she’d lose her position if they ­were found out. With him being who he was . . . he could bring down a world of trouble on her just for being associated with him. His mother alone could find ways to get her shipped off somewhere.

“Tell me,” he said again, bending to snatch a kiss. “Tell me, and I’ll make it happen.”

He’d always been generous with his lovers. Usually he gave them gifts to keep them from complaining when he lost interest, but this time he genuinely wanted to give her things. He had tried giving her jewelry and clothes, and she had refused it all. So he’d taken to giving her hard-­to-­come-­by herbs and books and special tools for her workroom. She’d tried to refuse those, but he’d worn her down quickly—­mostly by kissing away her protests.

“And if I asked for the moon on a string?”

“Then I would start praying to Deanna.”

She smiled, but Dorian’s own grin faded. Deanna, Lady of the Hunt. He usually tried not to think about Celaena, Aelin—­whoever she was. Tried not to think about Chaol and his lying, or Aedion and his treason. He wanted nothing to do with them, not now that Sorscha was with him. He’d been a fool once, swearing he would tear the world apart for Celaena. A boy in love with a wildfire—­or believing he was in love with one.

“Dorian?” Sorscha pulled back to study his face. She looked at him the way he’d once caught Celaena looking at Chaol.

He kissed her again, soft and lingering, and her body melted into his. He savored the silkiness of her skin as he ran a hand down her arm. She yanked back. “I have to go. I’m late.”

He groaned. It was indeed almost breakfast—­and she would be noticed if she didn’t leave. She shimmied out of his embrace and into her dress, and he helped tie the stays in the back. Always hiding—­was that to be his life? Not just the women he loved, but his magic, his true thoughts . . .

Sorscha kissed him and was at the door, a hand on the knob. “My greatest wish,” she said with a little smile, “is for a morning when I don’t have to run out the door at first light.”

Before he could say anything, she was gone.

But he didn’t know what he could say, or do, to make it happen. Because Sorscha had her obligations, and he had his.

If he left to be with her, if he turned on his father, or if his magic was discovered, then his brother would become heir. And the thought of Hollin as king one day . . . What he would do to their world, especially with their father’s power . . . No, Dorian could not have the luxury of choosing, because there was no option. He was bound to his crown, and would be until the day he died.

There was a knock on his door, and Dorian smiled, wondering if Sorscha had come back. The grin vanished as the door opened.

“We need to talk,” Chaol said from the threshold. Dorian hadn’t seen him in weeks, and yet—­his friend looked older. Exhausted.

“Not going to bother with flattery?” Dorian said, plopping onto the couch.

“You would see through it anyway.” Chaol shut the door behind him and leaned against it.

“Humor me.”

“I am sorry, Dorian,” Chaol said softly. “More than you know.”

“Sorry because lying cost you me—­and her? Would you be sorry if you hadn’t been caught?”

Chaol’s jaw tightened. And perhaps Dorian was being unfair, but he didn’t care.

“I am sorry for all of it,” Chaol said. “But I—­I’ve been working to fix it.”

“And what about Celaena? Is working with Aedion actually to help me, or her?”

“Both of you.”

“Do you still love her?” He didn’t know why he cared, why it was important.

Chaol closed his eyes for a moment. “A part of me will always love her. But I had to get her out of this castle. Because it was too dangerous, and she was . . . what she was becoming . . .”

“She was not becoming anything different from what she always was and always had the capacity to be. You just finally saw everything. And once you saw that other part of her . . . ,” Dorian said quietly. It had taken him until now, until Sorscha, to understand what that meant. “You cannot pick and choose what parts of her to love.” He pitied Chaol, he realized. His heart hurt for his friend, for all that Chaol had surely been realizing these past few months. “Just as you cannot pick which parts of me you accept.”

“I don’t—”

“You do. But what’s done is done, Chaol. And there is no going back, no matter how hard you try to change things. Like it or not, you played a role in getting us all to this point, too. You set her down that path, to revealing what and who she is, to what­ever she decides to do now.”

“You think I wanted any of this to happen?” Chaol splayed his arms. “If I could, I would put it all back to the way it was. If I could, she ­wouldn’t be queen, and you ­wouldn’t have magic.”

“Of course—­of course you still see the magic as a problem. And of course you wish she ­wasn’t who she is. Because you’re not really scared of those things, are you? No—­it’s what they represent. The change. But let me tell you,” Dorian breathed, his magic flickering and then subsiding in a flash of pain, “things have already changed. And changed because of you. I have magic—­there is no undoing that, no getting rid of it. And as for Celaena . . .” He clamped down on the power that surged as he imagined—­for the first time, he realized—­what it was to be her. “As for Celaena,” he said again, “you do not have the right to wish she ­were not what she is. The only thing you have a right to do is decide whether you are her enemy or her friend.”

He did not know all of her story, did not know what had been truth and what had been lies, or what it had been like in Endovier to slave beside her countrymen, or to bow to the man who had murdered her family. But he had seen her—­seen glimpses of the person beneath, regardless of name or title.

And he knew, deep down, that she had not blinked at his magic but rather understood that burden, and that fear. She had not walked away or wished him to be anything but what he was. I’ll come back for you.

So he stared down his friend, even though he knew Chaol was hurting and adrift, and said, “I’ve already made my decision about her. And when the time comes, regardless of whether you are ­here or in Anielle, I hope your choice is the same as mine.”

Aedion hated to admit it, but the captain’s self-­control was impressive as they waited in the hidden apartment for Murtaugh to arrive. Ren, who ­couldn’t keep his ass planted in a chair for more than a moment even with his still-healing wounds, paced around the great room. But Chaol sat beside the fire, saying little but always watching, always listening.

To­night the captain seemed different. Warier, but tighter. Thanks to all those meetings where he’d carefully watched the captain’s movements, every breath and blink, Aedion instantly noted the difference. Had there been some news, some development?

Murtaugh was to return to­night, after a few weeks near Skull’s Bay. He had refused Ren’s offer to go with him and told his grandson to rest. Which, though Ren tried to hide it, left the young lord anxious, ungrounded, and aggressive. Aedion was honestly surprised the apartment hadn’t been torn to shreds. In his war camp, Aedion might have taken Ren into the sparring ring and let him fight it out. Or sent him on some mission of his own. Or at least made him chop wood for hours.

“So ­we’re just going to wait all night,” Ren said at last, pausing before the dining table and looking at them both.

The captain yielded nothing more than a vague nod, but Aedion crossed his arms and gave him a lazy grin. “You have something better to do, Ren? Are we interfering with a visit to one of your opium dens?” A low blow, but nothing that the captain hadn’t already guessed about Ren. And if Ren showed any indication of that sort of habit, Aedion ­wouldn’t let him within a hundred miles of Aelin.

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