Cassian had known each of them for over a year, yet the Archeron sisters were still a mystery to him. Even Elain, who’d been the easiest to read out of all of them so far. Nesta, of course, happened to be the hardest.
He didn’t think she would ever take to being here with all the Illyrians. She went to morning workouts and the afternoon and evening training. She ate in the mess hall with everyone else, but she just wasn’t living. Cassian got her more in shape body wise, but mentally and emotionally, a small part of him feared that would never heal. He tried everything to fill that gaping void in her: the playful bickering, training, telling her in subtle ways that she matters for the past four and a half months of being here at the camp.
Still, he kept trying, kept testing her.
And still, a small part of Cassian thought that nothing could heal his Nesta. She’d bounced back into her own skin when she was turned Fae, but war didn’t leave anyone unscathed. Nesta felt more than maybe anyone else in their entire lifetime.
Cassian walked outside into the warmth of the early sun through the trees and snapped his wings out, and he stretched and flapped until he was fully awake, showing those beauties off to anyone who saw. Which happened to be most everyone milling around getting ready for training or doing the morning chores. A smirk lifted his lips as Cassian saw the gawks of some and the glare of Devlon. As much as Devlon hated to admit it, he knew Cassian had more than twice his muscle, his strength. With that in mind, Cassian turned around the corner, still grinning.
Though Cassian’s smile disappeared completely when Nesta came into view standing by the training ring with another person. A male.
The male stood in front of her, casually working his way closer to her. Nesta didn’t back away. She laughed lightly at something he said, and as she replied, the male looked her up and down, biting his lip slightly.
Cassian stormed over to them, barely containing his rage as his hands turned into fists. He was going to pummel him for whatever the male saying or implying in his stance. The way he was looking at her. It wasn’t how one sizes up an opponent.
By the time Cassian reached them, the male was holding onto Nesta’s hand and rubbing his thumb down the back of it. That was something Cassian had wanted to do since he found out what Nesta had been through—how she was hurting.
He had been waiting his whole life to feel wanted—to want someone. He’d been waiting five centuries to care so deeply for a being and to comfort and protect them. Nesta was supposed to be that person.
“Back off,” Cassian seethed to the warrior in front of him, pulling her hand away from his.
The male’s—Eran, Cassian remembered—brows knitted together as he took Cassian in. “Woah, what do you think you’re doing here?”
“What are you doing.” Cassian’s mouth formed a straight, thin line.
“I’m talking to this lovely female here.” The corner of Eran’s lips lifted as he again scanned Nesta’s body, his eyes catching on certain places.
He urged the male again. “Back off.”
This time Nesta looked him in his eyes and replied, “Cassian. Leave him be.”
Eran cocked his head and ran his hand down Nesta’s arm again. “You heard her. Now go find some other female to play with.”
Cassian was done. Before he even realized what he was doing, Cassian spread his feet apart into their fighting stance and pulled his arm back. Adrenaline raced through his veins and flooded his mind as he slammed his fist forward, ready to slam into Eran’s now startled face and feel the breaking of his teeth—
But then strong fingers wrapped around Cassian’s wrist. He instantly clenched his jaw and whirled around to see who stopped him…only to find Nesta using her immortal Fae strength to hold him back.
“I said leave him be!” She roared, that power that she hid so deep within her after the War swimming in her steel blue eyes.
That was when Cassian realized she wanted to be talking to Eran. She actually enjoyed being—looked at by him. When Nesta laughed with Eran earlier, she was flirting back. Eran gave Cassian a triumphant grin which made him see red.
Nesta looked between Eran and Cassian as if deciding who she should talk to first. She chose the latter and dragged him by the wrist that she still gripped and brought him into a cabin.
Nesta whirled on him and slammed her palms into his chest. “What the hell?”
Cassian froze. Could she really not see why he was mad? “You should be grateful. Grateful, Nesta. You don’t know him like I do.”
She raised her eyebrows at him. “I don’t know him? You couldn’t even remember his name when you walked up to us.”
How did she know that?
“Don’t turn this around.”
“You can’t stop me.”
“Do you even know what he wanted to do with you?”
“Yes,” she said evenly. “And I wanted it, too.”
Cassian’s breath hitched as something like ice washed over him. He tried to hide the hurt in his eyes, but Nesta saw before he could conceal it. “Why?”
“I haven’t felt anything since you dragged me here. Away from the bars and taverns…I have nothing—no one here.”
She couldn’t be serious. Cassian didn’t let himself believe her. “But why him,” he said. “Why him.”
Why not me, he thought.
Nesta searched his eyes of hazel before she came to a conclusion. “You’re jealous.”
“Admit it,” she hissed.
Cassian crossed his arms to hide the fact that he was jealous. “And why exactly do you think that?”
“Because you look the same way I do when I see you with those other females!”
“What others.” He spoke dryly, but he was genuinely curious as to how she would respond.
“The ones you sometimes sit with in the mess hall, or the ones you train with,” Nesta snapped bitterly. “You smile and laugh at them like it’s second nature to you.” She slowly walked closer to him as she talked, her head tilted back to glare him in the eye. Cassian’s eyes snagged on her full lips, the slight frown that curved them was still devastatingly beautiful to him.
Just as he was about to respond, Nesta pounced.
She jumped onto him and wrapped her legs comfortably around his waist and her arms around his neck. Before he could even blink in surprise, her lips locked onto his.
She kissed him deeply, desperately, like she was awake for the first time in months. Like she wanted him.
Nesta tangled her hands into his hair, gently running her fingers through it as Cassian opened his mouth to her. The small sound that came from her had him weak in the knees, causing him to fall back and lean into the wall behind them. Nesta pulled away to take a breath, and Cassian leaned forward to kiss along her jawline, placing kisses up and down her neck and throat.
She tilted her head for him. “Cassian,” Nesta sighed, her breaths short and sharp. Cassian made his way to her lips again and set her down. His hands trailed her curved waist and hips over her tight Illyrian fighting leathers.
Nesta gave him a hard kiss before gripping his shoulders and pulling away. Cassian couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even think about anything except for the feel of her lips and of her fingers in her hair. The kiss they shared on the battlefield was so much different than this. It was rushed and short and not enough. Now they had that lost time Cassian had wanted so badly for the past year.
He was so absent in his own thoughts that he couldn’t control what he uttered next from his swollen, tingling lips. “I’m in love with you.”
Nesta’s eyes switched back and forth between his left and right eye, and for once Cassian saw how she wasn’t scared of what he had said. She didn’t seal her heart with four locks like she did with her old apartment. Nesta wasn’t hiding anything from him.
She slid her arms up to wrap around his neck, and Cassian braced his hands on her hips. “Cassian, I need time. I’m sorry, but I want to be absolutely sure before I say it.” At least she wasn’t denying him. “But give me the time,” she pleaded, the anger that was in her voice minutes ago completely gone, “and we can make it work, Cassian.”
Cassian’s mouth lifted, and he found Nesta’s doing the same
“You were always the one,” she said after a silent minute. “When I brought them back from the taverns with me…I always wanted it to be you.” Nesta paused. “I was a coward.”
He brought his forehead to hers, taking her scent deep into his lungs. “You are the strongest, most powerful person I’ve ever met in my five centuries of being on this Earth.”
In response, Nesta touched her lips gently to his.
Cassian broke the kiss and said, “How about we go teach Eran a lesson, shall we?”
Nesta raised a golden brow. “Let me do the dirty work.”
She stormed out of the cabin with Cassian behind her, pretending like she was still mad at Cassian. He leaned casually against the wood siding. Eran’s face lit up when she stopped in front of him. He leaned in to brush a strand of her hair away, but Nesta struck instantly. Even from Cassian’s distance of twenty feet away he could hear the crack of his nose breaking.
Nesta gripped Eran’s hair and pulled him up to look at her, blood gushing from his nose and mouth. “Don’t touch me or any other female at this camp again.”
The perfect punch, the way she nonchalantly ordered Eran…Cassian fell for her even harder.