Elain had gone upstairs and frantically asked Nuala and Cerridwen to please draw her a bath and help her choose something to wear.
“Miss Elain, what’s the matter?” Nuala fretted. “You’re out of breath!”
“She’s going on a date with that Autumn Court male,” Cerridwen supplied with mischief in her eyes.
“Oh, the handsome one?” Nuala marveled.
“For Cauldron’s sake, Nuala, the only one living in this house!” Cerridwen said with an exasperated sigh.
“It is not a date!” Elain hissed as she stripped off her gardening clothes and submerged herself into the tub. “It’s just... lunch!”
"Lunch and going to Deidre's," Nuala countered.
“It sure sounds like a date,” Cerridwen challenged.
“You know, I think I’ve changed my mind,” Elain declared. “I can bathe and dress myself.”
Nuala and Cerridwen just giggled as the former worked soap suds into Elain’s hair and the latter flitted through the wardrobe.
Thanks to a bit of magic, Elain was bathed and dressed, her hair dried, in under fifteen minutes. She debated leaving her hair free-flowing, but the afternoon was hot... Still, she asked Nuala to put a few braided plaits in but leave the rest down. Nuala braided the two sections on either side of Elain’s head and then brought them together at the back and tied them together. Nuala didn’t even ask this time; she just tied off the braid with that strip of leather she found so offensive.
Elain smoothed her skirt and gave the handmaidens a nervous smile. “I don’t know what I’d do without you two.”
“Go about naked with bad hair, most likely,” Cerridwen teased.
Elain laughed and hugged them both. Cerridwen gave her a light push on her back toward the door. “Go on, then. Go to your non-date.”
Elain turned around to retort, but the twins had vanished into smoke and shadows. Elain just grumbled as she made her way downstairs. She hadn’t even reached the bottom when she called out, “I’m sorry, you probably think I’m being foolish, changing clothes and washing my hair just to go eat lunch, but... what?”
For she had stopped in the foyer at the foot of the stairs to see Lucien staring at her, his mouth slightly open and an almost terrified expression in those mismatched eyes. Before she’d met him, she would have not believed that a mechanical eye could convey such expression and emotion, but oh, how it could.
“You look fantastic,” he breathed.
Elain turned crimson and searched for something, anything, to look at besides his punch-drunk expression. She looked down at her own dress. It was nothing, really. A lightweight periwinkle blue dress (“It's such a lovely contrast to your dark eyes!” Cerridwen had insisted) with a few ruffles at the skirt and capped sleeves. Still unwilling to meet his eyes, she shrugged and muttered, “It’s just a dress.”
“And hell is just a sauna,” Lucien quipped.
Elain chanced a glance at him. He was smirking as he opened the front door and gestured for her to exit first.
“I would lead the way except, ah, I have no idea where we’re going,” he said, that smirk still pasted on his mouth.
Elain laughed. She couldn’t help it - he was funny. It felt like it had been so long since she’d wanted to laugh at anything, but Lucien just made it effortless. She was halfway out the door when she turned and rushed back in.
“I’d better leave a note. If Nesta comes back and I’m gone, she’s likely to explode.”
She penned a quick note and left it underneath one of the blood rubies that Tarquin had sent Rhys and Feyre. They were now the household’s favorite paperweights.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m starving.”
Lucien tried to school his expression into neutrality and mild interest when he realized he was staring for the seventh time. The restaurant Elain had taken them to was indeed right on the Sidra as she’d said and also as she’d promised, had some of the best scallops Lucien had ever tasted. He told her as much and she’d given him one of those smiles that he was certain would be his death.
As they’d walked to the restaurant, she’d pointed out some of her favorite shops, which merchants charged too much, who made the best sweets. A few people waved to her and she waved back. She had really begun building a life here.
He knew it made her uncomfortable when his attention settled on her, so he tried to avoid it as much as he could. But he really couldn’t help it. She was breathtaking. And not just in the figurative sense of the word. He found himself forgetting to breathe when the sun would catch her hair just right and made it practically shine. He wished there was a way to capture her smile and bottle it, to take out and use on bad days. It was impossible to be unhappy or forlorn when that smile was in the world.
He’d seen his share of beautiful females. He’d believed once that Jesminda was the most beautiful female he’d ever beheld, and she had been... until Elain. Cauldron boil him for thinking it. He felt vile and shallow for thinking it... but Elain’s beauty was simply otherworldly. He wondered if it had anything to do with the bond between them. The elemental, fated connection that bound him to her.
Aside from being struck by her elegance, he was amazed that she was even willing to be here, talking to him. She had been so reclusive when he’d first come to the Night Court. He’d been so afraid and anxious about how to break that ice and just talk to her. To be fair, she'd been the one to really initiate contact, which had surprised the hell out of him. He chided himself for being so craven to just talk to her. She was astonishingly easy to talk to. But, by talking to her, getting to know her, he'd doomed himself. Because now he could never go back to a life without her in it.
He reminded himself of the promise he made when he’d first returned to Velaris. Her choice. If she decided she wanted nothing to do with him, he would accept it. He wasn't sure how. It would utterly destroy him but... he would find a way to live with it. Somehow. He suddenly had much more respect for Rhysand. How he had stood by and watched his mate live with and love not only another male, but his sworn enemy, Lucien would never know. Rhysand endured the unrequited mating bond for so long . Lucien reminded himself to commend his host for his fortitude... and ask him what his secret was to surviving it.
Elain was breaking off pieces of bread and throwing them to the gulls loitering nearby. The light caught on her iron ring at just the right angle to cause a tiny flare. It was just for a second and if he’d blinked, he would have missed it. He wished he’d blinked.
Elain caught him looking at it and abruptly stopped throwing bread to the birds. They cawed their disapproval at the sudden lack of bread. Lucien’s throat bobbed. She seemed like she was settling in here, building a life, making connections in the city... so he couldn’t figure out why she still wore that infernal thing.
He’d heard about her fiance’s brutal rejection upon finding out what she was. And about him. Feyre had told him that Greysen knew about Elain’s mating bond with Lucien. He squeezed his hand into a tight fist when he thought of how cruelly that mortal swine had dismissed the alleged love of his life. If he knew it wouldn’t absolutely devastate Elain, he would go to that spineless peacock’s estate and snap his neck.
But he had more self-control than that and told himself that the boy wasn’t worth it. He just wished she would stop wearing that ring.
I’d rather take the lashings from Amarantha’s whip again than see that wretched thing upon her hand.
Elain’s doe-brown eyes went wide. Lucien had closed his eyes and taken a hearty swig of wine at the moment he’d had that thought, so he didn’t see Elain’s horrified expression. If he had, he would have realized that his pain was so palpable, he’d unintentionally sent that thought through the mating bond. And Elain had heard it.