Home > Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4)(7)

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4)(7)
Marissa Meyer

“Your Highness. I have come to retrieve you and escort you back to the palace.”

Righting herself, Winter clasped her hands in front of her chest. “Of course. It’s so kind of you to worry after me.” She glanced back at Jacin, who was eyeing the guard with distrust. No surprise. He eyed everyone with distrust. “I fear tomorrow will be even more difficult for you, Sir Clay. Do try to think of me when you can.”

“Try, Princess?” He smirked up at her. “I can’t seem to think of much else.”


Cinder lay on the ground, staring up at the Rampion’s vast engine, its ductwork, and revolving life-support module. The system blueprints she’d downloaded weeks ago were overlaid across her vision—a cyborg trick that had come in handy countless times when she was a working mechanic in New Beijing. She expanded the blueprint, zooming in on a cylinder the length of her arm. It was tucked near the engine room’s wall. Coils of tubing sprouted from both sides.

“That has to be the problem,” she muttered, dismissing the blueprint. She shimmied beneath the revolving module, dust bunnies gathering around her shoulders, and eased herself back to sitting. There was just enough space for her to squeeze in between the labyrinth of wires and coils, pipes and tubes.

Holding her breath, she pressed her ear against the cylinder. The metal was ice cold against her skin.

She waited. Listened. Adjusted the volume on her audio sensors.

What she heard was the door to the engine room opening.

Glancing back, she spotted the gray pants of a military uniform in the yellowish light from the corridor. That could have been anyone on the ship, but the shiny black dress shoes …

“Hello?” said Kai.

Her heart thumped—every single time, her heart thumped.

“Back here.”

Kai shut the door and crouched down on the far side of the room, framed between the jumble of thumping pistons and spinning fans. “What are you doing?”

“Checking the oxygen filters. One minute.”

She placed her ear against the cylinder again. There—a faint clatter, like a pebble banging around inside. “Aha.”

She dug a wrench from her pocket and set to loosening the nuts on either side of the cylinder. As soon as it was free, the ship fell eerily quiet, like a humming that became noticeable only after it stopped. Kai’s eyebrows shot upward.

Cinder peered into the cylinder’s depths, before sticking her fingers in and pulling out a complicated filter. It was made of tiny channels and crevices, all lined with a thin gray film.

“No wonder the takeoffs have been rocky.”

“I don’t suppose you could use some help?”

“Nope. Unless you want to find me a broom.”

“A broom?”

Raising the filter, Cinder banged the end of it on one of the overhead pipes. A dust cloud exploded around her, covering her hair and arms. Coughing, Cinder buried her nose in the crook of her elbow and kept banging until the biggest chunks had been dislodged.

“Ah. A broom. Right. There might be one up in the kitchen?… I mean, the galley.”

Blinking the dust from her eyelashes, Cinder grinned at him. He was usually so self-assured that in the rare moments when he was flustered, it made all of her insides swap wrong side up. And he was flustered a lot lately. Since the moment he’d woken up aboard the Rampion, it was clear that Kai was twelve thousand kilometers outside of his element, yet he adapted well in the past weeks. He learned the terminology, he ate the canned and freeze-dried meals without complaint, he traded his fancy wedding clothes for the standard military uniform they all wore. He insisted on helping out where he could, even cooking a few of those bland meals, despite how Iko pointed out that—as he was their royal guest—they should be waiting on him. Thorne laughed, though, and the suggestion seemed to make Kai even more uncomfortable.

While Cinder couldn’t imagine him abdicating his throne and setting off on a lifetime of space travel and adventure, it was rather adorable watching him try to fit in.

“I was kidding,” she said. “Engine rooms are supposed to be dirty.” She examined the filter again and, deeming it satisfactory, twisted it back into the cylinder and bolted it all in place. The humming started up again, but the pebble clatter was gone.

Cinder squirmed feetfirst out from beneath the module and ductwork. Still crouching, Kai peered down at her and smirked. “Iko’s right. You really can’t stay clean for more than five minutes.”

“It’s part of the job description.” She sat up, sending a cascade of lint off her shoulders.

Kai brushed some of the larger chunks from her hair. “Where did you learn to do all this, anyway?”

“What, that? Anyone can clean an oxygen filter.”

“Trust me, they can’t.” He settled his elbows on his knees and let his attention wander around the engine room. “You know what all this does?”

She followed the look—every wire, every manifold, every compression coil—and shrugged. “Pretty much. Except for that big, rotating thing in the corner. Can’t figure it out. But how important could it be?”

Kai rolled his eyes.

Grasping a pipe, Cinder hauled herself to her feet and shoved the wrench back into her pocket. “I didn’t learn it anywhere. I just look at things and figure out how they work. Once you know how something works, you can figure out how to fix it.”

She tried to shake the last bits of dust from her hair, but there seemed to be an endless supply.

“Oh, you just look at something and figure out how it works,” Kai deadpanned, standing beside her. “Is that all?”

Cinder fixed her ponytail and shrugged, suddenly embarrassed. “It’s just mechanics.”

Kai scooped an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. “No, it’s impressive,” he said, using the pad of his thumb to brush something off Cinder’s cheek. “Not to mention, weirdly attractive,” he said, before capturing her lips.

Cinder tensed briefly, before melting into the kiss. The rush was the same every time, coupled with surprise and a wave of giddiness. It was their seventeenth kiss (her brain interface was keeping a tally, somewhat against her will), and she wondered if she would ever get used to this feeling. Being desired, when she’d spent her life believing no one would ever see her as anything but a bizarre science experiment.

Especially not a boy.

Especially not Kai, who was smart and honorable and kind, and could have had any girl he wanted. Any girl.

She sighed against him, leaning into the embrace. Kai reached for an overhead pipe and pressed Cinder against the main computer console. She offered no resistance. Though her body wouldn’t allow her to blush, there was an unfamiliar heat that flooded every inch of her when he was this close. Every nerve ending sparked and thrummed, and she knew he could kiss her another seventeen thousand times and she would never grow tired of it.

She tied her arms around his neck, molding their bodies together. The warmth of his chest seeped into her clothes. It felt nothing but right. Nothing but perfect.

But then there was the feeling, always lurking, always ready to cloud her contentment. The knowledge that this couldn’t last.

Not so long as Kai was engaged to Levana.

Angry at the thought’s invasion, she kissed Kai harder, but her thoughts continued to rebel. Even if they succeeded and Cinder was able to reclaim her throne, she would be expected to stay on Luna as their new queen. She was no expert, but it seemed problematic to carry on a relationship on two different planets—

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