Chapter no 24

House of Earth and Blood

She had saved Micah Domitus that night.

Not some random legionary, but the gods-damned Archangel himself. No wonder the emergency responder had launched into action when he traced the phone number.

The knowledge rippled through her, warping and clearing some of the fog around her memories. “I saved the Governor in the alley.”

Hunt just gave her a slow, wincing nod.

Her voice sharpened. “Why was it a secret?”

Hunt waited until a flock of tourists had passed before saying, “For his sake. If word got out that the Governor had his ass handed to him, it wouldn’t have looked good.”

“Especially when he was saved by a half-breed?”

“No one in our group ever used that term—you know that, right? But yes. We did consider how it’d look if a twenty-three-year-old human-Fae female who hadn’t made the Drop had saved the Archangel when he couldn’t save himself.”

Her blood roared in her ears. “Why not tell me, though? I looked in all the hospitals, just to see if he’d made it.” More than that, actually. She’d demanded answers about how the warrior was recovering, but she’d been put on hold or ignored or asked to leave.

“I know,” Hunt said, scanning her face. “It was deemed wiser to keep it a secret. Especially when your phone got hacked right after—”

“So I was just going to live in ignorance forever—” “Did you want a medal or something? A parade?”

She halted so quickly that Hunt had to splay his wings to pause, too. “Go fuck yourself. What I wanted …” She tried to stop the sharp, jagged breaths that blinded her, built and built under her skin— “What I

wanted,” she hissed, resuming her walk as he just stared at her, “was to know that something I did made a difference that night. I assumed you’d dumped him in the Istros—some legionary grunt not worth the honor of a Sailing.”

Hunt shook his head. “Look, I know it was shitty. And I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry for all of it, Quinlan. I’m sorry we didn’t tell you, and I’m sorry you’re on my suspect list, and I’m sorry—”

“I’m on your what?” she spat. Red washed over her vision as she bared her teeth. “After all of this,” she seethed, “you think I am a fucking suspect?” She screamed the last words, only pure will keeping her from leaping on him and shredding his face off.

Hunt held up his hands. “That—fuck, Bryce. That didn’t come out right. Look—I had to consider every angle, every possibility, but I know now … Solas, when I saw your face in that alley, I realized it couldn’t ever have been you, and—”

“Get the fuck out of my sight.”

He watched her, assessing, then spread his wings. She refused to back up a step, teeth still bared. The wind off his wings stirred her hair, throwing his cedar-and-rain scent into her face as he leapt into the skies.

Look toward where it hurts the most.

Fuck the Viper Queen. Fuck everything.

Bryce launched into a run—a steady, swift run, despite the flimsy flats she’d switched into at the gallery. A run not toward anything or from anything, but just … movement. The pounding of her feet on pavement, the heaving of her breath.

Bryce ran and ran, until sounds returned and the haze receded and she could escape the screaming labyrinth of her mind. It wasn’t dancing, but it would do.

Bryce ran until her body screamed to stop. Ran until her phone buzzed and she wondered if Urd herself had extended a golden hand. The phone call was swift, breathless.

Minutes later, Bryce slowed to a walk as she approached the White Raven. And then stopped entirely before the alcove tucked into the wall just beside its service doors. Sweat ran down her neck, into her dress, soaking the green fabric as she again pulled out her phone.

But she didn’t call Hunt. He hadn’t interrupted her, but she knew he was overhead.

A few drops of rain splattered the pavement. She hoped it poured on Athalar all night.

Her fingers hesitated on the screen, and she sighed, knowing she shouldn’t.

But she did. Standing there in that same alcove where she’d exchanged some of her final messages with Danika, she pulled up the thread. It burned her eyes.

She scrolled upward, past all those final, happy words and teasing. To the photo Danika had sent that afternoon of herself and the pack at the sunball game, decked out in CCU gear. In the background, Bryce could make out the players on the field—Ithan’s powerful form among them.

But her gaze drifted to Danika’s face. That broad smile she’d known as well as her own.

I love you, Bryce. The worn memory of that mid-May day during their senior year tugged at her, sucked her in.

The hot road bit into Bryce’s knees through her torn jeans, her scraped hands trembling as she kept them interlocked behind her head, where she’d been ordered to hold them. The pain in her arm sliced like a knife. Broken. The males had made her put her hands up anyway.

The stolen motorcycle was no more than scrap metal on the dusty highway, the unmarked semitruck pulled over twenty feet away left idle. The rifle had been thrown into the olive grove beyond the mountain road, wrenched from Bryce’s hands in the accident that had led them here. The accident Danika had shielded her from, wrapping her body around Bryce’s. Danika had taken the shredding of the asphalt for them both.

Ten feet away, hands also behind her head, Danika bled from so many places her clothes were soaked with it. How had it come to this? How had things gone so terribly wrong?

“Where are those fucking bullets?” the male from the truck shrieked to his cronies, his empty gun—that blessedly, unexpectedly empty gun— clenched in his hand.

Danika’s caramel eyes were wide, searching, as they remained on Bryce’s face. Sorrow and pain and fear and regret—all of it was written there.

“I love you, Bryce.” Tears rolled down Danika’s face. “And I’m sorry.”

She had never said those words before. Ever. Bryce had teased her for the past three years about it, but Danika had refused to say them.

Motion caught Bryce’s attention to their left. Bullets had been found in the truck’s cab. But her gaze remained on Danika. On that beautiful, fierce face.

She let go, like a key turning in a lock. The first rays of the sun over the horizon.

And Bryce whispered, as those bullets came closer to that awaiting gun and the monstrous male who wielded it, “Close your eyes, Danika.”

Bryce blinked, the shimmering memory replaced by the photo still glaring from her screen. Of Danika and the Pack of Devils years later— so happy and young and alive.

Mere hours from their true end.

The skies opened, and wings rustled above, reminding her of Athalar’s hovering presence. But she didn’t bother to look as she strode into the club.

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