Chapter no 25

House of Earth and Blood

Hunt knew he’d fucked up. And he was in deep shit with Micah—if Micah found out that he’d revealed the truth about that night.

He doubted Quinlan had made that call—either to the sorceress or to Micah’s office—and he’d make sure she didn’t. Maybe he’d bribe her with a new pair of shoes or some purse or whatever the fuck might be enticing enough to keep her mouth shut. One fuckup, one misstep, and he had few illusions about how Micah would react.

He let Quinlan run through the city, trailing her from the Old Square into the dark wasteland of Asphodel Meadows, then into the CBD, and back to the Old Square again.

Hunt flew above her, listening to the symphony of honking cars, thumping bass, and the brisk April wind whispering through the palms and cypresses. Witches on brooms soared down the streets, some close enough to touch the roofs of the cars they passed. So different from the angels, Hunt included, who always kept above the buildings when flying. As if the witches wanted to be a part of the bustle the angels defined themselves by avoiding.

While he’d trailed Quinlan, Justinian had called with the information on the kristallos, which amounted to a whole lot of nothing. A few myths that matched with what they already knew. Vik had called five minutes after that: the Viper Queen’s alibis checked out.

Then Isaiah had called, confirming that the victim in the alley was indeed a missing acolyte. He knew Danaan’s suspicions were right: it couldn’t be coincidence that they’d been at the temple yesterday, talking about the Horn and the demon that had slaughtered Danika and the Pack of Devils, and now one of its acolytes had died at the kristallos’s claws.

A Fae girl. Barely more than a child. Acid burned through his stomach at the thought.

He shouldn’t have brought Quinlan to the murder scene. Shouldn’t have pushed her into going, so blinded by his damn need to get this investigation solved quickly that he hadn’t thought twice about her hesitation.

He hadn’t realized until he’d seen her look at the pulped body, until her face had gone white as death, that her quiet wasn’t calm at all. It was shock. Trauma. Horror. And he’d shoved her into it.

He’d fucked up, and Ruhn had been right to call him on that, but— shit.

He’d taken one look at Quinlan’s ashen face and known she hadn’t been behind these murders, or even remotely involved. And he was a giant fucking asshole for even entertaining the idea. For even telling her she’d been on his list.

He rubbed his face. He wished Shahar were here, soaring beside him. She’d always let him talk out various strategies or issues during the five years he’d been with her 18th, always listened, and asked questions. Challenged him in a way no one else had.

By the time an hour had passed and the rain had begun, Hunt had planned a whole speech. He doubted Quinlan wanted to hear it, or would admit what she’d felt today, but he owed her an apology. He’d lost so many essential parts of himself over these centuries of enslavement and war, but he liked to think he hadn’t lost his basic decency. At least not yet.

After completing those two thousand–plus kills he still had to make if he failed to solve this case, however, he couldn’t imagine he’d have even that left. Whether the person he’d be at that point would deserve freedom, he didn’t know. Didn’t want to think about it.

But then Bryce got a phone call—got one, didn’t make one, thank fuck—and didn’t break her stride to answer it. Too high up to hear, he could only watch as she’d shifted directions again and aimed—he realized ten minutes later—for Archer Street.

Just as the rain increased, she’d paused outside the White Raven and spent a few minutes on her phone. But despite his eagle-sharp eyesight, he couldn’t make out what she was doing on it. So he’d watched from the adjacent roof, and must have checked his own phone a dozen times in those five minutes like a pathetic fucking loser, hoping she’d message him.

And right when the rain turned to a downpour, she put her phone away, walked past the bouncers with a little wave, and vanished into the White Raven without so much as a look upward.

Hunt landed, sending Vanir and humans skittering down the sidewalk. And the half-wolf, half-daemonaki bouncer had the nerve to actually hold out a hand. “Line’s to the right,” the male to his left rumbled.

“I’m with Bryce,” he said.

The other bouncer said, “Tough shit. Line’s on the right.”

The line, despite the early hour, was already down the block. “I’m here on legion business,” Hunt said, fishing for his badge, wherever the fuck he’d put it—

The door cracked open, and a stunning Fae waitress peeked out. “Riso says he’s in, Crucius.”

The bouncer who’d first spoken just held Hunt’s stare.

Hunt smirked. “Some other time.” Then he followed the female inside.

The scent of sex and booze and sweat that hit him had every instinct rising with dizzying speed as they crossed the glass-framed courtyard and ascended the steps. The half-crumbled pillars were uplit by purple lights.

He’d never set foot in the club—always made Isaiah or one of the others do it. Mostly because he knew it was no better than the palaces and country villas of the Pangeran Archangels, where feasts turned to orgies that lasted for days. All while people starved mere steps from those villas—humans and Vanir alike rooting through garbage piles for anything to fill their children’s bellies. He knew his temper and triggers well enough to stay the fuck away.

Some people whispered as he walked by. He just kept his eyes on Bryce, who was already in a booth between two carved pillars, sipping at a glass of something clear—either vodka or gin. With all the scents in here, he couldn’t make it out.

Her eyes lifted to him from the rim of her glass as she sipped. “How’d you get in?”

“It’s a public place, isn’t it?”

She said nothing. Hunt sighed, and was about to sit down to make that apology when he scented jasmine and vanilla, and—

“Excuse me, sir—oh. Um. Erm.” He found himself looking at a lovely faun, dressed in a white tank top and skirt short enough to show off her long, striped legs and delicate hooves. Her gently arcing horns

were nearly hidden in curly hair that was pulled back into a coiled bun, her brown skin dusted with gold that flickered in the club lights. Gods, she was beautiful.

Juniper Andromeda: Bryce’s friend in the ballet. He’d read her file, too. The dancer glanced between Hunt and Quinlan. “I—I hope I’m not interrupting anything—”

“He was just leaving,” Bryce said, draining her glass.

He finally slid into the booth. “I was just arriving.” He extended a hand to the faun. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Hunt.”

“I know who you are,” the faun said, her voice husky.

Juniper’s grip was light but solid. Bryce refilled her glass from a decanter of clear liquid and drank deep. Juniper asked her, “Did you order food? Rehearsal just let out and I’m starving.” Though the faun was thin, she was leanly muscled, strong as Hel beneath that graceful exterior.

Bryce held up her drink. “I’m having a liquid dinner.” Juniper frowned. But she asked Hunt, “You want food?” “Hel yes.”

“You can order whatever you want—they’ll get it for you.” She raised a hand, signaling a waitress. “I’ll have a veggie burger, no cheese, with a side of fries, vegetable oil only to cook them, and two pieces of pizza—plant-based cheese on it, please.” She bit her lip, then explained to Hunt, “I don’t eat animal products.”

As a faun, meat and dairy were abhorrent. Milk was only for nursing babies.

“Got it,” he said. “You mind if I do?” He’d fought alongside fauns over the centuries. Some hadn’t been able to stand the sight of meat. Some hadn’t cared. It was always worth asking.

Juniper blinked, but shook her head.

He offered the waitress a smile as he said, “I’ll have … a bone-in rib eye and roasted green beans.” What the Hel. He glanced at Bryce, who was guzzling her booze like it was a protein shake.

She hadn’t eaten dinner yet, and even though he’d been distracted this morning when she’d emerged from her bedroom in nothing but a lacy hot-pink bra and matching underwear, he’d noted through the living room window that she’d also forgone breakfast, and since she hadn’t brought lunch with her or ordered in, he was willing to bet she hadn’t eaten that, either.

So Hunt said, “She’ll have lamb kofta with rice, roasted chickpeas, and pickles on the side. Thanks.” He’d watched her go for lunch a few

times now, and had scented precisely what was inside her takeaway bags. Bryce opened her mouth, but the waitress was already gone. Juniper surveyed them nervously. Like she knew precisely what Bryce was about to—

“Are you going to cut my food, too?” “What?”

“Just because you’re some big, tough asshole doesn’t mean you get the right to decide when I should eat—or when I’m not taking care of my body. I’m the one who lives in it, know when I fucking want to eat. So keep your possessive and aggressive bullshit to yourself.”

Juniper’s swallow was audible over the music. “Long day at work, Bryce?”

Bryce reached for her drink again. But Hunt moved faster, his hand wrapping around her wrist and pinning it to the table before she could guzzle down more booze.

“Get your fucking hand off me,” she snarled.

Hunt threw her a half smile. “Don’t be such a cliché.” Her eyes simmered. “You have a rough day and you come to drown yourself in vodka?” He snorted, letting go of her wrist and grabbing her glass. He lifted it to his lips, holding her stare over the rim as he said, “At least tell me you have good taste in—” He sniffed the liquor. Tasted it. “This is water.”

Her fingers curled into fists on the table. “I don’t drink.”

Juniper said, “I invited Bryce tonight. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, and I have to meet some of the company members here later, so—”

“Why don’t you drink?” Hunt asked Bryce.

“You’re the Umbra Mortis. I’m sure you can figure it out.” Bryce scooted out of the booth, forcing Juniper to get up. “Though considering you thought I killed my best friend, maybe you can’t.” Hunt bristled, but Bryce just declared, “I’m going to the bathroom.” Then she walked right into the throng on the ancient dance floor, the crowd swallowing her as she wove her way toward a distant door between two pillars at the back of the space.

Juniper’s face was tight. “I’ll go with her.”

Then she was gone, moving swift and light, two males gaping as she passed. Juniper ignored them. She caught up to Bryce midway across the dance floor, halting her with a hand on her arm. Juniper smiled—bright as the lights around them—and began speaking, gesturing to the booth, the club. Bryce’s face remained cold as stone. Colder.

Males approached, saw that expression, and didn’t venture closer. “Well, if she’s pissed at you, it’ll make me look better,” drawled a

male voice beside him.

Hunt didn’t bother to look pleasant. “Tell me you’ve found something.”

The Crown Prince of the Valbaran Fae leaned against the edge of the booth, his strikingly blue eyes lingering on his cousin. He’d no doubt used those shadows of his to creep up without Hunt’s notice. “Negative. I got a call from the Raven’s owner that she was here. She was in bad enough shape when she left the crime scene that I wanted to make sure she was all right.”

Hunt couldn’t argue with that. So he said nothing.

Ruhn nodded toward where the females stood motionless in the middle of a sea of dancers. “She used to dance, you know. If she’d been able, she would have gone into the ballet like Juniper.”

He hadn’t known—not really. Those facts had been blips on her file. “Why’d she drop it?”

“You’ll have to ask her. But she stopped dancing completely after Danika died.”

“And drinking, it seems.” Hunt glanced toward her discarded glass of water.

Ruhn followed his line of sight. If he was surprised, the prince didn’t let on.

Hunt took a sip of Bryce’s water and shook his head. Not a party girl at all—just content to let the world believe the worst of her.

Including him. Hunt rolled his shoulders, wings moving with him, as he watched her on the dance floor. Yeah, he’d fucked up. Royally.

Bryce looked toward the booth and when she saw her cousin there … There were trenches of Hel warmer than the look she gave Ruhn.

Juniper tracked her gaze.

Bryce took all of one step toward the booth before the club exploded.

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