Hunt kept a casual distance from Bryce as she walked beside him through the Comitium lobby to the bank of elevators that would take them up to the 33rd’s barracks. The other elevator bays dispersed through the centralized, glass-enclosed atrium led to the four other towers of the complex: one for the City Heads’ meeting rooms and the running of Lunathion, one for Micah as both residence and official office, one for general administrative bullshit, and one for public meetings and events. Thousands upon thousands of people lived and worked within its walls, but even with the bustling lobby, Quinlan somehow managed to stand out.
She’d changed into red suede flats and a button-up white blouse tucked into tight jeans, and tied her silken mass of hair into a high ponytail that swayed sassily with every step she took, matching Hunt stride for stride.
He placed his palm against the round disk next to the elevator doors, clearing him for access to his floor thirty levels up. Usually, he flew to the barracks’ landing balcony—half for ease, half to avoid the busybodies who were now gawking at them across the lobby floor, no doubt wondering if Hunt was bringing Quinlan here to fuck her or interrogate her.
The legionary who lounged on a low-lying couch wasn’t particularly skilled in stealing covert glances at her ass. Bryce looked over a shoulder, as if some extra sense told her someone was watching, and gave the soldier a smile.
The legionary stiffened. Bryce bit her lower lip, her lashes lowering slightly.
Hunt punched the elevator button, hard, even as the male gave Bryce a half smile Hunt was pretty sure the bastard threw at any female who came his way. As low-level grunts in a very large machine, legionaries— even those in the famed 33rd—couldn’t be picky.
The elevator doors opened, and legionaries and business types filed out, those without wings careful not to step on anyone’s feathers. And all of them careful not to look Hunt in the eye.
It wasn’t that he was unfriendly. If someone offered him a smile, he usually made an attempt at returning it. But they’d all heard the stories. All knew whom he worked for—every one of his masters—and what he did for them.
They’d be more comfortable getting into an elevator with a starved tiger.
So Hunt kept back, minimizing any chance of contact. Bryce whirled to face the elevator, that ponytail nearly whipping him in the face.
“Watch that thing,” Hunt snapped as the elevator finally emptied and they walked in. “You’ll take my eye out.”
She leaned nonchalantly against the far glass wall. Mercifully, no one got inside with them. Hunt wasn’t stupid enough to think that it was by pure chance.
They’d made only one stop on their way here, to buy her a replacement phone for the one she’d lost at the club. She’d even coughed up a few extra marks for a standard protection spell package on the phone.
The glass-and-chrome store had been mostly empty, but he hadn’t failed to notice how many would-be shoppers spied him through the windows and kept far away. Bryce hadn’t seemed to notice, and while they’d waited for the employee to bring out a new phone for her, she’d asked him for his own, so she could trawl the news feeds for any updates on the club attack. Somehow, she’d wound up going through his photos. Or lack of them.
“There are thirty-six photos on this phone,” she said flatly. Hunt had frowned. “So?”
She scrolled through the paltry collection. “Going back four years.” To when he’d arrived in Lunathion and gotten his first phone and taste of life without a monster ruling over him. Bryce had gagged as she opened a photo of a severed leg on a bloody carpet. “What the fuck?”
“I sometimes get called to crime scenes and have to snap a few for evidence.”
“Are any of these people from your bargain with—”
“No,” he said. “I don’t take pictures of them.”
“There are thirty-six photos on your four-year-old phone, and all of them are of dismembered bodies,” she said. Someone gasped across the store.
Hunt gritted his teeth. “Say it a little louder, Quinlan.” She frowned. “You never take any others?”
“Oh, I don’t know—of life? A pretty flower or good meal or something?”
“What’s the point?”
She’d blinked, then shook her head. “Weirdo.”
And before he could stop her, she’d angled his phone in front of her, beamed from ear to ear, and snapped a photo of herself before she handed it back to him. “There. One non-corpse photo.”
Hunt had rolled his eyes, but pocketed the phone.
The elevator hummed around them, shooting upward. Bryce watched the numbers rise. “Do you know who that legionary was?” she asked casually.
“Which one? There was the one drooling on the Traskian carpet, the one with his tongue rolled out on the floor, or the one who was staring at your ass like it was going to talk to him?”
She laughed. “They must keep you all starved for sex in these barracks if the presence of one female sends them into such a tizzy. So— do you know his name? The one who wanted to have a chat with my ass.”
“No. There are three thousand of us in the 33rd alone.” He glanced at her sidelong, watching her monitor the rising floor numbers. “Maybe some guy that checks out your ass before he says hello isn’t someone worth knowing.”
Her brows lifted as the elevator stopped and the doors opened. “That is precisely the kind of person I’m looking for.” She stepped into the simple hallway, and he followed her—realizing as she paused that he knew where they were going, and she only faked it.
He turned left. Their footsteps echoed off the tan granite tile of the long corridor. The stone was cracked and chipped in spots—from dropped weapons, magical pissing contests, actual brawls—but still polished enough that he could see both their reflections.
Quinlan took in the hall, the names on each door. “Males only, or are you mixed?”
“Mixed,” he told her. “Though there are more males than females in the 33rd.”
“Do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend? Someone whose ass you
He shook his head, trying to fight the ice in his veins as he stopped before his door, opened it, and let her inside. Trying to block out the image of Shahar plunging to the earth, Sandriel’s sword through her sternum, both angels’ white wings streaming blood. Both sisters screaming, faces nearly mirror images of each other. “I was born a bastard.” He shut the door behind them, watching her survey the small room. The bed was big enough to fit his wings, but there wasn’t space for much else beyond an armoire and dresser, a desk stacked with books and papers, and discarded weapons.
“So my mother had no money, and no distinguished bloodline that might have made up for it. I don’t exactly have females lining up for me, despite this face of mine.” His laugh was bitter as he opened the cheap pine armoire and pulled out a large duffel. “I had someone once, someone who didn’t care about status, but it didn’t end well.” Each word singed his tongue.
Bryce wrapped her arms around herself, nails digging into the filmy silk of her shirt. She seemed to realize whom he’d alluded to. She glanced around, as if casting for things to say, and somehow settled on, “When did you make the Drop?”
“I was twenty-eight.” “Why then?”
“My mother had just died.” Sorrow filled her eyes, and he couldn’t stand the look, couldn’t stand to open up the wound, so he added, “I was reeling afterward. So I got a public Anchor and made the Drop. But it didn’t make a difference. If I’d inherited the power of an Archangel or a dormouse, once the tattoos got inked on me five years later, it cut me off at the knees.”
He could hear her hand stroke his blanket. “You ever regret the angels’ rebellion?”
Hunt glanced over a shoulder to find her leaning against the bed. “No one’s ever asked me that.” No one dared. But she held his stare. Hunt admitted, “I don’t know what I think.”
He let his stare convey the rest. And I wouldn’t say a fucking word about it in this place.
She nodded. Then looked at the walls—no artwork, no posters. “Not one to decorate?”
He stuffed clothes into the duffel, remembering she had a washing machine in the apartment. “Micah can trade me whenever he wants. It’s asking for bad luck to put down roots like that.”
She rubbed her arms, even though the room was warm, almost stuffy. “If he’d died that night, what would have happened to you? To every Fallen and slave he owns?”
“Our deed of ownership passes on to whoever replaces him.” He hated every word out of his mouth. “If he doesn’t have anyone listed, the assets get divided among the other Archangels.”
“Who wouldn’t honor his bargain with you.”
“Definitely not.” Hunt started on the weapons stashed in his desk drawers.
He could feel her watching his every movement, as if counting each blade and gun he pulled out. She asked, “If you achieved your freedom, what would you do?”
Hunt checked the ammo for the guns he had on his desk, and she wandered over to watch. He tossed a few into his bag. She picked up a long knife as if it were a dirty sock. “I heard your lightning is unique among the angels—even the Archangels can’t produce it.”
He tucked in his wings. “Yeah?”
A shrug. “So why is Isaiah the Commander of the 33rd?”
He took the knife from her and set it in his bag. “Because I piss off too many people and don’t give a shit that I do.” It had been that way even before Mount Hermon. Yet Shahar had seen it as a strength. Made him her general. He’d tried and failed to live up to that honor.
Bryce gave him a conspirator’s smile. “We have something in common after all, Athalar.”
Fine. The angel wasn’t so bad. He had patched her up after the bombing with no male swaggering. And he had one Hel of a reason to want this case solved. And he pissed Ruhn off to no end.
As he’d finished packing, he’d gotten a call from Isaiah, who said that their request to see Briggs had been approved—but that it would take a few days to get Briggs cleaned up and brought over from Adrestia Prison. Bryce had chosen to ignore what, exactly, that implied about Briggs’s current state.
The only bright spot was that Isaiah informed Hunt that the Oracle had made room for him on her schedule first thing tomorrow.
Bryce eyed Hunt as they boarded the elevator once again, her stomach flipping as they plunged toward the central lobby of the Comitium. Whatever clearance Hunt had, it somehow included overriding the elevator commands to stop at other floors. Sweet.
She’d never really known any of the malakim beyond seeing the legionaries on patrol, or their rich elite strutting like peacocks around town. Most preferred the rooftop lounges in the CBD. And since half-breed sluts weren’t allowed into those, she’d never had a chance to take one home.
Well, now she was taking one home, though not in the way she’d once imagined while ogling their muscles. She and Danika had once spent two solid summer weeks of lunch breaks sitting on a rooftop adjacent to a legion training space. With the heat, the male angels had stripped down to their pants while they sparred. And then got sweaty. Very, very sweaty.
She and Danika would have kept going every lunch hour if they hadn’t been caught by the building’s janitor, who called them perverts and permanently locked access to the roof.
The elevator slowed to a stop, setting her stomach flipping again. The doors opened, and they were greeted by a wall of impatient-looking legionaries—who all made sure to rearrange their expressions to carefully noncommittal when they beheld Hunt.
The Shadow of Death. She’d spied the infamous helmet in his room, sitting beside his desk. He’d left it behind, thank the gods.
The Comitium lobby beyond the elevators was packed. Full of wings and halos and those enticing muscled bodies, all facing the front doors, craning their necks to see over each other but none launching into the atrium airspace—
Hunt went rigid at the edge of the crowd that had nearly blocked off the barracks elevator bank. Bryce made it all of one step toward him before the elevator to their right opened and Isaiah rushed out, halting as he spied Hunt. “I just heard—”
The ripple of power at the other end of the lobby made her legs buckle.
As if that power had knocked the crowd to the ground, everyone knelt and bowed their heads.
Leaving the three of them with a perfect view of the Archangel who stood at the giant glass doors of the atrium, Micah at her side.