Chapter no 31

House of Earth and Blood

Sandriel turned toward Hunt, Bryce, and Isaiah at the same moment Micah did. Recognition flared in the dark-haired female’s eyes as that gaze landed on Hunt, skipped Bryce entirely, and took in Isaiah.

Bryce recognized her, of course. She was on television often enough that no one on the planet wouldn’t recognize her.

A step ahead, Hunt was a trembling live wire. She’d never seen him like this.

“Get down,” Isaiah murmured, and knelt.

Hunt didn’t move. Wouldn’t, Bryce realized. People looked over their shoulders as they remained on their knees.

Isaiah muttered, “Pollux isn’t with her. Just fucking kneel.” Pollux— the Hammer. Some of the tension went out of Hunt, but he remained standing.

He looked lost, stranded, somewhere between rage and terror. Not even a flicker of lightning at his fingertips. Bryce stepped closer to his side, flicking her ponytail over a shoulder. She took her brand-new phone out of her pocket, making sure the sound was cranked up.

So everyone could hear the loud click click click as she snapped photos of the two Archangels, then turned, angling herself and the phone, to get a shot with herself and the Governors in the background—

People murmured in shock. Bryce tilted her head to the side, smiling wide, and snapped another.

Then she turned to Hunt, who was still trembling, and said as flippantly as she could muster, “Thanks for bringing me to see them. Shall we?”

She didn’t give Hunt the chance to do anything as she looped her arm through his, turned them both around before taking a photo with him

and the stone-faced Archangels and the gawking crowd in the background, and then tugged him back toward the elevator bank.

That’s why some legionaries had been rushing to get on. To flee.

Maybe there was another exit beyond the wall of glass doors. The crowd rose to their feet.

She pushed the button, praying it gave her access to any of the tower’s floors. Hunt was still shaking. Bryce gripped his arm tight, tapping her foot on the tiles as—

“Explain yourself.” Micah stood behind them, blocking the crowd from the elevator bank.

Hunt closed his eyes.

Bryce swallowed and turned, nearly whipping Hunt in the face with her hair again. “Well, I heard that you had a special guest, so I asked Hunt to bring me so I could get a photo—”

“Do not lie.”

Hunt opened his eyes, then slowly turned to the Governor. “I had to pick up supplies and clothes. Isaiah gave me the go-ahead to bring her here.”

As if speaking his name had summoned him, the Commander of the 33rd pushed through the line of guards. Isaiah said, “It’s true, Your Grace. Hunt was grabbing necessities, and didn’t want to risk leaving Miss Quinlan alone while he did it.”

The Archangel looked at Isaiah, then Hunt. Then her.

Micah’s gaze roved over her body. Her face. She knew that gaze, that slow study.

Too fucking bad that Micah was about as warm as a fish at the bottom of a mountain lake.

Too fucking bad he’d used Hunt like a weapon, dangling his freedom like a dog treat.

Too fucking bad he often worked with her father on city matters, and on House business—too bad he reminded her of her father.

Boo. Fucking. Hoo.

She said to Micah, “It was nice to see you again, Your Grace.” Then the elevator doors opened, as if some god had willed them to make a good exit.

She nudged Hunt inside, and was following him in when a cold, strong hand gripped her elbow. She batted her eyelashes up at Micah as he stopped her between the elevator doors. Hunt didn’t seem to be breathing.

As if he were waiting for the Governor to rescind his deal.

But Micah purred, “I would like to take you to dinner, Bryce Quinlan.”

She pulled out of his grip, joining Hunt in the elevator. And as the doors closed, she looked the Archangel of Valbara full in the face. “Not interested,” she said.

Hunt had known Sandriel was coming, but running into her today … She must have wanted to surprise them all, if Isaiah hadn’t known. Wanted to catch the Governor and the legion off guard and see what this place was like before the pomp and circumstance made their defenses seem stronger, their wealth deeper. Before Micah could call in one of his other legions to make them look that much more impressive.

What piss-poor fucking luck that they’d run into her. But at least Pollux hadn’t been there. Not yet.

The elevator shot up again, and Bryce stayed silent. Holding herself.

Not interested.

He doubted Micah Domitus had ever heard those words before.

He doubted Sandriel ever had someone snap photos of her like that.

All he’d been able to think about while he beheld Sandriel was the weight of his knife at his side. All he could smell was the reek of her arena, blood and shit and piss and sand—

Then Bryce had made her move. Played that irreverent, vapid party girl she wanted them to believe she was, that he’d believed she was, snapping those photos, giving him an out—

Hunt placed his hand against the disk beside the button panel and punched in a different floor, overriding wherever the elevator had been taking them. “We can leave from the landing.” His voice was like gravel. He always forgot—just how similar Sandriel and Shahar looked. Not identical twins, but their coloring and build had been nearly the same. “I’ll have to carry you, though.”

She twirled the silken length of her ponytail around a wrist, unaware that she bared the golden column of her throat to him with the movement.

Not interested.

She’d sounded certain. Not gleeful, not gloating, but … firm.

Hunt didn’t dare consider how this rejection might affect his bargain with Micah—to wonder if Micah would somehow blame Hunt for it.

Bryce asked, “No back door?”

“There is, but we’d have to go down again.”

He could feel her questions bubbling up, and before she could ask any of them he said, “Sandriel’s Second, Pollux, is even worse than she is. When he arrives, avoid him at all costs.”

He couldn’t bring himself to dredge up the list of horrors Pollux had inflicted on innocents.

Bryce clicked her tongue. “Like my path will ever cross theirs if I can help it.”

After that show in the lobby, it might. But Hunt didn’t tell her that Sandriel wasn’t above petty revenge for slights and minor offenses. Didn’t tell her that Sandriel would likely never forget Bryce’s face. Might already be asking Micah who she was.

The doors opened onto a quiet upper level. The halls were dim, hushed, and he led her into a labyrinth of gym equipment. A broad path cut through the gear directly to the wall of windows—and the launch balcony beyond. There was no railing, just an open jut of stone. She balked.

“I’ve never dropped anyone,” he promised.

She gingerly followed him outside. The dry wind whipped at them. Far below, the city street was packed with onlookers and news vans. Above them, angels were flying, some fleeing outright, some circling the five spires of the Comitium to get a glimpse of Sandriel from afar.

Hunt bent, sliding a hand under Bryce’s knees, bracing another on her back, and picked her up. Her scent filled his senses, washing away the last of the memory of that reeking dungeon.

“Thank you,” he said, meeting her stare. “For bailing me out back there.”

She shrugged as best she could in his grip, but winced as he stepped closer to the edge.

“That was fast thinking,” he went on. “Ridiculous on so many levels, but I owe you.”

She slid her arms around his neck, her grip near-strangling. “You helped me out last night. We’re even.”

Hunt didn’t give her a chance to change her mind as he beat his wings in a powerful push and leapt off the edge. She clung to him, tight enough to hurt, and he held her firmly, the duffel strapped across his chest awkwardly banging against his thigh.

“Are you even watching?” he asked over the wind as he sent them sailing hard and fast, flying up, up, up the side of the adjacent skyscraper in the Central Business District.

“Absolutely not,” she said in his ear.

He chuckled as they leveled out, cruising above the reaching pinnacles of the CBD, the Istros a winding sparkle to their right, the mist-shrouded isle of the Bone Quarter looming behind it. To the left, he could just make out the walls of the city, and then the wide-open land beyond the Angels’ Gate. No houses or buildings or roads out there. Nothing but the aerialport. But at the Gate to their right—the Merchants’ Gate in the Meat Market—the broad, pale line of the Western Road shot into the rolling, cypress-dotted hills.

A pleasant, beautiful city—in the midst of pleasant, beautiful countryside.

In Pangera, the cities were little more than pens for the Vanir to trap and feed on the humans—and their children. No wonder the humans had risen up. No wonder they were shredding that territory with their chemical bombs and machines.

A shiver of rage ran down his spine at the thought of those children, and he made himself look toward the city again. The Central Business District was separated from the Old Square by the clear dividing line of Ward Avenue. The sunlight glowed off the white stones of Luna’s Temple—and, as if in a mirror reflection directly across from it, seemed to be absorbed by the black-domed Oracle’s Temple. His destination tomorrow morning.

But Hunt looked beyond the Old Square, to where the green of Five Roses sparkled in the muggy haze. Towering cypresses and palms rose up, along with glittering bursts of magic. In Moonwood, more oak trees

—less magic frills. Hunt didn’t bother looking anywhere else. Asphodel Meadows wasn’t much to behold. Yet the Meadows was a luxury development compared to the human districts in Pangera.

“Why’d you want to live in the Old Square?” he asked after several minutes of flying in silence, with only the song of the wind to listen to.

She still wasn’t looking, and he began a gentle descent toward her little section of the Old Square, just a block off the river and a few blocks from the Heart Gate. Even from that distance, he could see it, the clear quartz glinting like an icy spear toward the gray sky.

“It’s the heart of the city,” she said, “why not be there?” “FiRo is cleaner.”

“And full of Fae peacocks who sneer at half-breeds.” She spat out the term.


“Sabine’s territory?” A harsh laugh, and she pulled back to look at him. Her smattering of freckles crinkled as she scrunched her face.

“Honestly, the Old Square is about the only safe place for someone like me. Plus, it’s close to work and I’ve got my pick of restaurants, music halls, and museums. I never need to leave.”

“But you do—you go all over the city on your morning runs. Why a different route so often?”

“Keeps it fresh and fun.”

Her building became clearer, the roof empty. A firepit, some lounge chairs, and a grill occupied most of it. Hunt banked, circling back, and smoothly landed, carefully setting her down. She clung to him long enough to get her legs steady, then stepped back.

He adjusted the duffel, heading for the roof door. He held it open for her, firstlight warming the stairwell beyond. “Did you mean what you said—to Micah?”

She plunked down the stairs, the ponytail bobbing. “Of course I did.

Why the Hel would I want to go out with him?” “He’s the Governor of Valbara.”

“So? Just because I saved his life, that doesn’t mean I’m destined to be his girlfriend. It’d be like banging a statue anyway.”

Hunt smirked. “In all fairness, the females who have been with him say otherwise.”

She unlocked her door, mouth twisting. “Like I said, not interested.” “You sure it’s not because you’re just avoiding—”

“See, that right there is the problem. You and the whole rest of the world seem to think I exist just to find someone like him. That of course I can’t be genuinely not interested, because why wouldn’t I want a big, strong male to protect me? Surely if I’m pretty and single, the second any powerful Vanir shows interest, I’m bound to drop my panties. In fact, I didn’t even have a life until he showed up—never had good sex, never felt alive—”

Darkest Hel, this woman. “You’ve got a real chip on your shoulder there, you know.”

Bryce snickered. “You make it really fucking easy, you know.” Hunt crossed his arms. She crossed hers.

That stupid fucking ponytail seemed to cross its proverbial arms, too. “So,” Hunt said through his teeth as he dumped his duffel on the ground, clothes and weapons thumping hard. “You gonna come with me

to the Oracle tomorrow or what?”

“Oh no, Athalar.” Her purred words ran over his skin, and her smile was pure wickedness. Hunt braced himself for whatever was about to

come out of her mouth. Even as he found himself looking forward to it. “You get to deal with her alone.”

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