Chapter no 36

House of Earth and Blood

The three-level shooting range in Moonwood catered to a lethal, creative clientele. Occupying a converted warehouse that stretched four city blocks along the Istros, it boasted the only sniper-length gallery in the city.

Hunt stopped by every few weeks to keep his skills sharp, usually in the dead of night when no one could gawk at the Umbra Mortis donning a pair of earmuffs and military-grade glasses as he walked through the concrete hallways to one of the private galleries.

It had been late when he’d gotten the idea for this meeting, and then Jesiba had slammed Quinlan with work the next day, so they’d decided to wait until nightfall to see where their quarry wound up. Hunt had bet Bryce a gold mark it’d be a tattoo parlor, and she’d raised him to two gold marks that it’d be a fake-grungy rock bar. But when she’d gotten the reply to her message, it had led them here.

The sniper gallery lay on the northern end of the building, accessible through a heavy metal door that sealed off any sound. They grabbed electronic earmuffs that would stifle the boom of the guns—but still allow them to hear each other’s voices—on the way in. Before he entered the gallery, Hunt glanced over a shoulder at Bryce, checking that her earmuffs were in place.

She noted his assessing look and chuckled. “Mother hen.”

“I wouldn’t want your pretty little ears to get blown out, Quinlan.” He didn’t give her the chance to reply as he opened the door, thumping music blasting to greet them, and beheld the three males lined up along a waist-high glass barrier.

Lord Tristan Flynn had a sniper rifle aimed toward a person-shaped paper target at the far, far end of the space, so distant a mortal could

barely make it out. He’d opted out of using the scope, instead relying on his keen Fae eyesight as Danaan and Declan Emmet stood near him, their own rifles hanging off their shoulders.

Ruhn nodded their way, and motioned to wait a moment.

“He’s gonna miss,” Emmet observed over the bumping bass of the music, barely sparing Hunt and Bryce a glance. “Off by a half inch.”

“Screw you, Dec,” Flynn muttered, and fired. The gunshot erupted through the space, the sound absorbed by the padding along the ceiling and walls, and at the far end of the gallery, the piece of paper swayed, the torso rippling.

Flynn lowered the rifle. “Straight shot to the balls, dickbags.” He held out his palm toward Ruhn. “Pay up.”

Ruhn rolled his eyes and slammed a gold coin into it as he turned to Hunt and Bryce.

Hunt glanced at the prince’s two friends, who were now sizing him up as they pulled off their earmuffs and eye gear. He and Bryce followed suit.

He didn’t expect the tinge of envy curdling in his gut at the sight of the friends together. A glance at Quinlan’s stiff shoulders had him wondering if she felt the same—if she was remembering nights with Danika and the Pack of Devils when they’d had nothing better to do than give each other grief over nonsense.

Bryce shook it off faster than Hunt did as she drawled, “Sorry to interrupt you boys playing commando, but we have some adult things to discuss.”

Ruhn set his rifle on the metal table to his left and leaned against the glass barrier. “You could have called.”

Bryce strode to the table to examine the gun her cousin had set down. Her nails glimmered against the matte black. Stealth weapons, designed to blend into shadows and not give away their bearer with a gleam. “I didn’t want this intel out there in the networks.”

Flynn flashed a grin. “Cloak-and-dagger shit. Nice.” He sidled up to her at the table, close enough that Hunt found himself tensing. “Color me intrigued.”

Quinlan’s gift of looking down her nose at males who towered above her usually grated on Hunt to no end. But seeing it used on someone else was a true delight.

Yet that imperious look only seemed to make Flynn’s grin grow wider, especially as Bryce said, “I’m not here to talk to you.”

“You wound me, Bryce,” Flynn drawled.

Declan Emmet snickered. “You up to do some more hacking shit?” Quinlan asked him.

“Call it shit again, Bryce, and see if I help you,” Declan said coolly. “Sorry, sorry. Your technology … stuff.” She waved a hand. “We

need analysis of some footage from Luna’s Temple the night the Horn was stolen.”

Ruhn went still, his blue eyes flaring as he said to Hunt, “You’ve got a lead on the Horn?”

Hunt said, “Just laying out the puzzle pieces.”

Declan rubbed his neck. “All right. What are you looking for exactly?”

“Everything,” Hunt said. “Anything that might come up on the audio or thermal, or if there’s a way to make the video any clearer despite the blackout.”

Declan set down his rifle beside Ruhn’s. “I might have some software that can help, but no promises. If the investigators didn’t find anything two years ago, the odds are slim I’ll find any anomalies now.”

“We know,” Bryce said. “How long would it take you to look?”

He seemed to do some mental calculations. “Give me a few days. I’ll see what I can find.”

“Thank you.”

Flynn let out an exaggerated gasp. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said those words to us, B.”

“Don’t get used to it.” She surveyed them again with that cool, mocking indifference that made Hunt’s pulse begin to pound as drivingly as the beat of the music playing through the chamber’s speakers. “Why are you three even here?”

“We do actually work for the Aux, Bryce. That requires the occasional bit of training.”

“So where’s the rest of your unit?” She made a show of looking around. Hunt didn’t bother to hide his mirth. “Or was this a roomies-only kind of thing?”

Declan chuckled. “This was an invite-only session.”

Bryce rolled her eyes and said to Ruhn, “I’m sure the Autumn King told you he wants reports on our movements.” She crossed her arms. “Keep this”—she gestured to all of them—“quiet for a few days.”

“You’re asking me to lie to my king,” Ruhn said, frowning.

“I’m asking you not to tell him about this for the moment,” Bryce said.

Flynn lifted a brow. “Are you saying the Autumn King is one of your suspects?”

“I’m saying I want shit kept quiet.” She grinned at Ruhn, showing all her white teeth, the expression more savage than amused. “I’m saying if you three morons leak any of this to your Aux buddies or drunken hookups, I am going to be very unhappy.”

Honestly, Hunt would have liked nothing more than to grab some popcorn and a beer, kick back in a chair, and watch her verbally fillet these assholes.

“Sounds like a whole lot of big talk,” Ruhn said, then indicated the target at the back of the room. “Why don’t you put on a little demonstration for Athalar, Bryce?”

She smirked. “I don’t need to prove I can handle a big gun to run with the boys’ club.” Hunt’s skin tightened at the feral delight in her eyes as she said big gun. Other parts of him tightened, too.

Tristan Flynn said, “Twenty gold marks says we outshoot you.” “Only rich-ass pieces of shit have twenty gold marks to blow on

bullshit contests,” Bryce said, amber eyes dancing with amusement as she winked at Hunt. His blood thrummed, his body tensing as surely as if she’d gripped his cock. But her gaze already drifted to the distant target.

She snapped the earmuffs over her arched ears.

Flynn rubbed his hands together. “Here we fuckin’ go.”

Bryce popped on the glasses, adjusted her ponytail, and hefted Ruhn’s rifle into her hands. She weighed it in her arms, and Hunt couldn’t drag his eyes away from the way her fingers brushed over the chassis, stroking all the way down to the butt plate.

He swallowed hard, but she merely fitted the gun to her shoulder, each movement as comfortable as he’d expect from someone raised by a legendary sharpshooter. She clicked off the safety and didn’t bother to use the scope as she said to none of them in particular, “Allow me to demonstrate why you all can kiss my fucking ass.”

Three shots cracked over the music, one after another, her body absorbing the kickback of the gun like a champ. Hunt’s mouth dried out entirely.

They all peered up at the screen with the feed of the target.

“You only landed one,” Flynn snorted, eyeing the hole through the heart of the target.

“No, she didn’t,” Emmet murmured, just as Hunt saw it, too: the circle wasn’t perfect. No, two of its edges bulged outward—barely noticeable.

Three shots, so precise that they’d passed through the same small space.

A chill skittered down Hunt’s body that had nothing to do with fear as Bryce merely reset the safety, placed the rifle on the table, and removed the earmuffs and glasses.

She turned, and her eyes met Hunt’s again—a new sort of vulnerability shining beneath the self-satisfied narrowing. A challenge thrown down. Waiting to see how he’d react.

How many males had run from this part of her, their alphahole egos threatened by it? Hunt hated them all merely for putting the question in her eyes.

He didn’t hear whatever shit Flynn was saying as he put on the earmuffs and eye gear and took up the rifle Bryce had set down, the metal still warm from her body. He didn’t hear Ruhn asking him something as he lined up his shot.

No, Hunt only met Bryce’s stare as he clicked off the safety.

That click reverberated between them, loud as a thunderclap. Her throat bobbed.

Hunt pulled his gaze from hers and fired one round. With his eagle-sharp vision, he didn’t need the scope to see the bullet pass through the hole she’d made.

When he lowered the gun, he found Bryce’s cheeks flushed, her eyes like warm whiskey. A quiet sort of light shone in them.

He still didn’t hear any of what the males were saying, only had the vague notion of even Ruhn cursing with appreciation. Hunt just held Bryce’s stare.

I see you, Quinlan, he silently conveyed to her. And I like all of it. Right back at you, her half smile seemed to say.

Hunt’s phone rang, dragging his eyes from the smile that made the floor a little uneven. He fished it from his pocket with fingers that were surprisingly shaky. Isaiah Tiberian flashed on the screen. He answered instantly. “What’s up?”

Hunt knew Bryce and the Fae males could hear every word as Isaiah said, “Get your asses over to Asphodel Meadows. There’s been another murder.”

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