Chapter no 37

House of Earth and Blood

“Where?” Hunt demanded into the phone, one eye on Quinlan, her arms crossed tight as she listened. All that light had vanished from her eyes.

Isaiah told him the address. A good two miles away. “We’ve got a team already setting up camp,” the commander said.

“We’ll be there in a few,” Hunt answered, and hung up.

The three Fae males, having heard as well, began packing their gear with swift efficiency. Well trained. Total pains in his ass, but they were well trained.

But Bryce fidgeted, hands twitching at her sides. He’d seen that stark look before. And the fake-ass calm that crept over her as Ruhn and his friends glanced at her.

Then, Hunt had bought into it, essentially bullied her into going to that other murder scene.

Hunt said without looking at the males, “I take it you heard the address.” He didn’t wait for any of them to confirm before he ordered, “We’ll meet you there.” Quinlan’s eyes flickered, but Hunt didn’t take his focus off her as he walked closer. He sensed Danaan, Flynn, and Emmet leaving the gallery, but didn’t look to confirm as he halted before her.

The cold emptiness of the sniper range yawned around them.

Again, Quinlan’s hands curled, fingers wiggling at her sides. Like she could shake the dread and pain away. Hunt said calmly, “You want me to handle it?”

Color crept over her freckled cheeks. She pointed to the door with a shaking finger. “Someone died while we were dicking around tonight.”

Hunt wrapped his hand around her finger. Lowered it to the space between them. “This guilt isn’t on you. It’s on whoever is doing this.”

People like him, butchering in the night.

She tried to yank her finger back, and he let go, remembering her wariness of male Vanir. Of alphaholes.

Bryce’s throat bobbed, and she peered around his wing. “I want to go to the scene of the crime.” He waited for the rest of it. She blew out an uneven breath. “I need to go,” she said, more to herself. Her foot tapped on the concrete floor, in time to the beat of the still-thumping music. She winced. “But I don’t want Ruhn or his friends seeing me like this.”

“Like what?” It was normal, expected, to be screwed up by what she’d endured.

“Like a fucking mess.” Her eyes glowed. “Why?”

“Because it’s none of their business, but they’ll make it their business if they see. They’re Fae males—sticking their noses into places they don’t belong is an art form for them.”

Hunt huffed a laugh. “True.”

She exhaled again. “Okay,” she murmured. “Okay.” Her hands still shook, as if her bloody memories swarmed her.

It was instinct to take her hands in his own.

They trembled like glasses rattling on a shelf. Felt as delicate, even with the slick, clammy sweat coating them.

“Take a breath,” Hunt said, squeezing her fingers gently. Bryce closed her eyes, head bowing as she obeyed. “Another,” he commanded.

She did. “Another.”

So Quinlan breathed, Hunt not letting go of her hands until the sweat dried. Until she lifted her head. “Okay,” she said again, and this time, the word was solid.

“You good?”

“As good as I’ll ever be,” she said, but her gaze had cleared.

Unable to help himself, he brushed back a loose tendril of her hair. It slid like cool silk against his fingers as he hooked it behind her arched ear. “You and me both, Quinlan.”

Bryce let Hunt fly her to the crime scene. The alley in the Asphodel Meadows was about as seedy as they came: overflowing dumpster, suspect puddles of liquid gleaming, rail-thin animals rooting through the trash, broken glass sparkling in the firstlight from the rusting lamppost.

Glowing blue magi-screens already blocked off the alley entrance. A few technicians and legionaries were on the scene, Isaiah Tiberian, Ruhn, and his friends among them.

The alley lay just off Main Street, in the shadow of the North Gate— the Mortal Gate, most people called it. Apartment buildings loomed, most of them public, all in dire need of repairs. The noises from the cramped avenue beyond the alley echoed off the crumbling brick walls, the cloying reek of trash stuffing itself up her nose. Bryce tried not to inhale too much.

Hunt surveyed the alley and murmured, a strong hand on the small of her back, “You don’t need to look, Bryce.”

What he’d done for her just now in that shooting range … She’d never let anyone, even her parents, see her like that before. Those moments when she couldn’t breathe. She usually went into a bathroom or bailed for a few hours or went for a run.

The instinct to flee had been nearly as overwhelming as the panic and dread searing her chest, but … she’d seen Hunt come in from his mission the other night. Knew he of all people might get it.

He had. And hadn’t balked for one second.

Just as he hadn’t balked from seeing her shoot that target, and instead answered it with a shot of his own. Like they were two of a kind, like she could throw anything at him and he’d catch it. Would meet every challenge with that wicked, feral grin.

She could have sworn the warmth from his hands still lingered on her own.

Whatever conversation they’d been having with Isaiah over, Flynn and Declan strode for the magi-screen. Ruhn stood ten feet beyond them, talking to a beautiful, dark-haired medwitch. No doubt asking about what she’d assessed.

Peering around the glowing blue edge to the body hidden beyond, Flynn and Declan swore.

Her stomach bottomed out. Maybe coming here had been a bad idea.

She leaned slightly into Hunt’s touch.

His fingers dug into her back in silent reassurance before he murmured, “I can look for us.”

Us, like they were a unit against this fucking mess of a world.

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice mercifully calm. But she didn’t move toward the screen.

Flynn pulled away from the blocked-off body and asked Isaiah, “How fresh is this kill?”

“We’re putting the TOD at thirty minutes ago,” Isaiah answered gravely. “From the remains of the clothes, it looks like it was one of the guards at Luna’s Temple. He was on his way home.”

Silence rippled around them. Bryce’s stomach dropped.

Hunt swore. “I’m gonna take a guess and say he was on duty the night the Horn was stolen?”

Isaiah nodded. “It was the first thing I checked.”

Bryce swallowed and said, “We have to be getting close to something, then. Or the murderer is already one step ahead of us, interrogating and then killing anyone who might have known where the Horn disappeared to.”

“None of the cameras caught anything?” Flynn asked, his handsome face unusually serious.

“Nothing,” Isaiah said. “It’s like it knew where they were. Or whoever summoned it did. It stayed out of sight.”

Hunt ran his hand up the length of her spine, a solid, calming sweep, and then stepped toward the Commander of the 33rd, his voice low as he said, “To know every camera in this city, especially the hidden ones, would require some clearance.” His words hung there, none of them daring to say more, not in public. Hunt asked, “Did anyone report a sighting of a demon?”

A DNA technician emerged from the screen, blood staining the knees of her white jumpsuit. Like she’d knelt in it while she gathered the sample kit dangling from her gloved fingers.

Bryce glanced away again, back toward Main Street.

Isaiah shook his head. “No reports from civilians or patrols yet.” Bryce barely heard him as the facts poured into her mind. Main


She pulled out her phone, drawing up the map of the city. Her location pinged, a red dot on the network of streets.

The males were still talking about the scant evidence when she placed a few pins in the map, then squinted at the ground beneath them. Ruhn had drifted over, falling into conversation with his friends as she tuned them out.

But Hunt noted her focus and turned toward her, his dark brows high. “What?”

She leaned into the shadow of his wing, and could have sworn he folded it more closely around her. “Here’s a map of where all the murders happened.”

She allowed Ruhn and his friends to prowl near. Even deigned to show them her screen, her hands shaking slightly.

“This one,” she said, pointing to the blinking dot, “is us.” She pointed to another, close by. “This is where Maximus Tertian died.” She pointed to another, this one near Central Avenue. “This is the acolyte’s murder.” Her throat constricted, but she pushed past it as she pointed to the other dot, a few blocks due north. “Here’s where …” The words burned. Fuck. Fuck, she had to say it, voice it—

“Danika and the Pack of Devils were killed,” Hunt supplied. Bryce threw him a grateful glance. “Yes. Do you see what I see?” “No?” Flynn said.

“Didn’t you go to some fancy Fae prep school?” she asked. At Flynn’s scowl, she sighed, zooming out on the screen. “Look: all of them took place within steps of one of the major avenues. On top of the ley lines—natural channels for the firstlight to travel through the city.”

“Highways of power,” Hunt said, his eyes shining. “They flow right through the Gates.” Yeah, Athalar got it. He aimed for where Isaiah stood twenty feet away, talking to a tall, blond nymph in a forensics jacket.

Bryce said to the Fae males, to her wide-eyed brother, “Maybe whoever is summoning this demon is drawing upon the power of these ley lines under the city to have the strength to summon it. If all the murders take place near them, maybe that’s how the demon appeared.”

One of the Aux team called Ruhn’s name, and her brother merely gave her an impressed nod before going over to them. She ignored what that admiration did to her, turning her gaze to Hunt instead as he kept walking down the alley, the powerful muscles of his legs shifting. She heard him call to Isaiah as he walked toward the commander, “Have Viktoria run a search on the cameras along Main, Central, and Ward. See if they catch any blip of power—any small surge or drop in temperature that might happen if a demon were summoned.” The kristallos might stay out of sight, but surely the cameras would pick up a slight disturbance in the power flow or temperature. “And have her look at the firstlight grid around those times, too. See if anything registered.”

Declan watched the angel stride off, then said to Bryce, “You know what he does, right?”

“Look really good in black?” she said sweetly.

Declan growled. “That demon-hunting is a front. He does the Governor’s dirty work.” His chiseled jaw clenched for a second. “Hunt Athalar is bad news.”

She batted her eyelashes. “Good thing I like bad boys.” Flynn let out a low whistle.

But Declan shook his head. “The angels don’t give a shit about anyone, B. His goals are not your goals. Athalar’s goals might not even be the same as Micah’s. Be careful.”

She nodded to where her brother was again speaking with the stunning medwitch. “I already got the pep talk from Ruhn, don’t worry.”

Down the alley, Hunt was saying to Isaiah, “Call me if Viktoria gets any video of it.” Then he added, as if not quite used to it, “Thanks.”

In the distance, clouds gathered. Rain had been predicted for the middle of the night, but it seemed it was arriving sooner.

Hunt stalked back toward them. “They’re on it.”

“We’ll see if the 33rd follows through this time,” Declan muttered. “I’m not holding my breath.”

Hunt straightened. Bryce waited for his defense, but the angel shrugged. “Me neither.”

Flynn jerked his head toward the angels working the scene. “No loyalty?”

Hunt read a message that flashed on his phone’s screen, then pocketed it. “I don’t have any choice but to be loyal.”

And to tick off those deaths one by one. Bryce’s stomach twisted.

Declan’s amber eyes dropped to the tattoo on Hunt’s wrist. “It’s fucked up.”

Flynn grumbled his agreement. At least her brother’s friends were on the same page as her regarding the politics of the Asteri.

Hunt looked the males over again. Assessing. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “It is.”

“Understatement of the century.” Bryce surveyed the murder scene, her body tightening again, not wanting to look. Hunt met her eyes, as if sensing that tightening, the shift in her scent. He gave her a subtle nod.

Bryce lifted her chin and declared, “We’re going now.” Declan waved. “I’ll call you soon, B.”

Flynn blew her a kiss.

She rolled her eyes. “Bye.” She caught Ruhn’s stare and motioned her farewell. Her brother threw her a wave, and continued talking to the witch.

They made it all of one block before Hunt said, a little too casually, “You and Tristan Flynn ever hook up?”

Bryce blinked. “Why would you ask that?”

He tucked in his wings. “Because he flirts with you nonstop.”

She snorted. “You wanna tell me about everyone you’ve ever hooked up with, Athalar?”

His silence told her enough. She smirked.

But then the angel said, as if he needed something to distract him from the pulped remains they’d left behind, “None of my hookups are worth mentioning.” He paused again, taking a breath before continuing. “But that’s because Shahar ruined me for anyone else.”

Ruined me. The words clanged through Bryce.

Hunt went on, eyes swimming with memory, “I grew up in Shahar’s territory in the southeast of Pangera, and as I worked my way up the ranks of her legions, I fell in love with her. With her vision for the world. With her ideas about how the angel hierarchies might change.” He swallowed. “Shahar was the only one who ever suggested to me that I’d been denied anything by being born a bastard. She promoted me through her ranks, until I served as her right hand. Until I was her lover.” He blew out a long breath. “She led the rebellion against the Asteri, and I led her forces—the 18th Legion. You know how it ended.”

Everyone in Midgard did. The Daystar would have led the angels— maybe everyone—to a freer world, but she’d been extinguished. Another dreamer crushed under the boot heel of the Asteri.

Hunt said, “So you and Flynn …?”

“You tell me this tragic love story and expect me to answer it with my bullshit?” His silence was answer enough. She sighed. But—fine. She, too, needed to talk about something to shake off that murder scene. And to dispel the shadows that had filled his eyes when he’d spoken of Shahar.

For that alone she said, “No. Flynn and I never hooked up.” She smiled slightly. “When I visited Ruhn as a teenager, I was barely able to function in Flynn’s and Declan’s presence.” Hunt’s mouth curled upward. “They indulged my outrageous flirting, and for a while, I had a fanatic’s conviction that Flynn would be my husband one day.”

Hunt snickered, and Bryce elbowed him. “It’s true. I wrote Lady Bryce Flynn on all my school notebooks for two years straight.”

He gaped. “You did not.”

“I so did. I can prove it: I still have all my notebooks at my parents’ house because my mom refuses to throw anything away.” Her amusement faltered. She didn’t tell him about that time senior year of college when she and Danika ran into Flynn and Declan at a bar. How Danika had gone home with Flynn, because Bryce hadn’t wanted to mess up anything between him and Ruhn.

“Want to hear my worst hookup?” she asked, throwing him a forced grin.

He chuckled. “I’m half-afraid to hear it, but sure.”

“I dated a vampyr for like three weeks. My first and only hookup with anyone in Flame and Shadow.”

The vamps had worked hard to get people to forget the tiny fact that they’d all come from Hel, lesser demons themselves. That their ancestors had defected from their seven princes during the First Wars, and fed the Asteri Imperial Legions vital intel that aided in their victory. Traitors and turncoats—who still held a demon’s craving for blood.

Hunt lifted a brow. “And?”

Bryce winced. “And I couldn’t stop wondering what part of me he wanted more: blood or … you know. And then he suggested eating while eating, if you know what I mean?”

It took Hunt a second to sort it out. Then his dark eyes widened. “Oh fuck. Really?” She didn’t fail to note his glance to her legs—between them. The way his eyes seemed to darken further, something within them sharpening. “Wouldn’t that hurt?”

“I didn’t want to find out.”

Hunt shook his head, and she wondered if he was unsure whether to cringe or laugh. But the light had come back to his eyes. “No more vamps after that?”

“Definitely not. He claimed the finest pleasure was always edged in pain, but I showed him the door.”

Hunt grunted his approval. Bryce knew she probably shouldn’t, but asked carefully, “You still have a thing for Shahar?”

A muscle feathered in his jaw. He scanned the skies. “Until the day I die.”

No longing or sorrow graced the words, but she still wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the dropping sensation in her stomach.

Hunt’s eyes slid to hers at last. Bleak and lightless. “I don’t see how I can move on from loving her when she gave up everything for me. For the cause.” He shook his head. “Every time I hook up, I remember it.”

“Ah.” No arguing with that. Anything she said against it would sound selfish and whiny. And maybe she was dumb, for letting herself read into his leg touching hers or the way he’d looked at her at the shooting range or coaxed her through her panic or any of it.

He was staring at her. As if seeing all of that. His throat bobbed. “Quinlan, that isn’t to say that I’m not—”

His words were cut off by a cluster of people approaching from the other end of the street.

She glimpsed silvery blond hair and couldn’t breathe. Hunt swore. “Let’s get airborne—”

But Sabine had spotted them. Her narrow, pale face twisted in a snarl.

Bryce hated the shaking that overtook her hands. The trembling in her knees.

Hunt warned Sabine, “Keep moving, Fendyr.”

Sabine ignored him. Her stare was like being pelted with shards of ice. “I heard you’ve been showing your face again,” she seethed at Bryce. “Where the fuck is my sword, Quinlan?”

Bryce couldn’t think of anything to say, any retort or explanation. She just let Hunt lead her past Sabine, the angel a veritable wall of muscle between them.

Hunt’s hand rested on Bryce’s back as he nudged her along. “Let’s go.”

“Stupid slut,” Sabine hissed, spitting at Bryce’s feet as she passed.

Hunt stiffened, a growl slipping out, but Bryce gripped his arm in a silent plea to let it go.

His teeth gleamed as he bared them over a shoulder at Sabine, but Bryce whispered, “Please.”

He scanned her face, mouth opening to object. She made them keep walking, even as Sabine’s sneer branded itself into her back.

“Please,” Bryce whispered again.

His chest heaved, as if it took every bit of effort to reel in his rage, but he faced forward. Sabine’s low, smug laugh rippled toward them.

Hunt’s body locked up, and Bryce squeezed his arm tighter, misery coiling around her gut.

Maybe he scented it, maybe he read it on her face, but Hunt’s steps evened out. His hand again warmed her lower back, a steady presence as they walked, finally crossing the street.

They were halfway across Main when Hunt scooped her into his arms, not saying a word as he launched into the brisk skies.

She leaned her head against his chest. Let the wind drown out the roaring in her mind.

They landed on the roof of her building five minutes later, and she would have gone right down to the apartment had he not gripped her arm to stop her.

Hunt again scanned her face. Her eyes.

Us, he’d said earlier. A unit. A team. A two-person pack.

Hunt’s wings shifted slightly in the wind off the Istros. “We’re going to find whoever is behind all this, Bryce. I promise.”

And for some reason, she believed him.

She was brushing her teeth when her phone rang.

Declan Emmet.

She spat out her toothpaste before answering. “Hi.” “You still have my number saved? I’m touched, B.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. What’s up?”

“I found something interesting in the footage. The taxpaying residents of this city should revolt at how their money’s being blown on second-rate analysts instead of people like me.”

Bryce padded into the hall, then into the great room—then to Hunt’s door. She knocked on it once, and said to Declan, “Are you going to tell me or just gloat about it?”

Hunt opened the door. Burning. Fucking. Solas.

He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and from the look of it, had been in the middle of brushing his teeth, too. But she didn’t give a shit about his dental hygiene when he looked like that.

Muscles upon muscles upon muscles, all covered by golden-brown skin that glowed in the firstlights. It was outrageous. She’d seen him shirtless before, but she hadn’t noticed—not like this.

She’d seen more than her fair share of cut, beautiful male bodies, but Hunt Athalar’s blew them all away.

He was pining for a lost love, she reminded herself. Had made that very clear earlier tonight. Through an effort of will, she lifted her eyes and found a shit-eating smirk on his face.

But his smug-ass smile faded when she put Declan on speaker. Dec said, “I don’t know if I should tell you to sit down or not.”

Hunt stepped into the great room, frowning. “Just tell me,” Bryce said.

“Okay, so I’ll admit someone could easily have made a mistake. Thanks to the blackout, the footage is just darkness with some sounds. Ordinary city sounds of people reacting to the blackout. So I pulled apart each audio thread from the street outside the temple. Amped up the ones in the background that the government computers might not have had the tech to hear. You know what I heard? People giggling, goading each other to touch it.”

“Please tell me this isn’t going to end grossly,” Bryce said. Hunt snorted.

“It was people at the Rose Gate. I could hear people at the Rose Gate in FiRo daring each other to touch the disk on the dial pad in the blackout, to see if it still worked. It did, by the way. But I could also hear them oohing about the night-blooming flowers on the Gate itself.”

Hunt leaned in, his scent wrapping around her, dizzying her, as he said into the phone, “The Rose Gate is halfway across the city from Luna’s Temple.”

Declan chuckled. “Hey, Athalar. Enjoying playing houseguest with Bryce?”

“Just tell us,” Bryce said, grinding her teeth. Taking a big, careful step away from Hunt.

“Someone swapped the footage of the temple during the time of the Horn’s theft. It was clever fucking work—they patched it right in so that there isn’t so much as a flicker in the time stamp. They picked audio footage that was a near-match for what it would have sounded like at the temple, with the angle of the buildings and everything. Really smart shit. But not smart enough. The 33rd should have come to me. I’d have found an error like that.”

Bryce’s heart pounded. “Can you find who did this?”

“I already did.” Any smugness faded from Declan’s voice. “I looked at who was responsible for heading up the investigation of the video footage that night. They’d be the only one with the clearance to make a swap like that.”

Bryce tapped her foot on the ground, and Athalar brushed his wing against her shoulder in quiet reassurance. “Who is it, Dec?”

Declan sighed. “Look, I’m not saying it’s this person one hundred percent … but the official who headed up that part of the investigation was Sabine Fendyr.”

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