Chapter no 53

House of Earth and Blood

It was still raining the next morning, which Bryce decided was an omen.

Today would suck. Last night had sucked.

Syrinx refused to emerge from under the sheets, even though Bryce tried to coax him with the promise of breakfast before his walk, and by the time Bryce finally hauled him to the street below, Hunt monitoring from the windows, the rain had gone from a pleasant patter to an outright deluge.

A fat hoptoad squatted in the corner of the building doorway, under the slight overhang, waiting for any small, unfortunate Vanir to fly past. He eyed Bryce and Syrinx as they splashed by, earning a whiskery huff from the latter, and sidled closer to the side of the building.

“Creep,” she murmured above the drumming rain on the hood of her coat, feeling the hoptoad watch them down the block. For a creature no bigger than her fist, they found ways to be menaces. Namely to all manner of sprites. Even confined to the library, Lehabah loathed and dreaded them.

Despite her navy raincoat, her black leggings and white T-shirt were soon soaked. As if the rain somehow went up from the ground. It pooled in her green rain boots, too, squelching with every step she made through the lashing rain, the palms swaying and hissing overhead.

The rainiest spring on record, the news had proclaimed last night.

She didn’t doubt it.

The hoptoad was still there when they returned, Syrinx having completed his morning routine in record time, and Bryce might or might not have gone out of her way to stomp in a nearby puddle.

The hoptoad had stuck out his tongue at her, but flopped away.

Hunt was standing at the stove, cooking something that smelled like bacon. He glanced over his shoulder while she removed her raincoat, dripping all over the floor. “You hungry?”

“I’m good.”

His eyes narrowed. “You should eat something before we go.” She waved him off, scooping food into Syrinx’s bowl.

When she stood, she found Hunt extending a plate toward her. Bacon and eggs and thick brown toast. “I watched you pick at your food for five days this past week,” he said roughly. “We’re not starting down that road again.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t need a male telling me when to eat.” “How about a friend telling you that you had an understandably

rough night, and you get mean as shit when you’re hungry?” Bryce scowled. Hunt just kept holding out the plate.

“It’s all right to be nervous, you know,” he said. He nodded toward the paper bag she’d left by the door—Danika’s clothes, folded and ready for analysis. She’d overheard Hunt calling Viktoria thirty minutes ago, asking her to get the Mimir tech from the Fae. She’d said Declan already sent it.

Bryce said, “I’m not nervous. They’re just clothes.” He only stared at her. Bryce growled. “I’m not. Let them lose the clothes in Evidence or whatever.”

“Then eat.”

“I don’t like eggs.”

His mouth twitched upward. “I’ve seen you eat about three dozen of them.”

Their gazes met and held. “Who taught you to cook, anyway?” He sure as Hel was a better cook than she was. The pitiful dinner she’d made him last night was proof.

“I taught myself. It’s a useful skill for a soldier. Makes you a popular person in any legion camp. Besides, I’ve got two centuries under my belt. It’d be pathetic not to know how to cook at this point.” He held the plate closer. “Eat up, Quinlan. I won’t let anyone lose those clothes.”

She debated throwing the plate in his face, but finally took it and plunked into the seat at the head of the dining table. Syrinx trotted over to her, already gazing expectantly at the bacon.

A cup of coffee appeared on the table a heartbeat later, the cream still swirling inside.

Hunt smirked at her. “Wouldn’t want you to head out to the world without the proper provisions.”

Bryce flipped him off, took his phone from where he’d left it on the table, and snapped a few pictures: the breakfast, the coffee, his stupid smirking face, Syrinx sitting beside her, and her own scowl. But she drank the coffee anyway.

By the time she put her mug into the sink, Hunt finishing up his meal at the table behind her, she found her steps feeling lighter than they had in a while.

“Don’t lose those,” Hunt warned Viktoria as she sifted through the bag on her desk.

The wraith looked up from the faded gray band T-shirt with a wailing, robed figure on the front. The Banshees. “We’ve got clothes in Evidence for Danika Fendyr and the other victims.”

“Fine, but use these, too,” Hunt said. Just in case someone had tampered with the evidence here—and to let Quinlan feel as if she’d helped with this. Bryce was at the gallery dealing with some snooty customer, with Naomi watching. “You got the Mimir tech from Declan?” “As I said on the phone: yes.” Vik peered into the bag again. “I’ll

give you a call if anything comes up.”

Hunt stretched a piece of paper across the desk. “See if traces of any of these come up, too.”

Viktoria took one look at the words on it and went pale, her halo stark over her brow. “You think it’s one of these demons?”

“I hope not.”

He’d made a list of potential demons that might be working in conjunction with the kristallos, all ancient and terrible, his dread deepening with each new name he added. Many of them were nightmares that prowled bedtime stories. All of them were catastrophic if they entered Midgard. He’d faced two of them before—and barely made it through the encounters.

Hunt nodded toward the bag again. “I mean it: don’t lose those clothes,” he said again.

“Going soft, Athalar?”

Hunt rolled his eyes and aimed for the doorway. “I just like my balls where they are.”

Viktoria notified Hunt that evening that she was still running the diagnostic. The Fae’s Mimir tech was thorough enough that it’d take a good while to run.

He prayed the results wouldn’t be as devastating as he expected.

He’d messaged Bryce about it while she finished up work, chuckling when he saw that she’d again changed her contact information in his phone: Bryce Is a Queen.

They stayed up until midnight binge-watching a reality show about a bunch of hot young Vanir working at a beach club in the Coronal Islands. He’d refused at first—but by the end of the first hour, he’d been the one pressing play on the next episode. Then the next.

It hadn’t hurt that they’d gone from sitting on opposite ends of the sectional to being side by side, his thigh pressed against hers. He might have toyed with her braid. She might have let him.

The next morning, Hunt was just following Bryce toward the apartment elevator when his phone rang. He took one look at the number and grimaced before picking up. “Hi, Micah.”

“My office. Fifteen minutes.”

Bryce pressed the elevator button, but Hunt pointed to the roof door. He’d fly her to the gallery, then head to the CBD. “All right,” he said carefully. “Do you want Miss Quinlan to join us?”

“Just you.” The line went dead.

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