Chapter no 55

House of Earth and Blood

The golden rays of dawn coaxed Bryce awake. The blankets were warm, and the bed soft, and Syrinx was still snoring—

Her room. Her bed.

She sat up, jostling Syrinx awake. He yowled in annoyance and slithered deeper under the covers, kicking her in the ribs with his hind legs for good measure.

Bryce left him to it, sliding from bed and leaving her room within seconds. Hunt must have moved her at some point. He’d been in no shape to do anything like that, and if he’d somehow been forced to go back out again—

She sighed as she glimpsed a gray wing draped over the guest room bed. The golden-brown skin of a muscled back. Rising and falling. Still asleep.

Thank the gods. Rubbing her hands over her face, sleep a lost cause, she padded for the kitchen and began to make coffee. She needed a strong cup of it, then a quick run. She let muscle memory take over, and as the coffee maker buzzed and rattled away, she scooped up her phone from the counter.

Ruhn’s messages occupied most of her alerts. She read through them twice.

He would have dropped everything to come over. Put his friends on the task of finding Hunt. Would have done it without question. She knew that—had made herself forget it.

She knew why, too. Had been well aware that her reaction to their argument years ago had been justified, but overblown. He’d tried to apologize, and she had only used it against him. And he must have felt guilty enough that he’d never questioned why she’d cut him out of her

life. That he’d never realized that it hadn’t just been some slight hurt that had forced her to shut him off from her life, but fear. Absolute terror.

He’d wounded her, and it had scared the Hel out of her that he held such power. That she had wanted so many things from him, imagined so many things with her brother—adventures and holidays and ordinary moments—and he had the ability to rip it all away.

Bryce’s thumbs hovered over the keyboard on her phone, as if searching for the right words. Thank you would be good. Or even I’ll call you later would suffice, since maybe she should actually say those words aloud.

But her thumbs remained aloft, the words slipping and tumbling past.

So she let them fall by, and turned to the other message she’d received—from Juniper.

Madame Kyrah told me that you never showed up to her class. What the Hel, Bryce? I had to beg her to hold that spot for you. She was really mad.

Bryce ground her teeth. She wrote back, Sorry. Tell her I’m in the middle of working on something for the Governor and got called away.

Bryce set down the phone and turned to the coffee machine. Her phone buzzed a second later. Juniper had to be on her way to morning practice, then.

This woman does not peddle in excuses. I worked hard to get her to like me, Bryce.

June was definitely pissed if she was calling her Bryce instead of B.

Bryce wrote back, I’m sorry, okay? I told you I was a maybe. You shouldn’t have let her think I’d be there.

Juniper sniped back, Whatever. I gotta go.

Bryce blew out a breath, forcing herself to unclench her fingers from around her phone. She cradled her mug of hot coffee.


She whirled to find Hunt leaning a hip against the marble island. For someone heavily muscled and winged, the angel was stealthy, she had to admit. He’d put on a shirt and pants, but his hair was still sleep-mussed.

She rasped, her knees wobbling only slightly, “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” The word held no bite, only a quiet resignation and a request not to push. So Bryce fished out another mug, set it in the coffee machine, and hit a few buttons that had it brewing.

His gaze brushed over every part of her like a physical touch. She peered down at herself and realized why. “Sorry I took one of your

shirts,” she said, bunching the white fabric in a hand. Gods, she wasn’t wearing any underwear. Did he know?

His eyes dipped toward her bare legs and went a shade darker. He definitely knew.

Hunt pushed off the island, stalking toward her, and Bryce braced herself. For what, she didn’t know, but—

He just strode past. Right to the fridge, where he pulled out eggs and the slab of bacon. “At the risk of sounding like an alphahole cliché,” he said without looking at her as he set the skillet on the stove, “I like seeing you in my shirt.”

“Total alphahole cliché,” she said, even as her toes curled on the pale wood floor.

Hunt cracked the eggs into a bowl. “We always seem to end up in the kitchen.”

“I don’t mind,” Bryce said, sipping her coffee, “as long as you’re cooking.”

Hunt snorted, then stilled. “Thanks,” he said quietly. “For what you did.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said, taking another sip of coffee. Remembering the one she’d brewed for him, she reached for the now-full mug.

Hunt turned from the stove as she extended the coffee to him.

Glanced between the outstretched mug and her face.

And as his large hand wrapped around the mug, he leaned in, closing the space between them. His mouth brushed over her cheek. Brief and light and sweet.

“Thank you,” he said again, pulling back and returning to the stove. As if he didn’t notice that she couldn’t move a single muscle, couldn’t find a single word to utter.

The urge to grab him, to pull his face down to hers and taste every part of him practically blinded her. Her fingers twitched at her sides, nearly able to feel those hard muscles beneath them.

He had a long-lost love he was still holding a torch for. And she’d just gone too long without sex. Cthona’s tits, it’d been weeks since that hookup with the lion shifter in the Raven’s bathroom. And with Hunt here, she hadn’t dared open up her left nightstand to take care of herself.

Keep telling yourself all that, a small voice said.

The muscles in Hunt’s back stiffened. His hands paused whatever they were doing.

Shit, he could smell this kind of thing, couldn’t he? Most Vanir males could. The shifts in a person’s scent: fear and arousal being the two big ones.

He was the Umbra Mortis. Off-limits in ten million ways. And the Umbra Mortis didn’t date—no, it’d be all or nothing with him.

Hunt asked, voice like gravel, “What are you thinking about?” He didn’t turn from the stove.

You. Like a fucking idiot, I’m thinking about you.

“There’s a sample sale at one of the designer stores this afternoon,” she lied.

Hunt glanced over his shoulder. Fuck, his eyes were dark. “Is that so?”

Was that a purr in his voice?

She couldn’t help the step she took back, bumping into the kitchen island. “Yes,” she said, unable to look away.

Hunt’s eyes darkened further. He said nothing.

She couldn’t breathe properly with that stare fixed on her. That stare that told her he scented everything going on in her body.

Her nipples pebbled under that stare.

Hunt went preternaturally still. His eyes dipped downward. Saw her breasts. The thighs she now clamped together—as if it’d stop the throbbing beginning to torture her between them.

His face went positively feral. A mountain cat ready to pounce. “I didn’t know clothing sales got you so hot and bothered, Quinlan.”

She nearly whimpered. Forced herself to keep still. “It’s the little things in life, Athalar.”

“Is that what you think about when you open up that left nightstand? Clothing sales?” He faced her fully now. She didn’t dare let her gaze drop.

“Yes,” she breathed. “All those clothes, all over my body.” She had no idea what the fuck was coming out of her mouth.

How was it possible all the air in the apartment, the city, had been sucked out?

“Maybe you should buy some new underwear,” he murmured, nodding to her bare legs. “Seems like you’re out.”

She couldn’t stop it—the image that blazed over her senses: Hunt putting those big hands on her waist and hoisting her onto the counter currently pressing into her spine, shoving her T-shirt over her midriff— his T-shirt, actually—and spreading her legs wide. Fucking her with his

tongue, then his cock, until she was sobbing in pleasure, screaming with it, she didn’t care just so long as he was touching her, inside her—

“Quinlan.” He seemed to be shaking now. As if only a tether of pure will kept him in place. As if he’d seen the same burning image and was just waiting for her nod.

It’d complicate everything. The investigation, whatever he felt for Shahar, her own life—

To fucking Hel with all that. They’d figure it out later. They’d—

Burning smoke filled the air between them. Gross, nose-stinging smoke.

“Fuck,” Hunt hissed, whirling to the stove and the eggs he’d left on the burner.

As if a witch spell had snapped, Bryce blinked, the dizzying heat vanishing. Oh gods. His emotions had to be all over the place after last night, and hers were a mess on a good day, and—

“I have to get dressed for work,” she managed to say, and hurried toward her bedroom before he could turn from the burning breakfast.

She’d lost her mind, she told herself in the shower, in the bathroom, on the too-quiet walk to work with Syrinx, Hunt trailing overhead. Keeping his distance. As if he realized the same thing.

Let someone in, give them the power to hurt you, and they’d do exactly that, in the end.

She couldn’t do it. Endure it.

Bryce had resigned herself to that fact by the time she reached the gallery. A glance upward showed Hunt making his descent as Syrinx yipped happily, and the thought of a day in an enclosed space with him, with only Lehabah as a buffer …

Thank fucking Urd, her phone rang as she opened the gallery door. But it wasn’t Ruhn calling to check in, and it wasn’t Juniper with an earful about missing the dance class. “Jesiba.”

The sorceress didn’t bother with pleasantries. “Get the back door open. Now.”

“Oh, it’s horrible, BB,” Lehabah whispered in the dimness of the library. “Just horrible.”

Staring up at the massive, dimly lit tank, Bryce felt her arm hair stand on end as she watched their new addition explore its environment.

Hunt crossed his arms and peered into the gloom. Any thoughts of getting naked with him had vanished an hour ago.

A dark, scaled hand slapped against the thick glass, ivory claws scraping. Bryce swallowed. “I want to know where anyone even found a nøkk in these waters.” From what she’d heard, they existed only in the icy seas of the north, and mostly in Pangera.

“I preferred the kelpie,” Lehabah whispered, shrinking behind her little divan, her flame a quivering yellow.

As if it had heard them, the nøkk paused before the glass and smiled. At more than eight feet long, the nøkk might have very well been the Helish twin to a mer male. But instead of humanoid features, the nøkk presented a jutting lower jaw with a too-wide, lipless mouth, full of needle-thin teeth. Its overlarge eyes were milky, like some of the fishes of the deep. Its tail was mostly translucent—bony and sharp—and above

it, a warped, muscled torso rose.

No hair covered its chest or head, and its four-fingered hands ended in daggerlike claws.

With the tank spanning the entire length of one side of the library, there would be no escaping its presence, unless the nøkk went down to the cluster of dark rocks at the bottom. The creature dragged those claws over the glass again. The inked SPQM gleamed stark white on his greenish-gray wrist.

Bryce lifted her phone to her ear. Jesiba picked up on the first ring. “Yes?”

“We have a problem.”

“With the Korsaki contract?” Jesiba’s voice was low, as if she didn’t want to be overheard.

“No.” Bryce scowled at the nøkk. “The creep in the aquarium needs to go.”

“I’m in a meeting.” “Lehabah is scared as Hel.”

Air was lethal to nøkks—if one was exposed for more than a few seconds, its vital organs would begin shutting down, its skin peeling away as if burned. But Bryce had still gone up the small stairwell to the right of the tank to ensure that the feeding hatch built into the grate atop the water was thoroughly locked. The hatch itself was a square platform that could be raised and lowered into the water, operated by a panel of controls in the rear of the space atop the tank, and Bryce had triple-checked that the machine was completely turned off.

When she’d returned to the library, she’d found Lehabah curled into a ball behind a book, the sprite’s flame a sputtering yellow.

Lehabah whispered from her couch, “He’s a hateful, horrible creature.”

Bryce shushed her. “Can’t you gift him to some macho loser in Pangera?”

“I’m hanging up now.” “But he’s—”

The line went dead. Bryce slumped into her seat at the table. “Now she’ll just keep him forever,” she told the sprite.

“What are you going to feed it?” Hunt asked as the nøkk again tested the glass wall, feeling with those terrible hands.

“It loves humans,” Lehabah whispered. “They drag swimmers under the surface of ponds and lakes and drown them, then slowly feast on their corpses over days and days—”

“Beef,” Bryce said, her stomach turning as she glanced at the small door to access the stairwell to the top of the tank. “He’ll get a few steaks a day.”

Lehabah cowered. “Can’t we put up a curtain?” “Jesiba will just rip it down.”

Hunt offered, “I could pile some books on this table—block your view of him instead.”

“He’ll still know where I am, though.” Lehabah pouted at Bryce. “I can’t sleep with it in here.”

Bryce sighed. “What if you just pretend he’s an enchanted prince or something?”

The sprite pointed toward the tank. To the nøkk hovering in the water, tail thrashing. Smiling at them. “A prince from Hel.”

“Who would want a nøkk for a pet?” Hunt asked, sprawling himself across from Bryce at the desk.

“A sorceress who chose to join Flame and Shadow and turns her enemies into animals.” Bryce motioned to the smaller tanks and terrariums built into the shelves around them, then rubbed at the persistent ache in her thigh beneath her pink dress. When she’d finally worked up the nerve to emerge from her bedroom this morning after the kitchen fiasco, Hunt had looked at her for a long, long moment. But he’d said nothing.

“You should see a medwitch about that leg,” he said now. Hunt didn’t look up from where he was leafing through some report Justinian

had sent over that morning for a second opinion. She’d asked what it was, but he’d told her it was classified, and that was that.

“My leg is fine.” She didn’t bother to turn from where she once again began typing in the details for the Korsaki contract Jesiba was so eager to have finalized. Mindless busywork, but work that had to be done at some point.

Especially since they were again at a dead end. No word had arrived from Viktoria about the Mimir test results. Why Danika had stolen the Horn, who wanted it so badly that they’d kill her for it … Bryce still had no idea. But if Ruhn was right about a method to heal the Horn … It all had to tie together somehow.

And she knew that while they’d killed the one kristallos demon, there were other kristallos waiting in Hel that could still be summoned to hunt the Horn. And if its kind had failed so far, when the breed had literally been created by the Princes of Hel to track the Horn … How could she even hope to find it?

Then there was the matter of those gruesome, pulping killings … which hadn’t been done by a kristallos. Hunt had already put in a request to have the footage checked again, but nothing had come through.

Hunt’s phone buzzed, and he fished it from his pocket, glimpsed at the screen, then put it away. From across the desk, she could just barely make out the text box of a message on the screen.

“Not going to write back?”

His mouth twisted to the side. “Just one of my colleagues, busting my balls.” His eyes flickered when he looked at her, though. And when she smiled at him, shrugging, his throat bobbed—just slightly.

Hunt said a bit roughly, “I gotta head out for a while. Naomi will come to stand guard. I’ll pick you up when you’re ready to leave.”

Before she could ask about it, he was gone.

“I know it’s been a while,” Bryce said, her phone wedged between her shoulder and ear.

Hunt had been waiting outside the gallery while she locked up, smiling at Syrinx scratching at the door. The chimera yowled in protest when he realized Bryce wasn’t bringing him along yet, and Hunt stooped to scratch his fuzzy golden head before Bryce shut the door, locking him in.

“I’ll have to look at my calendar,” Bryce was saying, nodding her hello to Hunt.

She looked beautiful today, in a rose-pink dress, pearls at her ears, and hair swept back on either side with matching pearl combs.

Fuck, beautiful wasn’t even the right word for it.

She’d emerged from her bedroom and he’d been struck stupid.

She hadn’t seemed to notice that he’d noticed, though he supposed she knew that she looked gorgeous every day. Yet there was a light to her today, a color that hadn’t been there before, a glow in her amber eyes and flush to her skin.

But that pink dress … It had distracted him all day.

So had their encounter in the kitchen this morning. He’d done his best to ignore it—to forget about how close he’d come to begging her to touch him, to let him touch her. It hadn’t stopped him from being in a state of semi-arousal all day.

He had to get his shit together. Considering that their investigation had slowed this past week, he couldn’t afford distractions. Couldn’t afford to ogle her every time she wasn’t looking. This afternoon, she’d been rising up onto her toes, arm straining to grab some book on a high shelf in the library, and it was like that color pink was the fucking Horn, and he was a kristallos demon.

He’d been out of his chair in an instant, at her side a heartbeat after that, and had pulled the book off the shelf for her.

She’d stood there, though, when he’d held the book out. Hadn’t backed up a step as she looked between the outstretched book and his face. His blood had begun pounding in his ears, his skin becoming too tight. Just like it had this morning when he’d seen her breasts peak, and had scented how filthy her own thoughts had turned.

But she’d just taken the book and walked away. Unfazed and unaware of his sheer stupidity.

It hadn’t improved as the hours had passed. And when she’d smiled at him earlier … He’d been half-relieved to be called away from the gallery a minute later. It was while he was heading back, breathing in the brisk air off the Istros, that Viktoria sent him a message: I found somethingMeet me at Munin and Hugin in 15.

He debated telling the wraith to wait. To delay the inevitable bad news coming their way, to go just a few more days with that beautiful smile on Bryce’s face and that desire starting to smolder in her eyes, but

… Micah’s warnings rang in his ears. The Summit was still two weeks away, but Hunt knew Sandriel’s presence had stretched Micah’s patience thinner than usual. That if he delayed much longer, he’d find his bargain null and void.

So whatever intel Vik had, however bad … he’d find a way to deal with it. He called Bryce Kicks Ass and told her to get her ass outside to meet him.

“I don’t know, Mom,” Bryce was saying into her phone, falling into step with Hunt as they started down the street. The setting sun bathed the city in gold and orange, gilding even the puddles of filth. “Of course I miss you, but maybe next month?”

They passed an alley a few blocks away, neon signs pointing to the small tea bars and ancient food stalls cramming its length. Several tattoo shops lay interspersed, some of the artists or patrons smoking outside before the evening rush of drunken idiots.

“What—this weekend? Well, I have a guest—” She clicked her tongue. “No, it’s a long story. He’s like … a roommate? His name? Uh, Athie. No, Mom.” She sighed. “This weekend really doesn’t work. No, I’m not blowing you guys off again.” She gritted her teeth. “What about a video chat, then? Mmhmm, yeah, of course I’ll make the time.” Bryce winced again. “Okay, Mom. Bye.”

Bryce turned to him, grimacing.

“Your mom seems … insistent,” Hunt said carefully.

“I’m video chatting with my parents at seven.” She sighed at the sky. “They want to meet you.”

Viktoria was at the bar when they arrived, a glass of whiskey in front of her. She offered them both a grave smile, then slid a file over as they seated themselves to her left.

“What did you find?” Bryce asked, opening the cream-colored folder.

“Read it,” Viktoria said, then glanced toward the cameras in the bar.

Recording everything.

Bryce nodded, taking the warning, and Hunt leaned closer as her head dipped to read, unable to stop himself from stretching out his wing, ever so slightly, around her back.

He forgot about it, though, when he beheld the test results. “This can’t be right,” he said quietly.

“That’s what I said,” Viktoria said, her narrow face impassive.

There, on the Fae’s Mimir screening, lay the results: small bits of something synthetic. Not organic, not technological, not magic—but a combination of all three.

Find what is in-between, Aidas had said.

“Danika freelanced for Redner Industries,” Bryce said. “They do all sorts of experiments. Would that explain this?”

“It might,” Viktoria said. “But I’m running the Mimir on every other sample we have—from the others. Initial tests also came up positive on Maximus Tertian’s clothes.” The tattoo on Viktoria’s brow bunched as she frowned. “It’s not pure magic, or tech, or organic. It’s a hybrid, with its other traces causing it to be canceled out in the other categories. A cloaking device, almost.”

Bryce frowned. “What is it, exactly?”

Hunt knew Viktoria well enough to read the caution in the wraith’s eyes. She said to Bryce, “It’s some sort of … drug. From what I can find, it looks like it’s mostly used for medical purposes in very small doses, but might have leaked onto the streets—which led to doses that are far from safe.”

“Danika wouldn’t have taken a drug like that.”

“Of course not,” Viktoria said quickly. “But she was exposed to it— all her clothes were. Whether that was upon her death or before it, however, is unclear. We’re about to run the test on the samples we took from the Pack of Devils and the two most recent victims.”

“Tertian was in the Meat Market,” Hunt murmured. “He might have taken it.”

But Bryce demanded, “What’s it called? This thing?”

Viktoria pointed to the results. “Exactly what it sounds like. Synth.”

Bryce whipped her head around to look at Hunt. “Ruhn said that medwitch mentioned a synthetic healing compound that could possibly repair …” She didn’t finish the statement.

Hunt’s eyes were dark as the Pit, a haunted look in them. “It might be the same one.”

Viktoria held up her hands. “Again, I’m still testing the other victims, but … I just thought you should know.”

Bryce hopped off the stool. “Thanks.”

Hunt let her reach the front door before he murmured to the wraith, “Keep it quiet, Vik.”

“Already wiped the files from the legion database,” Vik said.

They barely spoke while they returned to the gallery, grabbed Syrinx, and headed home. Only when they stood in her kitchen, Hunt leaning against the counter, did he say, “Investigations can take time. We’re getting closer. That’s a good thing.”

She dumped food in Syrinx’s bowl, face unreadable. “What do you think about this synth?”

Hunt considered his words carefully. “As you said, it could have just been exposure Danika had at Redner. Tertian could have just taken it as a recreational drug right before he died. And we’re still waiting to find out if it shows up on the clothes of the remaining victims.”

“I want to know about it,” she said, pulling out her phone and dialing.

“It might not be worth our—” Ruhn picked up. “Yeah?”

“That synthetic healing drug you heard about from the medwitch.

What do you know about it?”

“She sent over some research a couple days ago. A lot of it’s been redacted by Redner Industries, but I’m going through it. Why?”

Bryce glanced toward Hunt’s open bedroom door—to the photo of her and Danika on the dresser, Hunt realized. “There were traces of something called synth on Danika’s clothes—it’s a relatively new synthetic medicine. And it sounds like it’s leaked onto the streets and is being used in higher concentrations as an illegal substance. I’m wondering if it’s the same thing.”

“Yeah, this research is on synth.” Pages rustled in the background. “It can do some pretty amazing things. There’s a list of ingredients here

—again, a lot of it was redacted, but …” Ruhn’s silence was like a bomb dropping.

“But what?” Hunt said into the phone, leaning close enough to hear Bryce’s thundering heart.

“Obsidian salt is listed as one of the ingredients.”

“Obsidian …” Bryce blinked at Hunt. “Could the synth be used to summon a demon? If someone didn’t have the power on their own, could the obsidian salt in the drug let them call on something like the kristallos?”

“I’m not sure,” Ruhn said. “I’ll read through this and let you know what I find.”

“Okay.” Bryce blew out a breath, and Hunt pulled a step away as she began pacing again. “Thanks, Ruhn.”

Ruhn’s pause was different this time. “No problem, Bryce.” He hung


Hunt met her stare. She said, “We need to figure out who’s selling

this stuff. Tertian must have known before he died. We’re going to the

Meat Market.” Because if there was one place in this city where a drug like that might be available, it’d be in that cesspit.

Hunt swallowed. “We need to be careful—”

“I want answers.” She aimed for the front closet.

Hunt stepped into her path. “We’ll go tomorrow.” She drew up short, mouth opening. But Hunt shook his head. “Take tonight off.”

“It can’t—”

“Yes, it can wait, Bryce. Talk to your parents tonight. I’ll put on some real clothes,” he added, gesturing to his battle-suit. “And then tomorrow, we’ll go to the Meat Market to ask around. It can wait.” Hunt, despite himself, grabbed her hand. Ran his thumb over the back of it. “Enjoy talking to your parents, Bryce. They’re alive. Don’t miss out on a moment of it. Not for this.” She still looked like she’d object, insist they go hunt down the synth, so he said, “I wish I had that luxury.”

She looked down at his hand, gripping hers, for a second—for a lifetime. She asked, “What happened to your parents?”

He said, throat tight, “My mother never told me who my father is. And she … She was a low-ranking angel. She cleaned the villas of some of the more powerful angels, because they didn’t trust humans or other Vanir to do it.” His chest ached at the memory of his mother’s beautiful, gentle face. Her soft smile and dark, angular eyes. The lullabies he could still hear, more than two hundred years later.

“She worked day and night to keep me fed and never once complained, because she knew that if she did, she’d be out of a job and she had me to think about. When I was a foot soldier, and sending home every copper I made, she refused to spend it. Apparently, someone heard I was doing that, thought she had tons of money hidden in her apartment, and broke in one night. Killed her and took the money. All five hundred silver marks she’d amassed over her life, and the fifty gold marks I’d managed to send her after five years in service.”

“I am so sorry, Hunt.”

“None of the angels—the powerful, adored angels—that my mother worked for bothered to care that she’d been killed. No one investigated who did it, and no one granted me leave to mourn. She was nothing to them. But she was … she was everything to me.” His throat ached. “I made the Drop and joined Shahar’s cause soon after that. I battled on Mount Hermon that day for her—my mother. In her memory.” Shahar had taken those memories and made them into weapons.

Bryce’s fingers pressed his. “It sounds like she was a remarkable person.”

“She was.” He pulled his hand away at last.

But she still smiled at him, his chest tightening to the point of pain as she said, “All right. I’ll video chat my parents. Playing legionary with you can wait.”

Bryce spent most of the evening cleaning. Hunt helped her, offering to fly over to the nearest apothecary and get an insta-clean spell, but Bryce waved him off. Her mom was such a neat freak, she claimed, that she could tell the difference between magically cleaned bathrooms and hand-scrubbed ones. Even on video chat.

It’s that bleach smell that tells me it’s been done properly, Bryce, her daughter had imitated to Hunt in a flat, no-nonsense voice that made him just a little nervous.

Bryce had used his phone throughout, snapping photos of him cleaning, of Syrinx taking the toilet paper rolls from their container and shredding them on the carpet they’d just vacuumed, of herself with Hunt stooped over his toilet behind her, brushing down the inside.

By the time he’d snatched the phone out of her gloved hands, she’d again changed her contact name, this time to Bryce Is Cooler Than Me.

But despite the smile it brought to his face, Hunt kept hearing Micah’s voice, threats both spoken and implied. Find who is behind this. Get. The. Job. Done. Don’t make me reconsider our bargain. Before I take you off this case. Before I sell you back to Sandriel. Before I make you and Bryce Quinlan regret it.

Once he solved this case, it would be over, wouldn’t it? He’d still have ten kills left for Micah, which could easily take years to fulfill. He’d have to go back to the Comitium. To the 33rd.

He found himself looking at her while they cleaned. Taking out his phone and snapping some photos of her as well.

He knew too much. Had learned too much. About all of it. About what he might have had, without the halo and slave tattoos.

“I can open a bottle of wine, if you need some liquid courage,” Bryce was saying as they sat before her computer at the kitchen island, the video chat service dialing her parents. She’d bought a bag of pastries from the corner market on their way home—a stress-coping device, he assumed.

Hunt just scanned her face. This—calling her parents, sitting thigh-to-thigh with her … Fucking Hel.

He was on a one-way collision course. He couldn’t bring himself to stop it.

Before Hunt could open his mouth to suggest that this might be a mistake, a female voice said, “And why exactly would he need liquid courage, Bryce Adelaide Quinlan?”

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