Chapter no 57

House of Earth and Blood

Thirty minutes later, Bryce had changed into her sleep shorts and was brooding on her bed when a knock thumped on the door. “You’re a fucking traitor, Athalar,” she called.

Hunt opened the door and leaned against its frame. “No wonder you moved here, if you and your mom fight so much.”

The instinct to strangle him was overwhelming, but she said, “I’ve never seen my mom back down from a fight. It rubbed off, I guess.” She scowled at him. “What do you want?”

Hunt pushed off the door and approached. The room became too small with each step closer. Too airless. He stopped at the foot of her mattress. “I’ll go to the medwitch appointment with you.”

“I’m not going.” “Why?”

She sucked in a breath. And then it all burst out. “Because once that wound is gone, once it stops hurting, then Danika is gone. The Pack of Devils is gone.” She shoved back the blankets, revealing her bare legs, and hitched up her silk sleep shorts so the full, twisting scar was visible. “It will all be some memory, some dream that happened for a flash and then was gone. But this scar and the pain …” Her eyes stung. “I can’t let it be erased. I can’t let them be erased.”

Hunt slowly sat beside her on the bed, as if giving her time to object. His hair skimmed his brow, the tattoo, as he studied the scar. And ran a calloused finger over it.

The touch left her skin prickling in its wake.

“You’re not going to erase Danika and the pack if you help yourself.” Bryce shook her head, looking toward the window, but his fingers closed around her chin. He gently turned her face back to his. His dark,

depthless eyes were soft. Understanding.

How many people ever saw those eyes this way? Ever saw him this way?

“Your mother loves you. She cannot—literally, on a biological level, Bryce—bear the thought of you in pain.” He let go of her chin, but his eyes remained on hers. “Neither can I.”

“You barely know me.”

“You’re my friend.” The words hung between them. His head dipped again, as if he could hide the expression on his face as he amended, “If you would like me to be.”

For a moment, she stared at him. The offer thrown out there. The quiet vulnerability. It erased any annoyance still in her veins.

“Didn’t you know, Athalar?” The tentative hope in his face nearly destroyed her. “We’ve been friends from the moment you thought Jelly Jubilee was a dildo.”

He tipped back his head and laughed, and Bryce scooted back on the bed. Propped up the pillows and turned on the TV. She patted the space beside her.

Grinning, eyes full of light in a way she’d never seen before, he sat beside her. Then he pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of her.

Bryce blew out a breath, her smile fading as she surveyed him. “My mom went through a lot. I know she’s not easy to deal with, but thanks for being so cool with her.”

“I like your mom,” Hunt said, and she believed him. “How’d she and your dad meet?”

Bryce knew he meant Randall. “My mom ran from my biological father before he found out she was pregnant. She wound up at a temple to Cthona in Korinth, and knew the priestesses there would take her in— shield her—since she was a holy pregnant vessel or whatever.” Bryce snorted. “She gave birth to me there, and I spent the first three years of my life cloistered behind the temple walls. My mom did their laundry to earn our keep. Long story short, my biological father heard a rumor that she had a child and sent goons to hunt her down.” She ground her teeth. “He told them that if there was a child that was undoubtedly his, they were to bring me to him. At any cost.”

Hunt’s mouth thinned. “Shit.”

“They had eyes at every depot, but the priestesses got us out of the city—with the hope of getting us all the way to the House of Earth and Blood headquarters in Hilene, where my mom could beg for asylum. Even my father wouldn’t dare infringe on their territory. But it’s a three

days’ drive, and none of the Korinth priestesses had the ability to defend us against Fae warriors. So we drove the five hours to Solas’s Temple in Oia, partially to rest, but also to pick up our holy guard.”

“Randall.” Hunt smiled. But he arched a brow. “Wait—Randall was a sun-priest?”

“Not quite. He’d gotten back from the front a year before, but the stuff he did and saw while he was serving … It messed with him. Really badly. He didn’t want to go home, couldn’t face his family. So he’d offered himself as an acolyte to Solas, hoping that it’d somehow atone for his past. He was two weeks away from swearing his vows when the High Priest asked him to escort us to Hilene. Many of the priests are trained warriors, but Randall was the only human, and the High Priest guessed my mother wouldn’t trust a Vanir male. Right before we reached Hilene, my father’s people caught up with us. They expected to find a helpless, hysterical female.” Bryce smiled again. “What they found was a legendary sharpshooter and a mother who would move the earth itself to keep her daughter.”

Hunt straightened. “What happened?”

“What you might expect. My parents dealt with the mess afterward.” She glanced at him. “Please don’t tell that to anyone. It … There were never any questions about the Fae that didn’t return to Crescent City. I don’t want any to come up now.”

“I won’t say a word.”

Bryce smiled grimly. “After that, the House of Earth and Blood literally deemed my mother a vessel for Cthona and Randall a vessel for Solas, and blah blah religious crap, but it basically amounted to an official order of protection that my father didn’t dare fuck with. And Randall finally went home, bringing us with him, and obviously didn’t swear his vows to Solas.” Her smile warmed. “He proposed by the end of the year. They’ve been disgustingly in love ever since.”

Hunt smiled back. “It’s nice to hear that sometimes things work out for good people.”

“Yeah. Sometimes.” A taut silence stretched between them. In her bed—they were in her bed, and just this morning, she’d fantasized about him going down on her atop the kitchen counter—

Bryce swallowed hard. “Fangs and Bangs is on in five minutes. You want to watch?”

Hunt smiled slowly, as if he knew precisely why she’d swallowed, but lay back on the pillows, his wings sprawled beneath him. A predator content to wait for his prey to come to him.

Fucking Hel. But Hunt winked at her, tucking an arm behind his head. The motion made the muscles down his biceps ripple. His eyes glittered, as if he was well aware of that, too. “Hel yes.”

Hunt hadn’t realized how badly he needed to ask it. How badly he’d needed her answer.

Friends. It didn’t remotely cover whatever was between them, but it was true.

He leaned against the towering headboard, the two of them watching the raunchy show. But by the time they reached the halfway point of the episode, she’d begun to make comments about the inane plot. And he’d begun to join her.

Another show came on, a reality competition with different Vanir performing feats of strength and agility, and it felt only natural to watch that, too. All of it felt only natural. He let himself settle into the feeling.

And wasn’t that the most dangerous thing he’d ever done.

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