Chapter no 58

House of Earth and Blood

Her mother messaged while she was dressing for work the next morning, with the time and location of a medwitch appointment. Eleven today. It’s five blocks from the gallery. Please go.

Bryce didn’t write back. She certainly wouldn’t be going to the appointment.

Not when she had another one scheduled with the Meat Market.

Hunt had wanted to wait until night, but Bryce knew that the vendors would be much more likely to chat during the quieter daytime hours, when they wouldn’t be trying to entice the usual evening buyers.

“You’re quiet again today,” Bryce murmured as they wove through the cramped pathways of the warehouse. This was the third they’d visited so far—the other two had quickly proven fruitless.

No, the vendors didn’t know anything about drugs. No, that was a stereotype of the Meat Market that they did not appreciate. No, they did not know anyone who might help them. No, they were not interested in marks for information, because they really did not know anything useful at all.

Hunt had stayed a few stalls away during every discussion, because no one would talk with a legionary and Fallen slave.

Hunt held his wings tucked in tight. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten that we’re missing that medwitch appointment right now.”

She never should have mentioned it.

“I don’t remember giving you permission to shove your nose into my business.”

“We’re back to that?” He huffed a laugh. “I’d think cuddling in front of the TV allowed me to at least be able to voice my opinions without getting my head bitten off.”

She rolled her eyes. “We didn’t cuddle.”

“What is it you want, exactly?” Hunt asked, surveying a stall full of ancient knives. “A boyfriend or mate or husband who will just sit there, with no opinions, and agree to everything you say, and never dare to ask you for anything?”

“Of course not.”

“Just because I’m male and have an opinion doesn’t make me into some psychotic, domineering prick.”

She shoved her hands into the pockets of Danika’s leather jacket. “Look, my mom went through a lot thanks to some psychotic, domineering pricks.”

“I know.” His eyes softened. “But even so, look at her and your dad. He voices his opinions. And he seems pretty damn psychotic when it comes to protecting both of you.”

“You have no idea,” Bryce grumbled. “I didn’t go on a single date until I got to CCU.”

Hunt’s brows rose. “Really? I would have thought …” He shook his head.

“Thought what?”

He shrugged. “That the human boys would have been crawling around after you.”

It was an effort not to glance at him, with the way he said human boys, as if they were some other breed than him—a full-grown malakh male.

She supposed they were, technically, but that hint of masculine arrogance … “Well, if they wanted to, they didn’t dare show it. Randall was practically a god to them, and though he never said anything, they all got it into their heads that I was firmly off-limits.”

“That wouldn’t have been a good enough reason for me to stay away.”

Her cheeks heated at the way his voice lowered. “Well, idolizing Randall aside, I was also different.” She gestured to her pointed ears. Her tall body. “Too Fae for humans. Woe is me, right?”

“It builds character,” he said, examining a stall full of opals of every color: white, black, red, blue, green. Iridescent veins ran through them, like preserved arteries from the earth itself.

“What are these for?” he asked the black-feathered, humanoid female at the stall. A magpie.

“They’re luck charms,” the magpie said, waving a feathery hand over the trays of gems. “White is for joy; green for wealth; red for love

and fertility; blue for wisdom … Take your pick.” Hunt asked, “What’s the black for?”

The magpie’s onyx-colored mouth curved upward. “For the opposite of luck.” She tapped one of the black opals, kept contained within a glass dome. “Slip it under the pillow of your enemy and see what happens to them.”

Bryce cleared her throat. “Interesting as that may be—” Hunt held out a silver mark. “For the white.”

Bryce’s brows rose, but the magpie swept up the mark, and plunked the white opal into Hunt’s awaiting palm. They left, ignoring her gratitude for their business.

“I didn’t peg you for superstitious,” Bryce said.

But Hunt paused at the end of the row of stalls and took her hand. He pressed the opal into it, the stone warm from his touch. The size of a crow’s egg, it shimmered in the firstlights high above.

“You could use some joy,” Hunt said quietly.

Something bright sparked in her chest. “So could you,” she said, attempting to press the opal back into his palm.

But Hunt stepped away. “It’s a gift.”

Bryce’s face warmed again, and she looked anywhere but at him as she smiled. Even though she could feel his gaze lingering on her face while she slid the opal into the pocket of her jacket.

The opal had been stupid. Impulsive.

Likely bullshit, but Bryce had pocketed it, at least. She hadn’t commented on how rusty his skills were, since it had been two hundred years since he’d last thought to buy something for a female.

Shahar would have smiled at the opal—and forgotten about it soon after. She’d had troves of jewels in her alabaster palace: diamonds the size of sunballs; solid blocks of emerald stacked like bricks; veritable bathtubs filled with rubies. A small white opal, even for joy, would have been like a grain of sand on a miles-long beach. She’d have appreciated the gift but, ultimately, let it disappear into a drawer somewhere. And he, so dedicated to their cause, would probably have forgotten about it, too.

Hunt clenched his jaw as Bryce strode for a hide stall. The teenager

—a feline shifter from her scent—was in her lanky humanoid form and watched them approach from where she perched on a stool. Her brown braid draped over a shoulder, nearly grazing the phone idly held in her hands.

“Hey,” Bryce said, pointing toward a pile of shaggy rugs. “How much for one of them?”

“Twenty silvers,” the shifter said, sounding as bored as she looked.

Bryce smirked, running a hand over the white pelt. Hunt’s skin tightened over his bones. He’d felt that touch the other night, stroking him to sleep. And could feel it now as she petted the sheepskin. “Twenty silvers for a snowsheep hide? Isn’t that a little low?”

“My mom makes me work weekends. It’d piss her off to sell it for what it’s actually worth.”

“Loyal of you,” Bryce said, chuckling. She leaned in, her voice dropping. “This is going to sound so random, but I have a question for you.”

Hunt kept back, watching her work. The irreverent, down-to-earth party girl, merely looking to score some new drugs.

The shifter barely looked up. “Yeah?”

Bryce said, “You know where I can get anything … fun around here?”

The girl rolled her chestnut-colored eyes. “All right. Let’s hear it.” “Hear what?” Bryce asked innocently.

The shifter lifted her phone, typing away with rainbow-painted nails. “That fake-ass act you gave everyone else here, and in the two other warehouses.” She held up her phone. “We’re all on a group chat.” She gestured to everyone in the market around them. “I got, like, ten warnings you two would be coming through here, asking cheesy questions about drugs or whatever.”

It was, perhaps, the first time Hunt had seen Bryce at a loss for words. So he stepped up to her side. “All right,” he said to the teenager. “But do you know anything?”

The girl looked him over. “You think the Vipe would allow shit like that synth in here?”

“She allows every other depravity and crime,” Hunt said through his teeth.

“Yeah, but she’s not dumb,” the shifter said, tossing her braid over a shoulder.

“So you’ve heard of it,” Bryce said.

“The Vipe told me to tell you that it’s nasty, and she doesn’t deal in it, and never will.”

“But someone does?” Bryce said tightly.

This was bad. This would not end well at all—

“The Vipe also told me to say you should check the river.” She went back to her phone, presumably to tell the Vipe that she’d conveyed the message. “That’s the place for that kinda shit.”

“What do you mean?” Bryce asked. A shrug. “Ask the mer.”

“We should lay out the facts,” Hunt said as Bryce stormed for the Meat Market’s docks. “Before we run to the mer, accusing them of being drug dealers.”

“Too late,” Bryce said.

He hadn’t been able to stop her from sending a message via otter to Tharion twenty minutes ago, and sure as Hel hadn’t been able to stop her from heading for the river’s edge to wait.

Hunt gripped her arm, the dock mere steps away. “Bryce, the mer do

not take kindly to being falsely accused—” “Who said it’s false?”

“Tharion isn’t a drug dealer, and he sure as shit isn’t selling something as bad as synth seems to be.”

“He might know someone who is.” She shrugged out of his grasp. “We’ve been dicking around for long enough. I want answers. Now.” She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you want to get this over with? So you can have your sentence reduced?”

He did, but he said, “The synth probably has nothing to do with this.

We shouldn’t—”

But she’d already reached the wood slats of the dock, not daring to look into the eddying water beneath. The Meat Market’s docks were notorious dumping grounds. And feeding troughs for aquatic scavengers. Water splashed, and then a powerful male body was sitting on the end of the dock. “This part of the river is gross,” Tharion said by way of


Bryce didn’t smile. Didn’t say anything other than, “Who’s selling synth in the river?”

The grin vanished from Tharion’s face. Hunt began to object, but the mer said, “Not in, Legs.” He shook his head. “On the river.”

“So it’s true, then. It’s—it’s what? A healing drug that leaked from a lab? Who’s behind it?”

Hunt stepped up to her side. “Tharion—”

“Danika Fendyr,” Tharion said, his eyes soft. Like he knew who Danika had been to her. “The intel came in a day before her death. She was spotted doing a deal on a boat just past here.”

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