Chapter no 95

House of Earth and Blood

Syrinx was sitting in her apartment’s open front doorway, whining with worry, as Bryce and Hunt stepped off the elevator.

Bryce scanned the empty hall, the chimera. “I left that door shut …” she began, earning a knowing chuckle from Hunt, but Syrinx was already sprinting for her.

“I’ll explain his gifts later,” Hunt murmured as Bryce herded a hysterical Syrinx into the apartment and knelt before the beast, flinging her arms around him.

She and Hunt had stayed in the Old Square for all of two minutes before the wailing began—from the people who stumbled from the shelters to discover that it had been too late for their loved ones.

The Horn inked into her back had done its job well. Not one void remained in the Gates. And her firstlight—through those Gates—had been able to heal everything: people, buildings, the world itself.

Yet it could not do the impossible. It could not bring back the dead.

And there were many, many bodies in the streets. Most only in pieces.

Bryce tightened her arms around Sryinx. “It’s okay,” she whispered, letting him lick her face.

But it wasn’t okay. Not even close. What had happened, what she’d done and revealed, the Horn in her body, all those people dead, Lehabah dead, and seeing Danika, Danika, Danika—

Her breathless words turned into pants, and then shuddering sobs. Hunt, standing behind her as if he’d been waiting for this, just scooped her and Syrinx into his arms.

Hunt brought her to her bedroom, sitting down on the edge of the mattress, keeping his arms around her and Syrinx, who pried his way

free from Bryce’s arms to lick Hunt’s face, too.

His hand slipped into her hair, fingers twining through it, and Bryce leaned into him, soaking up that strength, that familiar scent, marveling that they had even gotten here, had somehow made it—

She glanced at his wrist. No sign of the halo on his brow, yet the slave tattoo remained.

Hunt noticed the shift in her attention. He said quietly, “I killed Sandriel.”

His eyes were so calm—clear. Fixed wholly on hers. “I killed Micah,” she whispered.

“I know.” The corner of his mouth curled upward. “Remind me to never get on your bad side.”

“It’s not funny.”

“Oh, I know it’s not.” His fingers drifted through her hair, casually and gently. “I could barely stand to watch.”

She could barely stand to remember it. “How did you manage to kill her? To get rid of the tattoo?”

“It’s a long story,” he said. “I’d rather you fill in the details of yours.”

“You first.”

“Not a chance. I want to hear how you hid the fact that you’ve got a star inside you.”

He looked down at her chest then, as if he’d glimpse it shimmering beneath her skin. But when his eyebrows flicked upward, Bryce followed his line of sight.

“Well,” she said with a sigh, “that’s new.” Indeed, just visible down the V-neck of her T-shirt, a white splotch—an eight-pointed star—now scarred the place between her breasts.

Hunt chuckled. “I like it.”

Some small part of her did, too. But she said, “You know it’s just the Starborn light—not true power.”

“Yeah, except now you’ve got that, too.” He pinched her side. “A good amount from what I can sense. And the fucking Horn—” He ran his hand down her spine for emphasis.

She rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”

But his face grew grave. “You’re going to have to learn to control it.” “We save the city, and you’re already telling me I need to get back to


He chuckled. “Old habits, Bryce.”

Their eyes met again, and she glanced at his mouth, so close to hers, so perfectly formed. At his eyes, now staring so intently into her own.

It had all happened for a reason. She believed that. For this—for him. And though the path she’d been thrust onto was royally fucked, and had led her through the lightless halls of grief and despair … Here, here before her, was light. True light. What she’d raced toward during the


And she wanted to be kissed by that light. Now.

Wanted to kiss him back, and tell Syrinx to go wait in his crate for a while.

Hunt’s dark eyes turned near-feral. As if he could read those thoughts on her face, in her scent. “We have some unfinished business, Quinlan,” he said, voice roughening. He threw Syrinx a Look, and the chimera leapt from the bed and trotted out into the hall, lion’s tail waggling as if to say, It’s about time.

When Bryce looked back at Hunt, she found his focus on her lips. And became hyperaware of the fact that she was sitting across his lap. On her bed. From the hardness starting to poke into her backside, she knew he’d realized it, too.

Still they said nothing as they stared at each other.

So Bryce wriggled slightly against his erection, drawing a hiss from him. She huffed a laugh. “I throw one smoldering look at you and you’re already—what was it you said to me a few weeks ago? Hot and bothered?”

One of his hands traced down her spine again, intent in every inch of it. “I’ve been hot and bothered for you for a long time now.” His hand halted on her waist, his thumb beginning a gentle, torturous stroking along her rib cage. With each sweep, the building ache between her legs ratcheted.

Hunt smiled slowly, as if well aware of that. Then he leaned in, pressing a kiss to the underside of her jaw. He said against her flushed skin, “You ready to do this?”

“Gods, yes,” she breathed. And when he kissed just beneath her ear, making her back arch slightly, she said, “I recall you promising to fuck me until I couldn’t remember my own name.”

He shifted his hips, grinding his cock into her, searing her even with the clothing still between them. “If that’s what you want, sweetheart, that’s what I’ll give you.”

Oh gods. She couldn’t get a solid breath down. Couldn’t think around his roving mouth on her neck and his hands and that massive,

beautiful cock digging into her. She had to get him inside her. Right now. She needed to feel him, needed to have his heat and strength around her. In her.

Bryce shifted to straddle his lap, lining herself up with all of him. She met all of him, satisfied to find his breathing as ragged as her own. His hands bracketed her waist, thumbs stroking, stroking, stroking, as if he were an engine waiting to roar into movement upon her command.

Bryce leaned in, brushing her mouth over his. Once. Twice.

Hunt began shaking with the force of his restraint as he let her explore his mouth.

But she pulled back, meeting his hazy, burning gaze. The words she wanted to say clogged in her throat, so she hoped he understood them as she pressed a kiss to his now-clear brow. Sketched a line of soft, glancing kisses over every inch where the tattoo had been.

Hunt slid a shaking hand from her waist and laid it over her thundering heart.

She swallowed thickly, surprised to find her eyes stinging. Surprised to see silver lining his eyes as well. They had made it; they were here. Together.

Hunt leaned in, slanting his mouth over hers. She met him halfway, arms snaking around his neck, fingers burying themselves in his thick, silken hair.

A shrill ringing filled the apartment. She could ignore it, ignore the world— Call from … Home.

Bryce pulled back, panting hard.

“You gonna get that?” Hunt’s voice was guttural. Yes. No. Maybe.

Call from … Home.

“She’ll just keep calling until I pick up,” Bryce murmured.

Her limbs were stiff as she peeled herself from Hunt’s lap, his fingers trailing over her back as she stood. She tried not to think about the promise in that touch, as if he was as reluctant to let go of her as she was of him.

She ran to the great room and picked up the phone before it went to audiomail.

“Bryce?” Her mom was crying. It was enough to douse a bucket of ice water over any lingering arousal. “Bryce?”

She blew out a breath, returned to the bedroom, and threw Hunt an apologetic look that he waved off before he slumped back on the bed,

wings rustling. “Hi, Mom.”

Her mom’s sobbing threatened to make her start again, so she kept moving, aiming for her bathroom. She was filthy—her pink sneakers were near-black, her pants torn and bloody, her shirt almost in ruins. Apparently, the firstlight had only gone so far in fixing everything.

“Are you all right? Are you safe?”

“I’m fine,” Bryce said, turning on the shower. Leaving it on cold.

She peeled off her clothes. “I’m doing fine.” “What’s that water?”

“My shower.”

“You save a city and make the Drop and can’t even give me your full attention?”

Bryce chuckled and put the phone on speaker before setting it on the sink. “How much do you know?” She hissed at the icy blast as she stepped into the spray. But it shocked away any lingering heat between her legs and the heady desire clouding her mind.

“Your biological father had Declan Emmet call to fill me in on everything. I guess the bastard finally realized he owed me that much, at least.”

Bryce turned up the heat at last as she shampooed her hair. “How pissed is he?”

“Furious, I’m sure.” She added, “The news also just broke a story about—about who your father is.” Bryce could practically hear her mother grinding her teeth. “They know the exact amount of power you got. As much as he has, Bryce. More than him. That’s a big deal.”

Bryce tried not to reel at it—where her power had landed her. She tucked away that factoid for later. She rinsed the shampoo from her hair, reaching for the conditioner. “I know.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“Open a chain of beach-themed restaurants.”

“It was too much to hope that achieving that much power would give you a sense of dignity.”

Bryce stuck out her tongue even though her mom couldn’t see it, and plopped conditioner into her palm. “Look, can we shelve the whole mighty power, mighty burdens discussion until tomorrow?”

“Yes, except tomorrow in your vocabulary means never.” Her mother sighed. “You closed those portals, Bryce. And I can’t even talk about what Danika did for you without …” Her voice broke. “We can talk about that tomorrow, too.”

Bryce rinsed out the conditioner. And realized that her mother didn’t know—about Micah. What she’d done to him. Or what Micah had done to Danika.

Ember kept talking, and Bryce kept listening, while dread grew like ivy inside her, creeping through her veins, wrapping around her bones and squeezing tight.

Hunt took a swift, icy shower of his own and changed into different clothes, smiling slightly to himself as Bryce’s shower shut off and she kept talking to her mother.

“Yeah, Hunt’s here.” Her words floated down the hall, through the great room, and into his own room. “No, I didn’t, Mom. And no, he didn’t, either.” A drawer slammed. “That is none of your business, and please never ask me anything like that again.”

Hunt had a good idea of what Ember had asked her daughter. And wouldn’t you know, he’d been about to do just that with Bryce when she’d called.

He hadn’t cared that an entire city was looking on: he’d wanted to kiss her when the light of her power had faded, when Hunt had lowered his wings to find her in his arms, looking up at him like he was worth something. Like he was all she needed. End of story.

No one had ever looked at him like that.

And when they’d come back here, and he’d had her on his lap on her bed and seen the way her cheeks became pink as she looked at his mouth, he’d been ready to cross that final bridge with her. To spend all day and night doing so.

Considering how her firstlight had healed him, he’d most definitely say he was cleared for sex. Aching for it—for her.

Bryce groaned. “You’re a pervert, Mom. You know that?” She growled. “Well, if you’re so fucking invested in it, why did you call me? Didn’t you think I might be busy?”

Hunt smiled, going half-hard again at the sass in her tone. He could listen to her snark all fucking day. He wondered how much of it would make an appearance when he got her naked again. Got her moaning.

The first time, she’d come on his hand. This time … This time, he had plans for all the other ways he’d get her to make that beautiful, breathless sound as she’d orgasmed.

Leaving Bryce to deal with her mother, willing his cock to calm the fuck down, Hunt grabbed a burner phone from his underwear drawer and dialed Isaiah, one of the few numbers he’d memorized.

“Thank the fucking gods,” Isaiah said when he heard Hunt’s voice.

Hunt smiled at the male’s uncharacteristic relief. “What’s happening on your end?”

“My end?” Isaiah barked a laugh. “What the fuck is happening on

your end?”

Too much to say. “Are you at the Comitium?”

“Yeah, and it’s a gods-damned madhouse. I just realized I’m in charge now.”

With Micah a bunch of ashes in a vacuum and Sandriel not much better, Isaiah, as Micah’s Commander of the 33rd, was indeed in charge.

“Congrats on the promotion, man.”

“Promotion my ass. I’m not an Archangel. And these assholes know it.” Isaiah snapped at someone in the background, “Then call fucking maintenance to clean it up.” He sighed.

Hunt asked, “What happened to the Asterian fuckheads who sent their brimstone over the walls?” He had half a mind to fly out there and start unleashing his lightning on those tanks.

“Gone. Already moved off.” Isaiah’s dark tone told Hunt he’d be down for some good old-fashioned retribution, too.

Hunt asked, bracing himself, “Naomi?”

“Alive.” Hunt uttered a silent prayer of thanks to Cthona for that mercy. Then Isaiah said, “Look, I know you’re exhausted, but can you get over here? I could use your help to sort this shit out. All these pissing contests will end pretty damn fast if they see us both in charge.”

Hunt tried not to bristle. Bryce and him getting naked, it seemed, would have to wait.

Because the slave tattoo on his wrist meant he still had to obey the Republic, still belonged to someone other than himself. The list of possibilities wasn’t good. He’d be lucky if he got to stay in Lunathion as the possession of whoever took Micah’s spot, and maybe see Bryce in stolen moments. If he was even allowed outside the Comitium.

Fuck, if they even allowed him to live after what he’d done to Sandriel.

Hunt’s hands began to shake. Any trace of arousal vanished.

But he shrugged a shirt over his head. He’d find some way to survive

—some way back to this life with Quinlan he’d barely begun to savor. Unable to help himself, he glanced at his wrist.

He blinked once. Twice.

Bryce was just saying goodbye to her deviant mother when the phone beeped with another call. It was from an unknown number, which meant it was probably Jesiba, so Bryce promised Ember they’d talk tomorrow and switched over. “Hey.”

A young, male voice asked, “Is that how you greet all your callers, Bryce Quinlan?”

She knew that voice. Knew the lanky teenage body it belonged to, a shell to house an ancient behemoth. To house an Asteri. She’d seen and heard it on TV so many times she’d lost count.

“Hello, Your Brilliance,” she whispered.

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