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Chapter no 13

House of Sky and Breath

Bryce barely slept. She was trying too hard to pretend that Hunt fucking Athalar was not sleeping beside her. The illusion was shattered every time she rolled over, got a face full of gray wings, and remembered that Hunt fucking Athalar was sleeping beside her.

They hadn’t spoken about Tharion’s visit. Or about her decision to find Emile. So any fight on that front was likely still on the horizon.

Naturally, Bryce woke up puffy-eyed, sweat-slicked, and with a pounding headache. Hunt was already up and making coffee, to guess by the sounds in the other room.

Bryce slithered out of bed, earning a disgruntled yip from Syrinx at being disturbed. Her ringing phone aggravated her headache, and it didn’t get any better when she glanced at the caller ID.

She mustered her most chipper voice. “Hi, Mom.” “Hello, Bryce.” Ember’s voice was calm. Too calm.

Ithan smirked from the couch as she passed by, blindly walking toward the beckoning aroma of coffee. Gods, she needed some. Bryce asked her mom, “What’s up? You guys get home okay?”

The wall of windows revealed a sunny day, witches and angels zooming by. And, Bryce realized in the morning light, the fact that she was still wearing her worn T-shirt that said Nidaros Community Center Camp Summer 15023 and … little else. Oops. No wonder Ithan was smirking. Her lilac lace demi-thong left little to the imagination. Bryce stifled the urge to tug her shirt’s hem over her half-bare ass.

Hunt’s eyes darkened, but he merely leaned against the counter and silently offered her a cup of coffee.

“Oh yes,” Ember said. “We got home, had plenty of time to do some grocery shopping and run a few errands.” Bryce put the phone on speaker and slid it onto the counter, backing away a few feet. Like it was a grenade of compressed firstlight about to explode.

“Great,” Bryce said, and she could have sworn Hunt was trying not to laugh.

“We also had plenty of time,” her mom went on, “to answer all the phone calls that we began to get, asking when the wedding is.”

Hunt took a long sip of his coffee. Ithan just watched with a befuddled expression. Right. She hadn’t told him.

Bryce gritted her teeth in an attempt at a smile. “You and Randall are renewing your vows?”

Her mom fell silent. A wave building, cresting, about to break. “Is this engagement some scheme to prompt Hunt to finally confess his love for you?”

Hunt choked on his coffee.

Oh gods. Bryce was half-tempted to pour the boiling coffee over her head and melt into nothing. “For fuck’s sake,” she hissed, snatching up her phone and taking it off speaker. Even if Hunt and Ithan, with their heightened hearing, could no doubt make out everything Ember said. “Look, it’s not a real engagement—”

“It certainly sounds like it is, Bryce Adelaide Quinlan.” Her mom’s voice rose with each word. “And it sounds like you’re engaged to the Crown Prince of Avallen! Do you know who his father is?”

“Mom, I’m not going to marry him.”

“Then why do so many of my former school friends know about it? Why are there photos of you two having a private meeting at your office yesterday?”

Hunt’s wings flared with alarm, and Bryce shook her head. Later, she tried to signal.

“Cormac ambushed me—” “He did what?”

“In a nonphysical way. Nothing I couldn’t handle. And,” she said as her mom began objecting, “I have zero intention of marrying Prince Creepster,

but you gotta trust me to deal with it.” She gave Hunt a look as if to say,

You too.

Hunt nodded, getting it. Drank some more coffee. Like he needed it. Her mother, however, hissed, “Randall is in a panic.”

“Randall, or you? Because last I checked, Dad knows I can take care of myself.” Bryce couldn’t help the sharpness in her tone.

“You’re playing games with Fae royals who will outsmart you at every turn, who have likely anticipated your reticence—”

Bryce’s phone buzzed. She skimmed the incoming message. Thank Urd.

“I appreciate your confidence, Mom. I have to go. I’ve got an important meeting.”

“Don’t you try to—”

Mom.” She couldn’t stop herself, couldn’t halt the roiling, rising power that made her body begin to shimmer, as if she were a pot boiling over with liquid starlight. “You don’t get a say in what I do or don’t do, and if you’re smart, you’ll stay the Hel out of this.”

Stunned silence from her mother. From Hunt and Ithan, too.

The words kept flowing, though. “You have no fucking idea what I’ve been through, and faced, and what I’m now dealing with.” Her mom and Randall would never know about what she’d done to Micah. She couldn’t risk it. “But let me tell you that handling this bogus engagement is nothing compared to that. So drop it.”

Another pause. Then her mother said, “I knew you bundled us off at the break of dawn for a reason. I want to help you, Bryce—”

“Thanks for the guilt trip,” Bryce said. She could practically see her mother stiffening.

“Fine. We’re still at your disposal should you need us, Your Highness.” Bryce started to answer, but her mother had hung up. She slowly,

slowly closed her eyes. Hunt said into the sudden, heavy quiet, “Cormac came by the archives?”

Bryce opened her eyes. “Only to swing his dick around.” Hunt tensed, and Bryce added, “Not literally.”

His expression turned wary. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I got a phone call from Celestina that you were in a holding cell.” She bared her teeth. “Spare me the territorial male act, okay?”

“Hide shit from your parents all you want, but don’t keep stuff from me.

We’re a team.”

“I just forgot. No big deal.”

Hunt hesitated. “All right.” He lifted his hands. “Okay. Sorry.”

Silence fell, and she became keenly aware of Ithan’s attention. “Hunt can fill you in on my joyous news,” she said, glancing at the clock. “I do have a meeting, and I need to get dressed.” Hunt arched a brow, but Bryce offered no explanation as she aimed for her bedroom.

She returned to the great room an hour later, showered and in work clothes. Hunt was already in his 33rd gear.

Bryce said to Ithan, who was doing push-ups in front of the TV with extraordinary ease, “I’ll pop back in at lunch when Tharion swings by. Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge and call if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Ithan said between reps, and Bryce stuck out her tongue.

Bryce unlocked the door, then buckled Syrinx’s leash before slipping into the hall. She’d been lonely in the archives yesterday without his company. And maybe a little jealous about the fact that Syrinx had spent the day with Ithan.

And it would have been nice to watch him take a bite out of Prince Cormac’s ass.

The elevator had just arrived when Hunt appeared behind her, and every muscle in her body turned electric. Had the elevator always been this small? Had his wings gotten larger overnight?

“Why are things so weird between us?” Hunt asked. Going right for the throat, then. “Are things weird?”

“Don’t play stupid. Come on—last night was weird. Right now is fucking weird.”

Bryce leaned against the wall. “Sorry. Sorry.” It was all she could think to say.

Hunt asked carefully, “When were you going to tell me about Cormac dropping by the archives? What the fuck did he say?”

“That you and I are losers and he thinks I’m an immature brat.”

“Did he touch you?” Lightning skittered along Hunt’s wings. The elevator lights guttered.

The elevator reached the ground floor before she could answer, and they fell silent as they passed Marrin, the doorman. The ursine shifter waved goodbye.

Only when they’d stepped onto the sizzling sidewalk did Bryce say, “No. Cormac’s just a creep. Seems like this city is full of them these days.” She gestured to the sky above, the angels soaring toward the sprawling complex of the Comitium in the CBD. The decorations in Celestina’s honor seemed to have multiplied overnight. “No fights today, okay?”

“I’ll try.”

They reached the corner where Bryce would go right, Hunt to the left. “I mean it, Hunt. No more fights. We need to keep a low profile.” Especially now. They were too close to Ophion for comfort.

“Fine. Only if you call me the moment Prince Asshole contacts you again.”

“I will. Let me know if Tharion gets in touch. Or if you pick up anything about …” She glanced at the cameras mounted on the ornately decorated streetlamps and buildings. She couldn’t say Emile’s name here.

Hunt stiffened, wings tucking in. “We need to talk about that. I, ah …” Shadows darkened his eyes, and her heart strained, knowing what memories caused them. But here it was. The discussion she’d been waiting for. “I know you want to help, and I commend you for it, Bryce. But I think we really need to weigh everything before we jump in.”

She couldn’t resist the impulse to squeeze his hand. “Okay.” His calluses brushed against her skin. “Good point.”

“Tharion threw me off last night,” he went on. “It dragged up a lot of old shit for me—and worries for you. But if you want to move forward with this … let’s talk it through first.”

“Okay,” she said again. “But I’m still going to meet with Fury right now.” She had too many questions not to meet with her.

“Sure,” he said, though worry shone in his gaze. “Keep me updated.” He slid his hand from hers. “And don’t think we’re done talking about this weirdness between us.”

By the time Bryce had opened her mouth to answer, Hunt had already launched skyward.

Bryce slid onto a stool at the eight-seat counter that made up Tempest in a Teapot, her favorite tea bar in the city.

Nestled on Ink Street in the heart of the Old Square, most of the narrow, graffiti-painted alley was quiet, most of the shops shut. Only the tea bar and the tiny bakery operating out of a window between two tattoo parlors were open. Come lunch, the many eateries would roll up their doors and set out the little tables and benches that crowded either side of the street. Once the lunch crowd returned to their offices, the street would quiet again—until the after-work rush of people eager for a beer, a specialty cocktail, or more food. And sundown brought in a whole new crowd: drunk assholes.

“Morning, B,” Juniper said, her curly hair pulled back into an elegant bun, brown skin glowing in the morning light. She stood alongside Fury, who’d perched herself on a barstool and was scrolling through her phone. “Just wanted to say hi before practice.”

Bryce kissed her friend on her silken cheek. “Hi. You’re gorgeous. I hate you.”

Juniper laughed. “You should see me when I’m dripping with sweat in an hour.”

“You’ll still be gorgeous,” Bryce said, and Fury nodded without taking her focus from her phone. “Did you guys order?”

“Yeah.” Fury put away her phone. “So go ahead.”

Juniper said, “Mine’s to go, though.” She tapped her navy dance bag, which was partially unzipped, the soft pink of her leotard peeking out. For a moment, Bryce allowed herself to look at her friend—really look at the beauty that was Juniper. Graceful and tall and thin, certainly not the wrong body type.

What would it have been like to be heading into morning practice? To have a dance bag full of gear and not a purse full of random crap on her shoulder? Heels braced on the rail beneath the bar, Bryce couldn’t stop her feet from twitching, arching—as if testing the strength and pliancy of pointe shoes.

Bryce had known the high of performance well. Had craved it those years in Nidaros, dancing with her small team at the rec hall. She’d been the best dancer in town—in their entire mountainous region. Then she’d come to Lunathion and learned what a fragile bubble she’d been living inside. And, yeah, ultimately she didn’t think she could have lasted as long as

Juniper, but … seeing the faun standing there, some small part of her wondered. Yearned.

Bryce swallowed, then sighed, clearing away the cobwebs of her old dreams. Dancing in Madame Kyrah’s class twice a week was pleasure enough. And though Kyrah had once graced the stage of CCB herself until she’d decided to open a studio, the dancer-turned-instructor understood.

So Bryce asked, “What are you guys rehearsing today?”

Marceline,” Juniper said, her eyes flickering. “But I don’t have the lead.”

Bryce’s brows rose. “I thought you were rehearsing for it these last weeks.”

Fury said tightly, “Apparently, Marceline’s costume doesn’t fit Juniper.” Bryce’s mouth popped open.

“Roles are often determined that way,” Juniper said quickly. “But I’m fine with soloist.”

Bryce and Fury swapped a look. No, she wasn’t. But after the disaster this spring, the CCB had put a hold on any “new” changes. Including June’s promotion from soloist to principal.

Juniper had often wondered aloud over drinks or pastries whether that hold was because she’d been the only one in the bomb shelter to demand that they keep the doors open for humans to get in. Had gone hoof-to-toe with some of their wealthiest patrons, thinking nothing of the consequences for her career.

Of what it might mean for the first faun to ever grace the stage of that theater to curse out those patrons, to condemn them to their faces for their cowardice and selfishness.

Well, this was what it meant for her.

June slumped into the stool beside Bryce, stretching out her long legs.

Another year of waiting in the wings for her chance to shine.

“So who got your shot at Marceline?” The group of principals and veteran soloists rotated through the main roles each night.

“Korinne,” Juniper said, a shade too neutrally.

Bryce scoffed. “You’re twenty times the dancer she is.” June laughed softly. “No way.”

“Way,” Fury added.

“Come on,” Bryce said, elbowing Juniper. “No need to be humble.”

June shrugged, then smiled at the barista as she handed over a green tea in a to-go cup. “Okay. Maybe twice the dancer she is.”

Fury said, “There’s my girl.” She nodded her thanks to the barista as her own drink was deposited in a ceramic mug.

Juniper pulled off the lid of her to-go cup and blew on the steaming-hot brew inside.

Bryce asked, “Did you give any thought to that offer from the Heprin Company?”

“Yeah,” June murmured. Fury suddenly became very interested in her drink.

“And?” Bryce pushed. “They’re practically crawling to have you as principal.” And so were about three other smaller dance companies in the city.

“They’re great,” June said quietly. “But they’re still a step down.”

Bryce nodded. She got it. She really did. For a dancer in Valbara, CCB was the pinnacle. The distant star to aspire to. And June had been so close. Close enough to touch that glimmer of principal dancer. Now she was in free fall.

“I want to hold out for another year,” June said, putting the lid on her tea and standing. “Just to see if things change.” Pain gleamed in her friend’s large, beautiful eyes.

“They will,” Bryce assured her, because hope was the only thing she could offer at the moment.

“Thanks,” Juniper said. “I’m off. I’ll see you at home later,” she said to Fury, leaning in to kiss her swiftly. When she made to step away, however, Fury put a hand on her cheek, keeping her there. Deepened the kiss for a few heartbeats.

Then Fury pulled back, holding her girlfriend’s stare, and said, “See you at home.” Sensual promise laced every word.

Juniper was more than a bit breathless, her cheeks flushing, as she turned to Bryce and kissed her cheek. “Bye, B,” she said, then was gone into the sun and dust.

Bryce glanced sidelong at Fury. “You’ve got it bad, huh?” Fury snorted. “You have no idea.”

“How was date night?” Bryce asked, waggling her eyebrows. Fury Axtar sipped delicately from her tea. “Exquisite.”

Pleasure and happiness quietly radiated from her friend, and Bryce smiled. “What are you drinking?”

“Chai with almond milk. It’s good. Spicy.” “You’ve never been here?”

“Do I look like the kind of person who goes to tea bars?” “Yes …?”

Fury laughed, her dark hair swaying. She wore her usual head-to-toe black, despite the heat. “Fair enough. So, what’s this urgent thing you need to talk to me about?”

Bryce waited until she’d ordered her matcha latte with oat milk before murmuring, “It’s about Danika.” She and Hunt might need to talk things over regarding Emile, but speaking about this with Fury wasn’t a step toward anything, necessarily. She could learn the truth without being dragged into Ophion’s orbit, right?

At this hour, only the barista and one other patron occupied the bar. The street was empty save for a few cats picking through piles of trash. Safe enough to talk without being overheard.

Fury kept her posture casual, uninterested. “Does it have to do with Ithan staying with you?”

“How did you even hear about that?” Fury smiled smugly, but Bryce shook her head. “Never mind. But no, that’s separate.”

“He’s always had a thing for you, you know.” “Um, Ithan had a thing for Nathalie.”

“Sure.”

“Whatever.” How to phrase any of this? “You knew about Danika and the synth stuff. I was wondering if there was anything else you might have been … keeping secret for her.”

Fury sipped her chai. “Care to explain more?” Bryce made a face. “That wasn’t really a request,” Fury said, her voice lethally soft.

Bryce swallowed. And so quietly only Fury could hear, she told her about Sofie Renast and Tharion and the River Queen and the hunt to find Emile and all the power he possessed. About the abandoned boat in the marshes and Ophion hunting for the boy as well. About the potential meet-up location that Danika had hinted at three years ago and the vague mentions of Project Thurr and Dusk’s Truth in those emails between Danika and Sofie.

When she’d finished, Fury drained her drink and said, “I’m going to need something a lot stronger than chai.”

“I’ve been reeling since Tharion told me,” Bryce admitted, voice still low. “But Danika and Sofie definitely knew each other. Well enough for Sofie to trust Danika to find her a potential place to hide, should she ever need one.”

Fury drummed her fingers on the counter. “I believe you. But Danika never hinted at involvement with the rebels, and I never picked it up on my usual channels.”

Bryce nearly sagged with relief. Maybe it hadn’t gone too far, then. Maybe their acquaintance hadn’t been related to Ophion at all. “Do you think the meeting location is the Bone Quarter?” She prayed it wasn’t.

“Danika wouldn’t have sent a kid there, even with thunderbird power in his veins. And she wouldn’t be so stupid as to make it that obvious.”

Bryce frowned. “Yeah. True.”

“As for Dusk’s Truth and Project Thurr …” Fury shrugged. “No idea. But Danika was always interested in weird, random shit. She could spend hours getting sucked into an interweb research hole.”

Bryce smiled slightly. Also true. “But do you think Danika might have been keeping anything else a secret?”

Fury seemed to consider. Then said, “The only other secret I knew about Danika was that she was a bloodhound.”

Bryce straightened. “A what?”

Fury signaled the barista for another chai. “A bloodhound—she could scent bloodlines, the secrets in them.”

“I knew Danika had an intense sense of smell,” Bryce acknowledged. “But I didn’t realize it was that …” She trailed off, memory surfacing. “When she came home with me over winter break freshman year, she could pick out the family ties of everyone in Nidaros. I thought it was a wolf thing. It’s special?”

“I only know about it because she confronted me when we first met. She scented me, and wanted to understand.” Fury’s eyes darkened. “We sorted our shit out, but Danika knew something dangerous about me, and I knew something dangerous about her.”

It was as much as Fury had ever said about being … whatever she was. “Why is it dangerous to be a bloodhound?”

“Because people will pay highly to use the gift and to kill anyone with it. Imagine being able to tell someone’s true lineage—especially if that person is a politician or some royal whose parentage is in question. Apparently, the gift came from her sire’s line.”

Maybe that was another reason why Danika hadn’t wanted to mention it. She’d never discussed the male who’d been ballsy enough to fuck Sabine.

Bryce asked, “You never thought to tell me this during the investigation?”

“It didn’t seem relevant. It was only one of Danika’s many powers.”

Bryce lifted a hand to rub at her eyes, then halted, remembering her makeup. “What are the odds that Sofie knew that?”

“No idea,” Fury said. “Slim, probably.” Then she asked carefully, “You sure you want to start digging into this? Go after that kid?”

“It’s not only for Emile’s sake,” Bryce confessed. “I want to know what Danika was up to. I feel like she was always two steps—more like ten steps

—ahead. I want to know the full scope of it.”

“She’s dead, Bryce. Knowing or not knowing won’t change that.”

Bryce cringed at her friend’s harsh words. “I know. But if Danika was tied up with Ophion, with Sofie … I want to find Sofie, if she’s alive. Learn whatever it is that Sofie knew about Danika, and how they were even in contact. Whether Danika truly was aligned with Ophion.”

“You’re tangling in some dangerous shit.”

“Hunt said the same thing. And … you’re both right. Maybe that makes me stupid, for not walking away. But setting aside the fact that Emile is a kid being chased by some intense people, if I can locate him for Tharion— he’ll lead me to Sofie, or the information about her. And her answers about Danika.”

Fury saluted her thanks to the barista and sipped her second chai. “And what will you do once you learn the truth?”

Bryce chewed on her lip. “Pray to Cthona that I can accept it, I guess.”

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