Chapter no 6

House of Sky and Breath

Bryce tore through the cabinet beneath her sink. Bottles of hair products, old makeup palettes, dead blow-dryers flew out and scattered behind her. Where the fuck had she put it—

There. Bryce yanked out the white first aid kit, Syrinx doing a little dance next to her. As if the golden-furred chimera had found it himself. Cheeky pup.

Leaping to her feet as she opened the lid, she rifled through the antiseptic ointment, bandages, and vial of pain-relieving potion. She frowned down at Syrinx. “This stuff never goes bad, right?”

Syrinx scrunched his snout, huffing as if to say, Beats me!

Bryce scratched under his chin and returned to the great room to find Hunt crouching beside Ithan, whom they’d laid out on the coffee table. Ithan’s face … Burning Solas.

Well, he was awake. And talking. She hoped he hadn’t heard her and Hunt bickering over where to put his barely conscious form a moment ago. Hunt had wanted to set Ithan on the couch, and Bryce hadn’t been able to stop herself from shrieking about ruining the white cushions. So the coffee table it was.

Hunt and Ithan were murmuring too low for Bryce to understand, and they halted as she approached. Though she could detect no outward sign of it, Hunt’s lightning seemed to crackle in the air around him. Or maybe that was Hunt’s presence, once again doing funny things to her senses. Bryce lifted the first aid kit. “Found it.”

Ithan grunted. “It’s … it’s not as bad as it looks.”

“Your mouth literally started bleeding again saying that,” Bryce said, dropping the kit on the table next to Ithan before fishing inside for sterile wipes. She hadn’t seen him since the attack last spring. Hadn’t spoken to him.

Bryce waved a hand over the bruised and swollen face that held no resemblance to the handsome, charming features she’d once known so well. “I don’t even know where to start with this … mess.” She didn’t just mean his face.

“You and me both,” Ithan mumbled, and hissed as Bryce dabbed at a slice across his brow. He pulled his head from her reach. “It’ll heal. That one’s already smaller.”

“I’d guess claws made that,” Hunt said, arms crossed. Syrinx hopped onto the sectional, turned in a circle three times, then curled up in a ball.

Ithan said nothing. Bryce reached for the wound again, but he pulled his head farther back, wincing in pain.

“Why the fuck are you here, Ithan?” Hunt’s voice was like gravel. Ithan’s brown eyes, one half-swollen, met Bryce’s. Ire glowed in them.

“I didn’t tell them to bring me here. Perry … my pack’s Omega … She arranged it.”

A fuzzy memory of a brown-haired female emerged. Perry … Ravenscroft. Amelie’s younger sister. “She did this to you?”

Ithan huffed a raw laugh, then winced. His ribs must be—

Bryce lifted Ithan’s bloody gray T-shirt, revealing disgustingly carved abs and—“Holy shit, Ithan.”

He yanked the shirt back over the extensive bruising. “It’s fine.” “Those look like broken ribs,” Hunt said wryly.

“Definitely broken ribs, Athalar,” Bryce replied, sitting back on her heels. “And a broken arm, from the way he’s cradling it.”

“Skull fracture’s healed,” Hunt observed with equal distance, as if they were on one of his favorite Vanir crime procedurals. Ithan’s eyes flashed again.

“I’m sensing hostility and a good dose of male pride,” Bryce said.

“Throw in some stubbornness and I’d say we’ve got ourselves a classic case of stupidity,” Hunt answered.

“What the fuck is wrong with you two?” Ithan demanded.

Bryce smiled at Hunt, all thoughts of the betrothal and her father and the Asteri vanishing at the amusement glittering in the angel’s eyes. But she stopped smiling as she faced Ithan again.

“I promise to clean you up as quickly as possible, and you’ll be on your way,” she said.

“Take your time. It’s not like I have anywhere to go.” Hunt stilled. “Amelie kicked you out?”

“Sabine kicked me out,” Ithan growled. “She, Amelie, and the others did … this.”

“Why?” Bryce managed to say.

Ithan met her stare. “Why do you think?” Bryce shook her head, disgust creeping through her. Ithan said, “You know how Sabine operates. Some reporter cornered me at a bar a few weeks ago about the attack last spring, and I talked about … what happened. How I helped you. The article came out this morning. Sabine apparently wasn’t a fan.”

“Oh?” Hunt lifted a brow.

Ithan’s bruised throat bobbed. “I might have also defended you,” he said to Bryce. “Against a nasty quote from Sabine.”

Bryce resisted the urge to pull out her phone to search for the article. Nothing in there would make her feel better about this. So she said, “Sabine’s a City Head. This is really what she wants to waste her time on?”

“Wolves don’t talk shit about other wolves.” “But you did,” Hunt countered.

“So did Sabine.” He said sadly, wearily to Bryce, “The Prime called you a wolf. That’s good enough for me. I, ah … It didn’t sit well, what Sabine said. But I guess the article didn’t sit well with her, either. So I’m out.”

Bryce exhaled a long, long breath. “Why bring you here?” Hunt asked.

Ithan grimaced with pain. “Perry remembered that we were friends, once upon a time.” He tried and failed to rise. “But give me a few minutes, then I’ll be gone.”

“You’re staying here,” Bryce said. Honestly, after the night she’d had, it was the last thing she wanted. Especially when she still had to call her mom and convince her to get out of town. Gods, if Ember found out Ithan was

here, she’d never leave. She’d loved him like a son. Bryce shook off the thought. “You’re lucky Sabine didn’t kill you.”

“Trust me, she wanted to,” Ithan said bitterly. “But I wasn’t worth the legal headache that would cause.”

Bryce swallowed. Connor’s little brother had once been her best friend, after Danika. Fury and June had come after that. Gods, how many messages had she and Ithan swapped over the years? How many juvenile jokes had they shared? How many times had she bounced in the stands at one of his sunball games, screaming her lungs out for him?

The male before her was a stranger.

“I should go,” Ithan said thickly. Like he remembered their history, too.

Read it on her face.

“Sit the fuck down,” Hunt said. “You can’t even walk.” “Fine,” Ithan conceded. “One night.”

He had to be desperate, then.

Fighting the tightness in her chest, Bryce pulled out her phone. “Good.” She noted the time. Almost midnight. Her parents were likely about to go to bed. “I have to make a call.”

Hunt fixed a cup of decaf just to give himself something to do as Ithan lay bleeding on the coffee table behind him. Bryce’s voice as she spoke to her parents filtered down the hall in bits and pieces.

We’ll plan a long weekend next time. Maybe Hunt and I can come up to you guys. I think he’d love to finally see Nidaros.

Hunt’s lips quirked upward. Bringing him home to her parents, huh? No matter that she was lying through her teeth.

The coffee machine finished a heartbeat before Bryce said, “All right. I’ll meet you at your hotel at six. Yep. Bright and early. Okay. Love you. Bye.”

Hunt blew on the steaming-hot coffee as Bryce padded back down the hall. “Everything good?” he asked her.

“Aside from the fact that I have to be up in a few hours, sure.” Bryce slid her phone onto the kitchen counter. “Tickets are switched.” She peered at Ithan, whose eyes were closed. But Hunt had no doubt the wolf was listening.

“Right,” Bryce said. “Beds.”

“I’m good on the couch,” Ithan croaked.

Hunt was inclined to agree, but Bryce said, “Oh no. You’re in my room.

I won’t have you bleeding all over my white couch.”

Hunt said roughly, “I’ll sleep on the couch. Holstrom, you can have my room.”

“Nope,” Bryce countered. “It’s fine. My bed is big.”

Hunt shot back, “Then you sleep on the couch and give Holstrom the bed.”

“With my back problems?” Before Hunt could ask what the Hel she was talking about, she said, “I’m tired, and I don’t want to argue. Conversation over.”

Ithan cracked open an eye. Hunt reined in his growl of frustration.

Fifteen minutes later, Hunt lay in his own bed, teeth gritted as he stared at the ceiling, with only a snoring Syrinx for company.

It was fine. Totally fucking fine that Ithan Holstrom was sharing Bryce’s bed.

Totally. Fucking. Fine.

His bed, his blood roared. Even if he hadn’t been near it in months. His bed, his Bryce, who’d emerged from the bathroom in her sleep shorts and a faded, threadbare T-shirt that did nothing to hide the shadow of her nipples behind the purple fabric. Thankfully, Holstrom’s eyes were too swollen for Hunt to notice if the male looked. Not that it really mattered. He trusted Bryce. Knew precisely what—and who—she wanted.

But … it didn’t matter that Holstrom had come to Bryce’s defense during the attack, or in some stupid article. He’d been a nasty fuck to her in the two years before that. And had let Amelie run rampant, tormenting Bryce over the death of his brother.

And fine—trust aside, maybe he was slightly on edge. Holstrom was good-looking, when he wasn’t beaten to Hel and back. He’d been a star sunball player at CCU. Hunt remembered watching a few of the games in the 33rd’s lounge in the Comitium, marveling at Holstrom’s speed and agility. The male hadn’t played the sport for two years now, but he was still built.

Stupid, jealous idiot. For fuck’s sake, having Holstrom here bothered him more than that asshole Cormac claiming he’d marry Quinlan.

He hated himself just a little bit as he pulled his phone from the nightstand and typed in Ithan Holstrom Sabine Fendyr Bryce Quinlan.

The article popped up immediately.

Hunt skimmed it. Read what Sabine had said and focused on his breathing. On not leaping into the skies and shredding the Prime Apparent into pieces.

“Bryce Quinlan is nothing but a spoiled party girl who was conveniently in the right place during the attack. My wolves saved innocents. She’s a pathetic fame-chaser.”

Hunt ground his teeth so hard his jaw hurt. Toward the bottom, he found Holstrom’s sound bite.

“The wolves only went to Asphodel Meadows because of Bryce. She got the call for help out, and held the line until we could provide backup. She saved this city. She’s a hero, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Especially people who weren’t even in this city during the attack.”

Well, Hunt didn’t blame Sabine for being pissed. The truth hurt.

Hunt sighed and was about to set his phone back onto the nightstand when it buzzed with a message from Isaiah. Thoughts???

He knew Isaiah was asking about Celestina’s appointment. Too early to tell, he wrote back. Too early for hope, too.

Isaiah answered immediately. She’ll be here tomorrow evening at five.

Try to play nice, Hunt. She’s not Micah.

Hunt sent back a thumbs-up. But sleep was a long time coming.

Bryce gazed at her bedroom ceiling, listening to the wet, labored breathing of the male beside her.

Her mom and dad had bought her lies—hook, line, and sinker. Of course, it meant she’d be getting up in four hours, but it was a price worth paying. No news about her engagement had been leaked yet. She could only pray it wouldn’t until their train was out of the city.

Ithan shifted slightly, the sound of the blankets loud in the silence. It was strange to have him here, his scent filling her nose. So similar to Connor’s scent—

“I could have slept on the couch,” Ithan said into the darkness.

“I don’t trust Athalar not to smother you with a pillow.” Ithan huffed a laugh. “He holds a grudge, huh?”

“You have no idea.”

Silence fell again, thick and heavy. She’d wanted Ithan right where she could see him. It was as simple as that. Wards on this place or not, she wasn’t about to leave him unguarded when Sabine and Amelie might change their minds about the paperwork being too much trouble. She’d lost one Holstrom already.

“Danika had me keyed to the locks,” Ithan said. “Right before … everything. She showed me this place—wanted me in on the surprise. That’s how I got in.”

Bryce’s throat clogged. “Oh.”

“Is it true that Danika helped you make the Drop?”

Since her voice had been broadcast through the Gates into every part of the city, it was common knowledge that Danika Fendyr had something to do with Bryce’s Drop, but rumors about exactly what ranged widely.

“Yeah,” Bryce said. “She, ah … She was my Anchor.” “I didn’t know that was possible.”

“Me neither.”

His breathing thinned. Bryce said, “I … Ithan, when I saw Danika during the Search, she told me that the others—Connor and Nathalie and the whole Pack of Devils—held off the Reapers to buy her time to be there with me. They saved me, too. Connor saved me.”

Ithan said nothing for a long moment. When was the last time they’d spoken like this? Calm, quiet. Without hate spewing like acid, burning everything it touched? Then Ithan said, “He loved you more than anyone.”

Her heart strained. “He loved you more than anyone.” “He thought you were his mate.”

Bryce shut her eyes against the punch that slammed into her gut. “In the wolf sense of the word?”

“What other sense is there? Yeah, the wolf sense.”

There were several definitions of the term mate—though Bryce supposed that to Ithan, to a shifter, only one mattered: one’s true lover, predestined by Urd.

The Fae had a similar concept—a mate was a bond deeper than marriage, and beyond an individual’s control. The angels, she knew, used

the term far more lightly: for the malakim, it was akin to a marriage, and matings could be arranged. Like breeding animals in a zoo.

But for Connor, if he’d thought Bryce was his mate … Her stomach twisted again.

“Did you love him?” Ithan whispered.

“You know I did,” Bryce said, voice thick.

“We waste so much time. Maybe it’s our curse as immortals. To see time as a luxury, a never-ending ocean.” He loosed a long breath. “I wasted a lot of it.”

Bryce couldn’t tell what he was referring to. “Real poetic of you.” Ithan let out a soft laugh. In the air-conditioned dark, Bryce asked, “Why did you quit sunball?”

She felt Ithan tense, the mattress shifting. “Because it’s a stupid game,” he said, voice empty, and turned onto his side with a groan.

Bryce had no idea how to respond. So she closed her eyes, rubbing idly at the scar on her chest, and prayed for Luna to send her into a dreamless, heavy sleep.

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