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Chapter no 9

House of Sky and Breath

“Anything?”

“Nothing at all—though you were right about the all-out decorations. I nearly flew into about six different banners and wreaths on my way over this morning. But no reports or sightings of the Governor. Pretty normal day so far, to be honest.” Hunt’s low voice ran invisible hands along Bryce’s arms as she picked at the remnants of her lunch: a gyro grabbed from the archives’ staff cafeteria. He added, “Though not if you count me receiving a photo of some marble abs while I was showing crime scene pictures to Naomi.”

“Thought you’d enjoy that.”

His laugh rumbled over the line. It shot through her like starlight. If he was able to laugh today, good. She’d do whatever she could to keep a smile on Hunt’s face. He cleared his throat. “Thurr was pretty jacked, huh?”

“I’m petitioning for the exhibit to sell replicas in the gift shop. I think the old ladies will go wild over it.” That earned her another beautiful laugh. She bit her lip against her broad smile. “So Celestina’s now due to arrive at six, then?” Apparently, she’d been delayed by an hour.

“Yep.” Any hint of amusement faded.

Bryce stirred her computer to life. So far, the news sites reported nothing beyond the headline that Lunathion—that all of Valbara—would have a new leader.

Bryce was willing to admit she’d spent a good hour skimming through various images of the beautiful Archangel, pondering what sort of boss she’d be for Hunt. She found no hint about any romantic entanglements,

though Micah hadn’t often broadcast who he’d been fucking. It wasn’t that Bryce was worried, though she’d certainly felt a scrap of something when she’d seen precisely how stunning Celestina was, but … she needed a mental picture of who Hunt would be seeing day in and day out.

Bryce chucked her lunch into the trash beside her desk. “I could come over after work. Be with you for the grand arrival.”

“It’s all right. I’ll fill you in afterward. It might take a while, though, so feel free to eat without me.”

“But it’s pizza night.”

Hunt laughed. “Glad you’ve got your priorities straight.” His wings rustled in the background. “Any word about Prince Dickhead?”

“Nothing on the news, nothing from my mom.” “Small blessing.”

“You owe me five gold marks.” “Add it to my tab, Quinlan.”

“Don’t forget that my mom will probably be pissed at you for not telling her.”

“I already have my bug-out bag packed and ready to flee to another territory.”

She chuckled. “I think you’d have to go to Nena to escape her.” Hunt laughed with her. “Don’t you think she—”

A glow flared at her chest. From the scar. “Bryce?” Hunt’s voice sharpened.

“I, uh …” Bryce frowned down at the glowing star between her breasts, visible in her low-cut dress. Not again. Its glowing had been rare until now, but after last night—

She looked up.

“My boss is here. I’ll call you back,” she lied, and hung up before Hunt could reply.

Bryce lifted her chin and said to Cormac Donnall, lurking in the doorway, “If you’re looking for How Not to Be an Asshole, it’s shelved between Bye, Loser and Get the Fuck Out.”

The Crown Prince of Avallen had changed into a climate-appropriate gray T-shirt that did little to hide the considerable muscles of his arms. A tattoo

of strange symbols encircled his left biceps, the black ink gleaming in the bright lights.

He examined her closet-sized office with typical Fae arrogance—and disapproval. “Your star glows in my presence because our union is predestined. In case you were wondering.”

Bryce barked out a laugh. “Says who?” “The Oracle.”

“Which one?” There were twelve sphinxes around the world, each one bitchier than the last. The meanest of them, apparently, dwelled in the Ocean Queen’s court Beneath.

“Does it matter?” Cormac turned, noting the shell-white dress Bryce wore, the gold bracelets, and, yes, her ample cleavage. Or was he gazing at the star? She supposed it made no difference.

“I just want to know whose ass to kick.”

Cormac’s mouth quirked upward. “I don’t know why I expected a half-breed to be as docile as a pure-blooded female.”

“You’re not doing yourself any favors.”

“I did not say I preferred a tamer female.”

“Gross. What did the Oracle say to you, exactly?”

“What did she say to you before she began clawing at her blinded eyes?”

She didn’t want to know how he’d found out. Maybe her father had told him—warned him about his bride. “Old news. I asked first.”

Cormac glowered. “The Oracle of Avallen said I was destined to unite with a princess who possessed a star in her heart. That our mingling would bring great prosperity to our people.”

Bryce drummed her fingers on her glass desk. “A lot of room for interpretation there.” Trust an Oracle to call sex mingling.

“I disagree.”

Bryce sighed. “Tell me why you’re here, then leave, please. I have work to do.”

Cormac studied the small torso of Thurr on her desk. “I wanted to see where my betrothed works. To gain some insight into your … life.”

“You say that as if it’s a foreign thing for females to have jobs.”

“In Avallen, it is.” He leaned against the doorjamb. “My people have let the old traditions remain untouched. You will need to adjust.”

“Thanks, but no. I like my TV and phone. And I like being considered a person, not livestock for breeding.”

“Like I said last night, you don’t have a choice.” His voice was flat, his eyes hollow.

Bryce crossed her arms, realized it put her cleavage and the star on better display, and lowered them to her sides once more. “Can I … pay you to drop this whole engagement thing?”

Cormac laughed. “I have more gold than I know what to do with. Money holds little power over me.” He crossed his arms as well. “You have a chance to help your people and this world. Once you bear me a few heirs, you can take whatever lovers you wish. I will do the same. This marriage doesn’t need to burden either of us.”

“Except for the part where I have to sleep with you. And live in your backwater land.”

His lips curled upward. “I think you’ll find the first part to be rather enjoyable.”

“Spoken with true male arrogance.”

He shrugged, clearly confident that she would enjoy him. “I haven’t had any complaints yet. And if our union helps our people, and strengthens the royal bloodlines, then I’ll do it.”

“The Fae are no people of mine.” They never had been, and certainly not now, after they’d locked out innocent citizens in this city and refused to come to anyone’s aid during the attack last spring. She pointed to the open door. “Bye.”

He simmered with disgust. “Your father let you run wild for too long.” “My father’s name is Randall Silago. The Autumn King is just a male

who gave me genetic material. He will never have a place in my life. Neither will you.”

Cormac took a step back from the doorway, shadows swirling. His golden hair glowed like molten metal. “You’re immortal now, as well as Starborn. Time to act like it.”

Bryce slammed the door in his face.

Hunt considered the beautiful Archangel seated at Micah’s old desk. Glowing skin as dark as onyx brought out the light brown of her eyes, and

her delicate mouth seemed permanently set in a patient smile. It was that smile—that gentle, kind smile—that threw him. “Take a seat, please,” Celestina said to him, Naomi, and Isaiah.

Hunt nearly choked at the word. Please. Micah would never have said anything of the sort. Isaiah appeared equally baffled as they settled into the three chairs before the simple oak desk. Naomi kept her face wholly blank, her black wings rustling.

Behind the Governor’s gleaming white wings, the wall of windows revealed an unusual number of angels soaring by. All hoping to catch a glimpse of the female who had entered the Comitium in a grand procession thirty minutes ago.

The lobby ceremony had been the start of Hunt’s utter confusion. Rather than strutting magnanimously past the gathered crowd, the voluptuous, lush-bodied Archangel had taken her time, pausing to greet the malakim who stepped forward, asking for their names, saying things like I’m so very happy to meet you and I look forward to working with you. Cthona spare him, but Hunt honestly thought she might be serious.

He didn’t let his guard down, though. Not when she’d reached him, Naomi, and Isaiah, standing before the elevator doors to escort her to her new residence and office; not when she’d taken his hand with genuine warmth; and certainly not now that they sat here for this private meeting.

Celestina surveyed them with unnerving clarity. “You three are all that remains of Micah’s triarii.”

None of them replied. Hunt didn’t dare mention Vik—or beg the Archangel to pull her out of Melinoë’s inky depths. To spare her from a living Hel. It had been months. Odds were that Vik had gone insane. Was likely begging for death with each moment in that box.

The Governor angled her head, her tightly curling black hair shifting with the movement. She wore pale pink-and-lilac robes, gauzy and ethereal, and the silver jewelry along her wrists and neck glowed as if lit by the moon. Where Micah had radiated dominance and might, she shimmered with feminine strength and beauty. She barely came up to Hunt’s chest, yet

… she had a presence that had Hunt eyeing her carefully.

“Not ones for talking, are you?” Her voice held a musical quality, as if it had been crafted from silver bells. “I suppose my predecessor had rules quite different from mine.” She drummed her fingers on the desk, nails

tinted a soft pink. “Allow me to make this clear: I do not wish for subservience. I want my triarii to be my partners. I want you to work alongside me to protect this city and territory, and help it meet its great potential.”

A pretty little speech. Hunt said nothing. Did she know what he’d done to Sandriel? What Bryce had done to Micah? What Micah had done in his quest to supposedly protect this territory?

Celestina wrapped a curl around a finger, her immaculate wings shifting. “I see that I shall have to do a great deal of work to earn your trust.”

Hunt kept his face bland, even as he wished that she’d be equally as forthright as Micah. He’d always hated his owners who’d disguised their dead souls in pretty speeches. This could easily be part of a game: to get them to trust her, come limping into her soft arms, and then spring the trap. Make them suffer.

Naomi’s sharp chin lifted. “We don’t wish to offend you, Your Grace

—”

“Call me Celestina,” the Archangel interrupted. “I abhor formalities.”

Micah had said the same thing once. Hunt had been a fool to buy it then.

Isaiah’s wings shifted—like his friend was thinking the same.

His friend, who still bore the halo tattoo across his brow. Isaiah was the better male, the better leader—and still a slave. Rumors had swirled in the months before Micah’s demise that the Archangel would free him soon. That possibility was now as dead as Micah himself.

Naomi nodded, and Hunt’s heart tightened at the tentative hope in his friend’s jet-black eyes. “We don’t wish to offend you … Celestina. We and the 33rd are here to serve you.”

Hunt suppressed his bristle. Serve.

“The only way you could offend me, Naomi Boreas, would be to withhold your feelings and thoughts. If something troubles you, I want to know about it. Even if the matter is due to my own behavior.” She smiled again. “We’re partners. I’ve found that such a partnership worked wonders on my legions in Nena. As opposed to the … systems my fellow Archangels prefer.”

Torture and punishment and death. Hunt blocked out the sear of white-hot iron rods pounding his back, roasting his skin, splitting it down to the

bone as Sandriel watched from her divan, popping grapes into her mouth— Isaiah said, “We’re honored to work with you, then.”

Hunt pushed aside the bloody, screaming horrors of the past as another lovely smile bloomed on the Governor. “I’ve heard so many wonderful things about you, Isaiah Tiberian. I’d like you to stay on as leader of the 33rd, if that is what you wish.”

Isaiah bowed his head in thanks, a tentative, answering smile gracing his face. Hunt tried not to gape. Was he the only asshole who didn’t believe any of this?

Celestina turned her gaze upon him. “You have not yet spoken, Hunt Athalar. Or do you wish to go by Orion?”

“Hunt is fine.” Only his mother had been allowed to call him Orion.

He’d keep it that way.

She surveyed him again, elegant as a swan. “I understand that you and Micah did not necessarily see eye to eye.” Hunt reined in his urge to growl in agreement. Celestina seemed to read his inclination. “On another day, I’d like to learn about your relationship with Micah and what went wrong. So we might avoid such a situation ourselves.”

“What went wrong is that he tried to kill my—Bryce Quinlan.” Hunt couldn’t stop the words, or his stumble.

Naomi’s brows nearly touched her hairline at his outburst, but Celestina sighed. “I heard about that. I’m sorry for any pain you and Miss Quinlan suffered as a result of Micah’s actions.”

The words hit him like stones. I’m sorry. He’d never, not in all the centuries he’d lived, heard an Archangel utter those words.

Celestina went on, “From what I’ve gathered, you have chosen to live with Miss Quinlan, rather than in the barracks tower.”

Hunt kept his body loose. Refused to yield to the tension rising in him. “Yeah.”

“I am perfectly fine with that arrangement,” Celestina said, and Hunt nearly toppled out of his chair. Isaiah looked inclined to do the same. Especially as the Archangel said to Isaiah and Naomi, “If you should wish to dwell in your own residences, you are free to do so. The barracks are good for building bonds, but I believe the ones between you are quite unshakable. You are free to enjoy your own lives.” She glanced at Isaiah, to the halo still tattooed on his brow. “I am not one to keep slaves,” she said,

disapproval tightening her face. “And though the Asteri might brand you as such, Isaiah, you are a free male in my eyes. I will endeavor to continue Micah’s work in convincing them to free you.”

Isaiah’s throat worked, and Hunt studied the window—the shining city beyond—to give him privacy. Across the room, Naomi followed his lead.

Celestina couldn’t be serious. This had to be an act.

“I’d like to hit the ground running,” the Governor went on. “Each morning, let’s gather here so you can update me on any news, as well as your plans for the day. Should I have tasks for you or the 33rd, I shall convey them then.” She folded her hands in her lap. “I am aware that you are skilled at hunting demons, and have been employed to do so in the past. If any break into this city, gods forbid, I’d like you to head up the containment and extermination unit against them.”

Hunt jerked his chin in confirmation. Easy enough. Though this spring, dealing with the kristallos had been anything but easy.

Celestina finished, “And should an issue arise before our meeting tomorrow morning, my phone is always on.”

Naomi nodded again. “What time tomorrow?”

“Let’s say nine,” Celestina said. “No need to drag ourselves out of bed simply to look busy.” Hunt blinked at her. “And I’d like the others to get some rest after their journey.”

“Others?” Isaiah asked.

The Archangel frowned slightly. “The rest of the triarii. They were delayed by a few hours due to some bad weather up north.”

All three of them stilled. “What do you mean?” Hunt asked quietly.

“It was in the formal letter you received,” she said to Isaiah, who shook his head.

Celestina’s frown deepened. “The Asteri’s Communications Minister is not usually one to make mistakes. I apologize on their behalf. The Asteri found themselves with a predicament after losing two Archangels, you see. You are all that remains of Micah’s triarii, but Sandriel had a full stable in that regard. I had no triarii of my own in Nena, as the legion there technically answers to the Asteri, but Ephraim wanted to bring his own triarii with him. So rather than have his group get too large, it was split— since ours is so depleted.”

Roaring erupted in Hunt’s head. Sandriel’s triarii. The actual scum of the universe.

They were coming here. To be part of this group. In this city.

A knock sounded on the door, and Hunt twisted as Celestina said, “Come in.”

Lightning crackled at Hunt’s fingertips. The door opened, and in swaggered Pollux Antonius and Baxian Argos.

The Hammer and the Helhound.

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