House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (13 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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Hunt smiled slightly. “You don’t seem too cut up that Tertian’s dead.”

Those amber eyes slid to him, annoyance lighting them.

He’d admit it: males would do a lot of fucked-up things for someone who looked like that.

He’d done precisely those sort of things for Shahar once. Now he bore the halo tattooed across his brow and the slave tattoo on his wrist because of it. His chest tightened.

Bryce said, “I’m sure someone’s already said that Maximus and I parted on unfriendly terms. We met to finish up a deal for the gallery, and when it was done, he thought he was entitled to some … personal time with me.”

Hunt understood her perfectly. It lined up with everything he’d heard regarding Tertian and his father. It also offered a good amount of motive.

Bryce went on, “I don’t know where he went after the Raven. If he was killed on the outskirts of the Meat Market, I’d assume he
was heading there to purchase what he wanted to take from me.” Cold, sharp words.

Isaiah’s expression grew stony. “Was his behavior last night different from how he acted during previous meetings?”

“We only interacted over emails and the phone, but I’d say no. Last night was our first face-to-face, and he acted exactly as his past behavior would indicate.”

Hunt asked, “Why not meet here? Why the Raven?”

“He got off on the thrill of acting like our deal was secretive. He claimed he didn’t trust that my boss wasn’t recording the meeting, but he really just wanted people to notice him—to see him doing deals. I had to slide him the paperwork in a bill folio, and he swapped it with one of his own, that sort of thing.” She met Hunt’s stare. “How did he die?”

The question was blunt, and she didn’t smile or blink. A girl used to being answered, obeyed, heeded. Her parents weren’t wealthy—or so her file said—yet her apartment fifteen blocks away suggested outrageous wealth. Either from this job or some shady shit that had escaped even the legion’s watchful eyes.

Isaiah sighed. “Those details are classified.”

She shook her head. “I can’t help you. Tertian and I did the deal, he got handsy, and he left.”

Every bit of the camera footage and eyewitness reports from the Raven confirmed that. But that wasn’t why they were here. What they’d been sent over to do.

Isaiah said, “And when did Prince Ruhn Danaan show up?”

“If you know everything, why bother asking me?” She didn’t wait for them to answer before she said, “You know, you two never told me your names.”

Hunt couldn’t read her expression, her relaxed body language. They hadn’t initiated contact since that night in the legion’s holding center—and neither of them had introduced themselves then. Had she even registered their faces in that drug-induced haze?

Isaiah adjusted his pristine white wings. “I’m Isaiah Tiberian, Commander of the 33rd Imperial Legion. This is Hunt Athalar, my—”

Isaiah tripped up, as if realizing that it had been a damn long time since they’d had to introduce themselves with any sort of rank attached. So Hunt did Isaiah a favor and finished with, “His Second.”

If Isaiah was surprised to hear it, that calm, pretty-boy face didn’t let on. Isaiah was, technically, his superior in the triarii and in the 33rd as a whole, even if the shit Hunt did for Micah made him directly answerable to the Governor.

Isaiah had never pulled rank, though. As if he remembered those days before the Fall, and who’d been in charge then.

As if it fucking mattered now.

No, all that mattered about that shit was that Isaiah had killed at least three dozen Imperial Legionaries that day on Mount Hermon. And Hunt now bore the burden of paying back each one of those lives to the Republic. To fulfill Micah’s bargain.

Bryce’s eyes flicked to their brows—the tattoos there. Hunt braced for the sneering remark, for any of the bullshit comments people still liked to make about the Fallen Legion and their failed rebellion. But she only said, “So, what—you two investigate crimes on the side? I thought that was Auxiliary territory. Don’t you have better things to do in the 33rd than play buddy cop?”

Isaiah, apparently not amused that there was one person in this city who didn’t fall at his feet, said a tad stiffly, “Do you have people who can verify your whereabouts after you left the White Raven?”

Bryce held Isaiah’s gaze. Then flicked her eyes to Hunt. And he still couldn’t read her mask of boredom as she pushed off the desk and took a few deliberate steps toward them before crossing her arms.

“Just my doorman … and Ruhn Danaan, but you already knew that.”

How anyone could walk in heels that high was beyond him. How anyone could breathe in a dress that tight was also a mystery. It was long enough that it covered the area on her thigh where the scar from that night two years ago would be—that is, if she hadn’t paid some medwitch to erase it. For someone who clearly took
pains to dress nicely, he had little doubt she’d gotten it removed immediately.

Party girls didn’t like scars messing with how they looked in a swimsuit.

Isaiah’s white wings shifted. “Would you call Ruhn Danaan a friend?”

Bryce shrugged. “He’s a distant cousin.”

But apparently invested enough to have charged into the interrogation room two years ago. And shown up at the VIP bar last night. If he was that protective of Quinlan, that might be one Hel of a motive, too. Even if Ruhn and his father would make the interrogation a nightmare.

Bryce smiled sharply, as if she remembered that fact, too. “Have fun talking to him.”

Hunt clenched his jaw, but she strode for the front door, hips swishing like she knew precisely how spectacular her ass was.

“Just a moment, Miss Quinlan,” Isaiah said. The commander’s voice was calm, but take-no-shit.

Hunt hid his smile. Seeing Isaiah angry was always a good show. So long as you weren’t on the receiving end.

Quinlan hadn’t realized that yet as she glanced over a shoulder. “Yes?”

Hunt eyed her as Isaiah at last voiced their true reason for this little visit. “We weren’t just sent here to ask you about your whereabouts.”

She gestured to the gallery. “You want to buy something pretty for the Governor?”

Hunt’s mouth twitched upward. “Funny you should mention him. He’s on his way here right now.”

A slow blink. Again, no sign or scent of fear. “Why?”

“Micah just told us to get information from you about last night, and then make sure you were available and have you get your boss on the line.” Given how infrequently Hunt was asked to help out on investigations, he’d been shocked as Hel to get the order. But considering that he and Isaiah had been there that night in the alley,
he supposed that made them the top choices to head this sort of thing up.

“Micah is coming here.” Her throat bobbed once.

“He’ll be here in ten minutes,” Isaiah said. He nodded toward her phone. “I suggest you call your boss, Miss Quinlan.”

Her breathing turned slightly shallow. “Why?”

Hunt dropped the bomb at last. “Because Maximus Tertian’s injuries were identical to the ones inflicted upon Danika Fendyr and the Pack of Devils.” Pulped and dismembered.

Her eyes shuttered. “But—Philip Briggs killed them. He summoned that demon to kill them. And he’s in prison.” Her voice sharpened. “He’s been in prison for
two years
.”

In a place worse than prison, but that was beside the point.

“We know,” Hunt said, keeping his face devoid of any reaction.

“He can’t have killed Tertian. How could he possibly summon the demon from jail?” Bryce said. “He …” She swallowed, catching herself. Realizing, perhaps, why Micah was coming. Several people she’d known had been killed, all within hours of interacting with her. “You think Briggs didn’t do it. Didn’t kill Danika and her pack.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Isaiah cut in. “But the specific details of how they all died never leaked, so we have good reason to believe this wasn’t a copycat murder.”

Bryce asked flatly, “Have you met with Sabine?”

Hunt said, “Have
you
?”

“We do our best to stay out of each other’s way.”

It was perhaps the only smart thing Bryce Quinlan had ever decided to do. Hunt remembered Sabine’s venom as she’d glared through the window at Bryce in the observation room two years ago, and he had no doubt Sabine was just waiting for enough time to pass for Quinlan’s unfortunate and untimely death to be considered nothing more than a fluke.

Bryce walked back to her desk, giving them a wide berth. To her credit, her gait remained unhurried and solid. She picked up the phone without so much as looking at them.

“We’ll wait outside,” Isaiah offered. Hunt opened his mouth to object, but Isaiah shot him a warning look.

Fine. He and Quinlan could spar later.

Phone held in a white-knuckled grip, Bryce listened to the other end ring. Twice. Then—

“Morning, Bryce.”

Bryce’s heartbeat pounded in her arms, her legs, her stomach. “Two legionaries are here.” She swallowed. “The Commander of the 33rd and …” She blew out a breath. “The Umbra Mortis.”

She’d recognized Isaiah Tiberian—he graced the nightly news and gossip columns often enough that there would never be any mistaking the 33rd’s beautiful Commander.

And she’d recognized Hunt Athalar, too, though he was never on television. Everyone knew who Hunt Athalar was. She’d heard of him even while growing up in Nidaros, when Randall would talk about his battles in Pangera and whispered when he mentioned Hunt. The Umbra Mortis. The Shadow of Death.

Then, the angel hadn’t worked for Micah Domitus and his legion, but for the Archangel Sandriel—he’d flown in her 45th Legion. Demon-hunting, rumor claimed his job was. And worse.

Jesiba hissed, “Why?”

Bryce clutched the phone. “Maximus Tertian was murdered last night.”

“Burning
Solas
—”

“The same way as Danika and the pack.”

Bryce shut out every hazy image, breathing in the bright, calming scent of the peppermint vapors rippling from the diffuser on her desk. She’d bought the stupid plastic cone two months after Danika had been killed, figuring it couldn’t hurt to try some aromatherapy during the long, quiet hours of the day, when her thoughts swarmed and descended, eating her up from the inside out. By the end of the week, she’d bought three more and placed them throughout her house.

Bryce breathed, “It seems like Philip Briggs might not have killed Danika.”

For two years, part of her had clung to it—that in the days following the murder, they’d found enough evidence to convict Briggs, who’d wanted Danika dead for busting his rebel bomb ring. Briggs had denied it, but it had added up: He’d been caught purchasing black summoning salts in the weeks before his initial arrest, apparently to fuel some sort of new, horrible weapon.

That Danika had then been murdered by a Pit-level demon—which would have required the deadly black salt to summon it into this world—couldn’t have been a coincidence. It seemed quite clear that Briggs had been released, gotten his hands on the black salt, summoned the demon, and set it loose upon Danika and the Pack of Devils. It had attacked the 33rd soldier who’d been patrolling the alleyway, and when its work was done, it had been sent back to Hel by Briggs. Though he’d never confessed to it, or what the breed even was, the fact remained that the demon hadn’t been seen again in two years. Since Briggs had been locked up. Case closed.

For two years, Bryce had clung to those facts. That even though her world had fallen apart, the person responsible was behind bars. Forever. Deserving of every horror his jailors inflicted on him.

Jesiba let out a long, long breath. “Did the angels accuse you of anything?”

“No.” Not quite. “The Governor is coming here.”

Another pause. “To interrogate you?”

“I hope not.” She liked her body parts where they were. “He wants to talk to you, too.”

“Does Tertian’s father know he’s dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“I need to make some phone calls,” Jesiba said, more to herself. “Before the Governor comes.” Bryce understood her meaning well enough: So Maximus’s father didn’t show up at the gallery, demanding answers. Blaming Bryce for his death. It’d be a mess.

Bryce wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs. “The Governor will be here soon.”

Faint tapping sounded on the iron archives door before Lehabah whispered, “BB? Are you all right?”

Bryce put a hand over the mouthpiece of her phone. “Go back to your post, Lele.”

“Were those two angels?”

Bryce ground her teeth. “Yes. Go downstairs. Keep Syrinx quiet.”

Lehabah let out a sigh, audible through six inches of iron. But the fire sprite didn’t speak further, suggesting she’d either returned to the archives beneath the gallery or was still eavesdropping. Bryce didn’t care, as long as she and the chimera stayed quiet.

Jesiba was asking, “When does Micah get there?”

“Eight minutes.”

Jesiba considered. “All right.” Bryce tried not to gape at the fact that she didn’t push for more time—especially with a client’s death in the balance.

But even Jesiba knew not to screw around with an Archangel. Or maybe she’d finally found a scrap of empathy where Danika’s murder was concerned. She sure as Hel hadn’t demonstrated it when she’d ordered Bryce to get back to work or be turned into a pig two weeks after Danika’s death.

Jesiba said, “I don’t need to tell you to make sure everything is on lockdown.”

“I’ll double-check.” But she’d made sure before the angels had even set foot in the gallery.

“Then you know what to do, Quinlan,” Jesiba said, the sound of rustling sheets or clothes filling the background. Two male voices grumbled in protest. Then the line went dead.

Blowing out a breath, Bryce launched into motion.

 

11

T
he Archangel rang the buzzer precisely seven minutes later.

Calming her panting, Bryce scanned the gallery for the tenth time, confirming that all was in place, the art dust-free, any contraband stored below—

Her legs felt spindly, the old ache in her thigh clawing at the bone, but her hands remained steady as she reached the front door and hauled it open.

The Archangel was gorgeous. Horrifically, indecently gorgeous.

Hunt Athalar and Isaiah Tiberian stood behind him—almost as good-looking; the latter giving her another bland smile he obviously believed was charming. The former … Hunt’s dark eyes missed nothing.

Bryce lowered her head to the Governor, stepping back, her stupid heels wobbling on the carpet. “Welcome, Your Grace. Please come in.”

Micah Domitus’s brown eyes devoured her. His power pressed against her skin, ripped the air from the room, her lungs. Filled the space with midnight storms, sex and death entwined.

“I assume your employer will be joining us through the vidscreen,” the Archangel said, stepping in from the glaringly bright street.

Fucking Hel, his
voice
—silk and steel and ancient stone. He
could probably make someone come by merely whispering filthy things in their ear.

Even without that voice, it would have been impossible to forget what Micah was, what the Governor radiated with every breath, every blink. There were currently ten Archangels who ruled the various territories of the Republic, all bearing the title of Governor—all answering only to the Asteri. An ordinary angel’s magic might level a building if they were considered powerful. An Archangel’s power could level an entire metropolis. There was no predicting where the extra strength that separated Archangel from angel came from—sometimes, it was passed on, usually upon the careful breeding orders of the Asteri. Other times, it popped up in unremarkable bloodlines.

She didn’t know much about Micah’s history—had never paid attention during history class, too busy drooling over the unfairly perfect face currently before her to listen to her teacher’s droning.

“Miss Roga is waiting for our call,” she managed to say, and tried not to breathe too loudly as the Governor of Valbara swept past. One of his pristine white feathers brushed her bare collarbone. She might have shuddered—were it not for the two angels behind him.

Isaiah just gave her a nod as he trailed Micah toward the chairs before the desk.

Hunt Athalar, however, lingered. Holding her gaze—before he glanced at her collarbone. As if the feather had left a mark. The tattoo of thorns across his forehead seemed to turn darker.

And just like that, that scent of sex rippling off the Archangel turned to rot.

The Asteri and the Archangels could have easily found another way to hobble the power of the Fallen, yet they’d enslaved them with the witch spells woven into magical tattoos stamped onto their foreheads like fucked-up crowns. And the tattoos on their wrists:
SPQM
.

Senatus Populusque Midgard.

The Midgard Senate and People.
Total fucking bullshit. As if the Senate was anything but a puppet ruling body. As if the Asteri
weren’t their emperors and empresses, ruling over everything and everyone for eternity, their rotted souls regenerating from one form to the next.

Bryce shoved the thought from her mind as she shut the iron door behind Hunt, just barely missing his gray feathers. His black eyes flashed with warning.

She gave him a smile to convey everything she didn’t dare say aloud regarding her feelings about this ambush.
I’ve faced worse than you, Umbra Mortis
.
Glower and snarl all you like
.

Hunt blinked, the only sign of his surprise, but Bryce was already turning toward her desk, trying not to limp as pain speared through her leg. She’d dragged up a third chair from the library, which had aggravated her leg further.

She didn’t dare rub at the thick, curving scar across her upper thigh, hidden under her white dress. “Can I get you anything, Your Grace? Coffee? Tea? Something stronger?” She’d already laid out bottled sparkling water on the small tables between the chairs.

The Archangel had claimed the middle seat, and as she smiled politely at him, the weight of his gaze pressed on her like a silken blanket. “I’m fine.” Bryce looked to Hunt and Isaiah, who slid into their chairs. “They’re fine, too,” Micah said.

Very well, then. She strode around the desk, sliding her hand beneath its ledge to push a brass button and sending up a prayer to merciful Cthona that her voice remained calm, even as her mind kept circling back to the same thought, over and over:
Briggs didn’t kill Danika, Briggs didn’t kill Danika, Briggs didn’t kill Danika

The wood panel in the wall behind her split open, revealing a large screen. As it flickered to life, she picked up the desk phone and dialed.

Briggs had been a monster who had planned to hurt people, and he deserved to be in jail, but—he’d been wrongly accused of the murder.

Danika’s killer was still out there.

Jesiba answered on the first ring. “Is the screen ready?”

“Whenever you are.” Bryce typed the codes into her computer, trying to ignore the Governor staring at her like she was a steak
and he was … something that ate steak. Raw. And moaning. “I’m dialing you in,” she declared.

Jesiba Roga appeared on the screen an instant later—and they both hung up their phones.

Behind the sorceress, the hotel suite was decorated in Pangeran splendor: paneled white walls with gilded molding, plush cream carpets and pale pink silk drapes, a four-poster oak bed big enough for her and the two males Bryce had heard when she called before.

Jesiba played as hard as she worked while over on the massive territory, seeking out more art for the gallery, either through visiting various archaeological digs or courting high-powered clients who already possessed them.

Despite having less than ten minutes, and despite using most of that time to make some very important calls, Jesiba’s flowing navy dress was immaculate, revealing tantalizing glimpses of a lush female body adorned with freshwater pearls at her ears and throat. Her cropped ash-blond hair glowed in the golden firstlight lamps—cut shorter on the sides, longer on the top. Effortlessly chic and casual. Her face …

Her face was both young and wise, bedroom-soft yet foreboding. Her pale gray eyes gleamed with glittering magic, alluring and deadly.

Bryce had never dared ask why Jesiba had defected from the witches centuries ago. Why she’d aligned herself with the House of Flame and Shadow and its leader, the Under-King—and what she did for him. She called herself a sorceress now. Never a witch.

“Morning, Micah,” Jesiba said mildly. A pleasant, disarming voice compared to that of other members of Flame and Shadow—the hoarse rasp of Reapers, or the silken tones of vampyrs.

“Jesiba,” Micah purred.

Jesiba gave him a slight smile, as if she’d heard that purr a thousand different times, from a thousand different males. “Pleased as I am to see your handsome face, I’d like to know why you called this meeting. Unless the Danika thing was an excuse to talk to sweet Bryce.”

The Danika thing
. Bryce kept her face neutral, even as she felt
Hunt watching her carefully. As if he could hear her heart thundering, scent the sweat now coating her palms.

But Bryce gave him a bored look in return.

Micah leaned back in his chair, crossing his long legs, and said without so much as glancing at Bryce, “Tempting as your assistant is, we have important matters to discuss.”

She ignored the outright entitlement, the timbre of that sensual voice.
Tempting
—as if she were a piece of dessert on a platter. She was used to it, but … these gods-damned Vanir males.

Jesiba waved with ethereal grace to continue, silver nails sparkling in the hotel’s lamplight.

Micah said smoothly, “I believe my triarii informed Miss Quinlan of the murder last night. One that was an exact match for the deaths of Danika Fendyr and the Pack of Devils two years ago.”

Bryce kept herself still, unfeeling. She took a subtle inhale of the soothing peppermint wisps from the infuser a few inches away.

Micah went on, “What they did not mention was the other connection.”

The two angels flanking the Governor stiffened almost imperceptibly. This was clearly the first they were hearing of this as well.

“Oh?” Jesiba said. “And do I have to pay for this information?”

Vast, cold power crackled in the gallery, but the Archangel’s face remained unreadable. “I am sharing this information so we might combine resources.”

Jesiba arched a blond brow with preternatural smoothness. “To do what?”

Micah said, “For Bryce Quinlan to find the true murderer behind this, of course.”

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