Authors: Sarah J. Maas
“Hi, B.” In the background, music thumped and male laughter roared.
Bryce didn’t bother with niceties. “We’ve been tipped off that we should run various tests again—I’m assuming that means the ones on the victims and crime scenes a few years ago. Can you think of anything that should be reexamined?”
In the background, Ruhn asked,
Is that Bryce?
But Declan said, “I’d definitely run a scent diagnostic. You’ll need clothes.”
Bryce said, “They must have done a scent diagnostic two years ago.”
Declan said, “Was it the common one, or the Mimir?”
Hunt’s stomach tightened. Especially as Bryce said, “What’s the difference?”
“The Mimir is better. It’s relatively new.”
Bryce looked at Hunt, and he shook his head slowly. She said quietly into the phone, “No one did a Mimir test.”
Declan hesitated. “Well … it’s Fae tech mostly. We loan it out to the legion for their major cases.” A pause. “Someone should have said something.”
Hunt braced himself. Bryce asked, “You had access to this sort of thing two years ago?”
Declan paused again. “Ah—shit.” Then Ruhn came on the line. “Bryce, a direct order was given not to pursue it through those channels. It was deemed a matter that the Fae should stay out of.”
Devastation, rage, grief—all exploded across her face. Her fingers curled at her sides.
Hunt said, knowing Ruhn could hear it, “The Autumn King is a real prick, you know that?”
Bryce snarled, “I’m going to tell him just that.” She hung up.
Hunt demanded, “What?” But she was already running out of the apartment.
ryce’s blood roared as she sprinted through the Old Square, down rain-soaked streets, all the way to Five Roses. The villas glowed in the rain, palatial homes with immaculate lawns and gardens, all fenced with wrought iron. Stone-faced Fae or shifter sentries from the Auxiliary were posted at every corner.
As if the residents here lived in abject terror that the peregrini and few slaves of Crescent City were poised to loot at any moment.
She hurtled past the marble behemoth that was the Fae Archives, the building covered in drooping veils of flowers that ran down its many columns. Roses, jasmine, wisteria—all in perpetual bloom, no matter the season.
She sprinted all the way to the sprawling white villa covered in pink roses, and to the wrought-iron gate around it guarded by four Fae warriors.
They stepped into her path as she skidded to a halt, the flagstone street slick with rain.
“Let me in,” she said through her teeth, panting.
They didn’t so much as blink. “Do you have an appointment with His Majesty?” one asked.
“Let me in,” she said again.
He’d known. Her father had known there were tests to assess
what had killed Danika and had done
. Had deliberately stayed out of it.
She had to see him. Had to hear it from him. She didn’t care what time it was.
The polished black door was shut, but the lights were on. He was home. He had to be.
“Not without an appointment,” said the same guard.
Bryce took a step toward them and rebounded—hard. A wall of heat surrounded the compound, no doubt generated by the Fae males before her. One of the guards snickered. Her face grew hot, her eyes stinging.
“Go tell your
that Bryce Quinlan needs a word.
“Come back when you have an appointment, half-breed,” one of the sentries said.
Bryce smacked her hand against their shield. It didn’t so much as ripple. “
The guards stiffened as power, dark and mighty, pulsed from behind her. Lightning skittered over the cobblestones. The guards’ hands drifted to their swords.
Hunt said, voice like thunder, “The lady wants an audience with His Majesty.”
“His Majesty is unavailable.” The guard who spoke had clearly noted the halo at Hunt’s brow. The sneer that spread across his face was one of the most hideous things Bryce had ever seen. “Especially for Fallen scum and half-human skanks.”
Hunt took a step toward them. “Say that again.”
The guard’s sneer remained. “Once wasn’t enough?”
Hunt’s hand fisted at his side. He’d do it, she realized. He’d pummel these assholes into dust for her, fight his way inside the gates so she could have a chat with the king.
Down the block, Ruhn appeared, wreathed in shadow, his black hair plastered to his head. Flynn and Declan followed close behind him. “Stand down,” Ruhn ordered the guards. “Stand the fuck down.”
They did no such thing. “Even you, Prince, are not authorized to order that.”
Ruhn’s shadows swirled at his shoulders like a phantom pair of wings, but he said to Bryce, “There are other battles worth fighting with him. This isn’t one of them.”
Bryce stalked a few feet from the gate, even though the guards could likely hear every word. “He deliberately chose not to help with what happened to Danika.”
Hunt said, “Some might consider that to be interference with an imperial investigation.”
“Fuck off, Athalar,” Ruhn growled. He reached for Bryce’s arm, but she stepped back. He clenched his jaw. “You are considered a member of this court, you know. You were involved in a colossal mess. He decided the best thing for your safety was to let the case drop, not dig further.”
“As if he’s ever given two shits about my safety.”
“He gave enough of a shit about you to want me to be your live-in guard. But you wanted Athalar to play sexy roomie.”
“He wants to find the Horn for
,” she snapped. “It has
to do with me.” She pointed to the house beyond the iron fence. “You go in there and tell that piece of shit that I won’t forget this.
. I doubt he’ll care, but you tell him.”
Ruhn’s shadows stilled, draping from his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Bryce. About Danika—”
,” she seethed, “ever say her name to me. Never say her name to me again.”
She could have sworn hurt that even his shadows couldn’t hide flashed across her brother’s face, but she turned, finding Hunt watching with crossed arms. “I’ll see you at the apartment,” she said to him, and didn’t bother to say more before launching back into a run.
It had been fucked up to not warn Hunt whom she was summoning. She’d admit it.
But not as fucked up as the Fae tests her father had
to provide access to.
Bryce didn’t go home. Halfway there, she decided she’d head
somewhere else. The White Raven was shut down, but her old favorite whiskey bar would do just fine.
Lethe was open and serving. Which was good, because her leg throbbed mercilessly and her feet were blistered from running in her stupid flats. She took them off the moment she hopped onto the leather stool at the bar, and sighed as her bare feet touched the cool brass footrest running the length of the dark wood counter.
Lethe hadn’t changed in the two years since she’d last set foot on the floor that lent itself to an optical illusion, painted with black, gray, and white cubes. The cherrywood pillars still rose like trees to form the carved, arched ceiling high above, looming over a bar made from fogged glass and black metal, all clean lines and square edges.
She’d messaged Juniper five minutes ago, inviting her for a drink. She still hadn’t heard back. So she’d watched the news on the screen above the bar, flashing to the muddy battlefields in Pangera, the husks of mech-suits littering them like broken toys, bodies both human and Vanir sprawled for miles, the crows already feasting.
Even the human busboy had stopped to look, his face tight as he beheld the carnage. A barked order from the bartender had kept him moving, but Bryce had seen the gleam in the young man’s brown eyes. The fury and determination.
“What the Hel,” she muttered, and knocked back a mouthful of the whiskey in front of her.
It tasted as acrid and vile as she remembered—burned all the way down. Precisely what she wanted. Bryce took another swig.
A bottle of some sort of purple tonic plunked onto the counter beside her tumbler. “For your leg,” Hunt said, sliding onto the stool beside hers. “Drink up.”
She eyed the glass vial. “You went to a medwitch?”
“There’s a clinic around the corner. I figured you weren’t leaving here anytime soon.”
Bryce sipped her whiskey. “You guessed right.”
He nudged the tonic closer. “Have it before you finish the rest.”
“No comment about breaking my No Drinking rule?”
He leaned on the bar, tucking in his wings. “It’s your rule—you can end it whenever you like.”
Whatever. She reached for the tonic, uncorking and knocking it back. She grimaced. “Tastes like grape soda.”
“I told her to make it sweet.”
She batted her eyelashes. “Because I’m so sweet, Athalar?”
“Because I knew you wouldn’t drink it if it tasted like rubbing alcohol.”
She lifted her whiskey. “I beg to differ.”
Hunt signaled the bartender, ordered a water, and said to Bryce, “So, tonight went well.”
She chuckled, sipping the whiskey again. Gods, it tasted awful. Why had she ever guzzled this stuff down? “Superb.”
Hunt drank from his water. Watched her for a long moment before he said, “Look, I’ll sit here while you get stupid drunk if that’s what you want, but I’ll just say this first: there are better ways to deal with everything.”
“I mean it.”
The bartender set another whiskey before her, but Bryce didn’t drink.
Hunt said carefully, “You’re not the only person to have lost someone you love.”
She propped her head on a hand. “Tell me all about her, Hunt. Let’s hear the full, unabridged sob story at last.”
He held her gaze. “Don’t be an asshole. I’m trying to talk to you.”
“And I’m trying to drink,” she said, lifting her glass to do so.
Her phone buzzed, and both of them glanced at it. Juniper had finally written back.
Can’t, sorry. Practice.
Then another buzz from Juniper.
Wait—why are you drinking at Lethe? Are you drinking again? What happened?
Hunt said quietly, “Maybe your friend is trying to tell you something, too.”
Bryce’s fingers curled into fists, but she set her phone facedown on the glowing, fogged glass. “Weren’t you going to tell me your heartbreaking story about your amazing girlfriend? What would
think about the way you manhandled me and practically devoured my neck the other night?”
She regretted the words the moment they were out. For so many reasons, she regretted them, the least of which being that she hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that moment of insanity on the roof, when his mouth had been on her neck and she’d started to completely unravel.
How good it had felt—
Hunt stared her down for a long moment. Heat rose to her face.
But all he said was “I’ll see you at home.” The word echoed between them as he set another purple tonic on the counter. “Drink that one in thirty minutes.”
Then he was gone, prowling through the empty bar and onto the street beyond.
Hunt had just settled onto the couch to watch the sunball game when Bryce walked into the apartment, two bags of groceries in her hands. About fucking time.
Syrinx flung himself off the couch and bounded to her, rising onto his back legs to demand kisses. She obliged him, ruffling his golden fur before looking up at where Hunt sat on the couch. He just sipped from his beer and gave her a terse nod.
She nodded back, not quite meeting his eyes, and strode for the kitchen. The limp was better, but not wholly gone.
He’d sent Naomi to monitor the street outside that fancy whiskey bar while he hit the gym to work off his temper.
. The word had lingered. Along with the truth: he hadn’t thought about Shahar for a second while they’d been on the roof. Or in the days following. And when he’d had his hand wrapped around his cock in the shower that night, and every night since, it hadn’t been the Archangel he’d thought of. Not even close.
Quinlan had to know that. She had to know what wound she’d hit.
So the options had been to yell at her, or to exercise. He’d picked the latter.
That had been two hours ago. He’d cleaned up all the obsidian salt, walked and fed Syrinx, and then sat on the couch to wait.
Bryce set her bags onto the counter, Syrinx lingering at her feet to inspect every purchase. In between plays, Hunt stole glances at what she unpacked. Vegetables, fruits, meat, oat milk, cow’s milk, rice, a loaf of brown bread—
“Are we having company?” he asked.
She yanked out a skillet and plunked it on the burner. “I figured I’d make a late dinner.”
Her back was stiff, her shoulders straight. He might have thought she was pissed, but the fact that she was making dinner for them suggested otherwise. “Is it wise to cook when you’ve been pounding whiskey?”
She shot him a glare over a shoulder. “I’m trying to do something nice, and you’re not making it easy.”
Hunt held up his hands. “All right. Sorry.”
She went back to the stove, adjusted the heat, and opened a package of some sort of ground meat. “I wasn’t pounding whiskey,” she said. “I left Lethe soon after you did.”
“Where’d you go?”
“Out to a storage unit near Moonwood.” She began gathering spices. “I stashed a lot of Danika’s stuff there. Sabine was going to chuck it, but I took it before she did.” She dumped some ground meat in the skillet and gestured to a third bag she’d left by the door. “I just wanted to make sure there was no hint of the Horn there, anything I might not have noticed at the time. And to grab some of Danika’s clothes—ones that were in my bedroom that night that Evidence didn’t take. I know they already have clothes from before, but I thought … Maybe there’s something on these, too.”
Hunt opened his mouth to say something—what, exactly, he didn’t know—but Bryce went on. “After that, I went to the market. Since condiments aren’t food, apparently.”
Hunt brought his beer with him as he padded to the kitchen. “Want help?”
“No. This is an apology meal. Go watch your game.”
“You don’t need to apologize.”
“I acted like an asshole. Let me cook something for you to make up for it.”
“Based on how much chili powder you just dumped into that pan, I’m not sure I want to accept this particular apology.”
“Fuck, I forgot to add the cumin!” She whirled toward the skillet, turning down the heat and adding the spice, stirring it into what smelled like ground turkey. She sighed. “I’m a mess.”
He waited, letting her gather her words.
She began cutting an onion, her motions easy and smooth.
“Honestly, I was a bit of a mess before what happened to Danika, and …” She sliced the onion into neat rings. “It didn’t get any better.”
“Why were you a mess before she died?”
Bryce slid the onion into the skillet. “I’m a half-human with a near-useless college degree. All my friends were going somewhere, doing something with themselves.” Her mouth quirked to the side. “I’m a glorified secretary. With no long-term plan for anything.” She stirred the onion around. “The partying and stuff—it was the only time when the four of us were on equal footing. When it didn’t matter that Fury’s some kind of merc or Juniper’s so amazingly talented or Danika would one day be this all-powerful wolf.”
“They ever hold that against you?”
“No.” Her amber eyes scanned his face. “No, they would never have done that. But I couldn’t ever forget it.”
“Your cousin said you used to dance. That you stopped after Danika died. You never wanted to follow that road?”