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House of Sky and Breath: Part 1 – Chapter 21

“Dusk’s Truth, huh?” Hunt’s deep voice rumbled across the bed to Bryce as they lay in the darkness, Syrinx already snoring between them.

“Danika definitely thought she was onto something,” Bryce replied. Hunt had missed dinner, leaving her to an unbearably awkward meal with Ithan. He’d been quiet and contemplative, wearing the game face she’d seen before big matches. She’d said as much to him, but he hadn’t wanted to talk.

So Bryce had combed through Danika’s papers and clippings again. Had found nothing new. She’d only filled Hunt in when he’d finally gotten home from the Comitium and they’d readied for bed. Any thoughts of continuing what had gone down in that alley had vanished by the time she’d finished.

Hunt hummed, shifting onto his side. “So you’re really going to help Cormac, then.”

“It’s not about wanting to help him—it’s more about wanting to help Emile. But I meant what I said to you in the alley: this is also about getting what I can out of the situation for our own advantage.” An end to the betrothal, and some training. “And,” she admitted, “learning about Danika.”

“Does it matter? About Danika, I mean?”

“It shouldn’t. But it does. For some reason, it does.” She said carefully, “I know we discussed this earlier, but … I can’t do this without you, Hunt.”

He said softly, “I know. I’m just … Fuck, Quinlan. The thought of anything happening to you scares the shit out of me. I understand, though. That’s what prompted me this spring … what I was doing with Vik and Justinian. It was for Shahar.”

Her heart strained. “I know.” And he’d been willing to give that up for her—for them. “So you’re in?”

“Yeah. Whatever help I can give, I’ll offer it. But we need an exit strategy.”

“We do,” she agreed. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow, though. I’m exhausted.”

“All right.” His wing brushed her bare shoulder and she turned her head to find him with his head propped on a fist.

“Don’t do that.”

“What?” His eyes sparkled in the dimness.

She turned onto her own side and waved a hand toward him. “Look so … like that.”

His lips curled upward. “Sexy? Attractive? Seductive?”

“All of the above.”

He flopped onto his back. “I feel weird doing anything with Holstrom a wall away.”

She pointed to the aforementioned wall. “He’s on the other side of the apartment.”

“He’s a wolf.”

Bryce inhaled the musky, midnight scent of him. Arousal. “So let’s be quiet, then.”

Hunt’s swallow was audible. “I … All right, I’ll be straight with you, Quinlan.”

She arched a brow.

He blew out a breath toward the ceiling. “It’s been … a while. For me, I mean.”

“Me too.” The longest she’d ever gone without sex since her first time at seventeen. Well, ignoring what she and Hunt had done on the couch months ago—though that wasn’t the kind of sex she wanted right now.

He said, “I guarantee that however long it’s been for you, it’s been longer for me.”

“How long?”

Some part of her howled at the idea of anyone—any-fucking-one—putting their hands and mouth and other parts on him. Of Hunt touching anyone else. Wanting anyone else. Of him existing in a world where he hadn’t known her, and some other female had been more important—

Some other female had been more important. Shahar. He’d loved her. Been willing to die for her.

He nearly died for you, too, a small voice whispered. But … this was different somehow.

Hunt grimaced. “Six months?”

Bryce laughed. “That’s it?”

He growled. “It’s a long time.”

“I thought you were going to say years.”

He gave her an affronted look. “I wasn’t celibate, you know.”

“So who was the lucky lady, then?” Or male, she supposed. She’d assumed he preferred females, but it was entirely possible he also—

“A nymph at a bar. She was from out of town and didn’t recognize me.”

Bryce’s fingers curled, as if invisible claws appeared at their tips. “Nymph, huh.”

Was that his type? Exactly like those dancers at the ballet? Delicate and svelte? Had Shahar been like that? Bryce had never searched for portraits of the dead Archangel—hadn’t ever wanted to torture herself like that. But Sandriel had been beautiful as Hel, slim and tall, and Hunt had once mentioned that they were twins.

Bryce added, if only because she wanted him to feel a shred of the misery that now coursed through her, “Lion shifter. In a bathroom at the White Raven.”

“The night of the bombing?” The words were sharp. As if her fucking someone while they’d known each other was unacceptable.

“Less than a week before,” she said nonchalantly, quietly pleased at his sharpness.

“I thought you didn’t like alphaholes.”

“I like them for some things.”

“Oh yeah?” He trailed a finger down her bare arm. “What, exactly?” His voice dropped to a purr. “You don’t seem to enjoy males bossing you around.”

She couldn’t help her blush. “Every once in a while.” It was all she could think to say as his fingers reached her wrist and he lifted her hand, bringing it to his mouth and pressing a kiss to her palm. “This one was especially good at being in charge.”

“All right, Quinlan,” he said against her skin. “I’m thoroughly jealous.”

She chuckled. “So am I.”

He kissed the inside of her wrist, lips grazing over sensitive flesh. “Before we went off on this stupid tangent, I was trying to warn you that it’s been a while, so I might …”

“Be fast?”

He nipped at her wrist. “Be loud, asshole.”

She laughed, running her fingers over his smooth, unmarked brow. “I could gag you.”

Hunt barked out a laugh. “Please tell me you’re not into that.”

She let out a hmmm.

“For real?” He sat up slowly.

She lay back against the pillows, arms behind her head. “I’ll try anything once.”

A muscle throbbed in his neck. “All right. But let’s start with the basics. If that gets boring, I promise to find ways to keep you interested.”

“That doesn’t get rid of the problem of Ithan’s keen hearing.”

He shifted against the bed, and Bryce found the blatant evidence of his interest pushing against his tight boxer briefs. Solas, he was huge.

She laughed softly, sitting up as well. “It really has been a while.”

He trembled, though—with restraint. “Tell me yes, Bryce.”

She went molten at the raw need in his words. “I want to touch you first.”

“That’s not a yes.”

“I want your yes.”

“Yes. Fuck yes. Now your turn.”

She only smirked, pressing a surprisingly steady hand to his bare, muscled chest. He allowed her to push him back against the pillows. “I’ll say yes when I’ve had my fill.”

Hunt let out a low, rough noise.

“Not too late for a gag,” Bryce murmured, pressing a kiss to his chest.

Hunt was going to burst out of his skin. He couldn’t stand it: the sight of Bryce now straddling his thighs, wearing nothing but an old, soft T-shirt, the silken glide of her hair over his bare chest as she pressed a kiss between his pecs. Pressed another near his nipple.

There was another person in this apartment. One with exceptional hearing, and he—

Bryce’s lips closed around his left nipple, wet heat sending Hunt’s hips straining toward hers. She flicked her tongue across the taut bud, and Hunt hissed. “For fuck’s sake.”

She laughed around his nipple, then moved to the other. “Your chest is as big as mine,” she muttered.

“That’s the least sexy thing anyone has ever said to me,” he managed to say.

She dug her long nails into his chest, the pain a light, singeing kiss. His cock throbbed in response. Gods spare him, he wouldn’t last a minute.

Bryce kissed his right ribs. Ran her tongue along the muscles there. “How do you get these stupid muscles, anyway?”

“Exercise.” Why was she talking? Why was he talking?

His hands shook, and he fisted them in the sheets. Syrinx had leapt off the bed, trotting to the bathroom and kicking the door shut with a hind leg. Smart chimera.

Her tongue teased over his left ribs, trailing downward as her fingers traced lines along his chest, his stomach. She kissed his belly button, and her head hovered mere inches from the edge of his boxer briefs, so close he was about to erupt at the sight of it—

“Aren’t we supposed to do some kissing first?” His voice was guttural.

“Absolutely not,” Bryce said, wholly focused on her task. Hunt couldn’t get a breath down as her fingers curled on the waistband of his underwear and peeled it away. He could only let her do it, lifting his hips to accommodate her, baring all of him—

“Well, well, well,” she crooned, sitting up. Hunt almost started whining at the distance she put between that mouth of hers and his cock. “This is a … big surprise.”

“Stop playing, Quinlan.” She had five seconds until he leapt on her and did everything he’d dreamed of for months now. Everything he’d planned to do during the longest night of the year.

She laid a finger on his lips. “Hush.” She brushed her mouth over his. Slid her tongue along the seam of his lips. Hunt parted for her, and as her tongue slipped into his mouth, he caught it between his lips and sucked hard. Let her know precisely how he liked it.

Her whimper was a triumph. But Hunt kept still as she withdrew, straightening again, and lifted the shirt over her head.

Fuck, those breasts. Full and heavy and tipped in rosy nipples that had him seeing double—

He hadn’t gotten enough of them that day they’d hooked up. Not even close. He needed to feast on these, needed their weight in his palms, those pretty nipples on his tongue—

She fisted her breasts, squeezing as she looked down at him. Hunt bucked his hips, driving his cock up before her in a silent request. Bryce only writhed, the plane of her stomach undulating as she squeezed her breasts again.

Hunt surged to grab her, to put his mouth where her hands were, but she held up a finger. “Not yet.” Her eyes simmered like coals in the dimness. Her star began to glow faintly, as if it were under a black light. She traced her finger over the soft iridescence. “Please.”

He panted through his teeth, chest heaving, but lay back on the pillows once more. “Well, when you put it so politely …”

She let out a sensuous laugh and leaned over him. Ran her nails along the shaft of his cock, then back down to its base. He shivered, pleasure singing along his spine as she said, “There’s no way I can fit all of you in me.”

He ground out, “Never know until we try.”

Bryce smiled, and her head dipped as her fingers wrapped around his cock, barely able to grasp him fully. She squeezed his base right as her tongue lapped at his tip.

Hunt bucked, panting hard. Bryce laughed against his cock. “Quiet, remember?”

He was going to cut off Holstrom’s ears. That would keep the wolf from hearing—

Bryce licked him again, tongue swirling, then slid his broad head into her mouth. Warm, wet heat enveloped him as she sucked tight and—

Hunt arched again, clapping a hand over his mouth as his eyes rolled back in his head. Yes. Fuck yes. Bryce withdrew, then slid her mouth further onto him. A few more strokes and he’d—

Hunt shifted, making to grab her, but she pinned his hips to the bed with a hand. Took him until he bumped against the back of her throat. He nearly flew out of his skin.

She sucked him hard, the pressure so perfect it was practically pain, withdrawing nearly to his tip before taking him all again. What didn’t make it into her mouth was squeezed by her hand in flawless tandem.

Hunt took in the sight of his cock disappearing into her mouth, her hair whispering over his thighs, her breasts swaying—

“Quinlan,” he groaned, a plea and a warning.

Bryce only slid him down her throat again, her free hand digging into the muscles of his thigh in silent permission. In her mouth—that was where she wanted him.

The thought alone unleashed him. Hunt couldn’t stop himself as he raked his hands into her hair, fingers digging into her scalp, and rode her mouth. She met him thrust for thrust, moaning deep in her throat so that it echoed through him—

And then her hand slipped down to his balls, squeezing hard as her teeth grazed along his shaft—

Hunt shattered, biting down on his lip so hard the coppery tang of blood coated his tongue, bucking up into her, spilling down her throat.

Bryce swallowed as he came, the walls of her mouth fluttering against him, and he was going to fucking die from this, from her, from the pleasure she was wringing from him—

Hunt groaned, the last of himself shooting into her mouth. Then he was shaking and panting as she removed her mouth in one wet slide, then held his gaze.

She swallowed once more. Licked her lips.

Hunt tried and failed to get up. As if his body were stunned stupid.

Bryce smirked, a queen triumphant. Every fantasy he’d had of her these months—none of them came close to this. To what her mouth had been like, to what she looked like naked …

Hunt had managed to prop himself up on his elbows when Ithan yelled from the other side of the apartment, “Please: have sex a little louder! I didn’t hear everything that time!

Bryce burst out laughing, but Hunt could only stare at the little droplet that ran down her chin, gleaming in the dim light of her star. She noted the direction of his attention and wiped off her chin, rubbing her fingers together, then licking them clean.

Hunt growled, low and deep. “I’m going to fuck you senseless.” Her nipples were hard as pebbles, and she squirmed against him. Nothing but those little lace panties separated her sweetness from his bare thighs.

But then Holstrom shouted, “That sounds medically dangerous!

And Bryce laughed again, rolling off Hunt and reaching for his T-shirt. “Let’s go to a sleazy motel tomorrow,” she said, and promptly went to sleep.

Hunt, mind blasted apart, could only lie there naked, wondering if he’d imagined it all.

Hunt sat in a simple folding chair at the bottom of an abyss, nothing but blackness around him, the only light coming from the faint glow cast by his body. There was no beginning or end to the perpetual night.

He’d fallen asleep beside Quinlan, wondering if he should just slide his hand over her hip to reacquaint himself with that lovely spot between her legs. But Bryce wasn’t there.

He didn’t want Bryce in a place like this, so dark and empty and yet … awake. Wings rustled nearby—not the soft feathers of his wings, but something leathery. Dry.

Hunt stiffened, trying to shoot to his feet, but he couldn’t. His ass stayed planted in the chair, though no ties bound him. His booted feet were glued to the black floor.

“Who’s there?” The darkness absorbed his voice, muffling it. The leathery wings whispered again, and Hunt twisted his head toward the sound. Moving his head was about the only thing he could manage.

“A greater warrior would have freed himself from those bonds by now.” The soft, deep voice slithered over his skin.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“Why do you not use the gifts in your blood to free yourself, Orion?”

Hunt gritted his teeth. “It’s Hunt.”

“I see. Because Orion was a hunter.”

The voice came from everywhere. “What’s your name?”

“Midgardians do not feel comfortable uttering my name on your side of the Rift.”

Hunt stilled. There was only one being whose name was not uttered in Midgard.

The Prince of the Pit. Apollion.

His blood chilled. This was a fucked-up, weird-ass dream, no doubt caused by Quinlan literally blowing his mind into smithereens—

“It is no dream.”

The seventh and most lethal of the demon princes of Hel was in his mind

“I am not in your mind, though your thoughts ripple toward me like your world’s radio waves. You and I are in a place between our worlds. A pocket-realm, as it were.”

“What do you want?” Hunt’s voice held steady, but—fuck. He needed to get out of here, to find some way back to Bryce. If the Prince of the Pit could get into Hunt’s mind, then—

“If I went into her mind, my brother would be very angry with me. Again.” Hunt could have sworn he heard a smile in the prince’s voice. “You certainly worry a great deal about a female who is far safer than you at the moment.”

“Why am I here?” Hunt forced out, willing his mind to clear of anything but the thought. It was difficult, though. This being before him, around him … This demon prince had killed the seventh Asteri. Had devoured the seventh Asteri.

The Star-Eater.

“I do like that name,” Apollion said, chuckling softly. “But as for your question, you are here because I wished to meet you. To assess your progress.”

“We got the pep talk from Aidas this afternoon, don’t worry.”

“My brother does not inform me of his movements. I do not know or care what he has or has not done.”

Hunt lifted his chin with a bravado he didn’t feel. “So let’s hear it. Your proposal for how we should ally with you to overthrow the Asteri and set you up as our new masters.”

“Is that what you think will happen?”

“Aidas already gave us a history lesson. Spare me.”

The darkness rumbled with distant thunder. “You are foolish and arrogant.”

“Takes one to know one, I suppose.”

The darkness paused. “You are impertinent as well. Do you not know where I come from? My father was the Void, the Being That Existed Before. Chaos was his bride and my dam. It is to them that we shall all one day return, and their mighty powers that run in my blood.”


But Apollion said, “You’re wasting the gifts that were given to you.”

Hunt drawled, “Oh, I think I’ve put them to good use.”

“You don’t know a fraction of what you might do. You and the Starborn girl.”

“Again, Quinlan got the whole ‘master your powers’ talk from Aidas today, and that was boring enough, so let’s not repeat it.”

“Both of you would benefit from training. Your powers are more similar than you realize. Conduits, both of you. You have no idea how valuable you and the others like you are.”

Hunt arched a brow. “Oh yeah?”

The darkness rippled with displeasure. “If you are so dismissive of my assistance, perhaps I should send some … appetizers to test you and yours.”

Hunt flared his wings slightly. “Why summon me? Just to give me this shove?”

Apollion’s unholy essence whispered around him again. “The Northern Rift is groaning once more. I can smell war on the wind. I do not plan to lose this time.”

“Well, I don’t plan to have a demon prince for my ruler, so find a new five-year goal.”

A soft laugh. “You do amuse, Orion.”

Hunt snarled, and his lightning sizzled in answer. “I take it we’re done here—”

The seething darkness and those leathery wings vanished.

Hunt jolted awake. He was already reaching for the knife on the nightstand when he halted.

Quinlan slept beside him, Syrinx on her other side, both of them snoring softly. In the darkness, her red hair looked like fresh blood across her pillow.

The Prince of the Pit had spoken to him. Knew who he was, who Bryce was—

The Prince of the Pit was a liar and a monster, and it was entirely likely that he was trying to lure Hunt and Bryce into some fool’s quest with their powers. And yet … Fuck.

Hunt ran a shaking hand over his sweaty face, then settled back onto the pillows, brushing a knuckle down Bryce’s soft cheek. She murmured, shifting closer, and Hunt obliged, sliding his arm over her waist and folding a wing around her. As if he could shield her from all that hunted them.

On both sides of the Northern Rift.


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