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House of Sky and Breath: Part 1 – Chapter 22

Ruhn finished off his beer, setting it on the coffee table before the massive TV in the living room. Declan, seated to his left, did the same. “All right,” Dec said, “espionage time.”

Flynn, smoking some mirthroot that Ruhn desperately needed a hit of, chuckled. “Our sweet son Ruhn is all grown up and spying for rebels.”

“Shut up,” Ruhn growled. “I knew I should have done this in private.”

“Where would the fun be in that?” Dec asked. “Plus, shouldn’t someone be here in case it’s, I don’t know, a trap or something?”

“Then why the fuck is he smoking?” Ruhn nodded to where Flynn blew smoke rings.

“Because I’m a self-destructive yet insanely charming idiot?” Flynn grinned.

“Emphasis on insane,” Dec muttered.

But Ruhn wanted them with him tonight, when most of the city was asleep, as he attempted contact with Agent Daybright. He had the comm-crystal, though he wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it—how to even begin connecting his abilities with its communication affinity. All hypotheticals, no guarantee of success. He couldn’t decide whether or not it’d be a relief to fail. To be able to walk away from this.

“So, are we supposed to meditate with you or something?” Flynn set down the mirthroot.

“How the Hel would that help?” Ruhn asked.

“Solidarity?” Flynn suggested.

Ruhn snorted. “I’m good. Just … put a wooden spoon between my teeth if I go into some kind of fit.”

Declan raised one. “Already thought of that.”

Ruhn put his hand on his heart. “Thanks. I’m touched.”

Flynn clapped Ruhn on the back. “We’ve got you. Do your thing.”

There wasn’t anything else to say, anything else Ruhn needed to hear, so he closed his eyes, leaning back against the cushions of the couch. He clenched the crystal in his fist, the stone eerily warm.

A mental bridge—that was how he always pictured the link he made between his mind and someone else’s. So that was the image he summoned, funneling it through the crystal in his hand, as surely as Bryce had funneled her own powers through the crystal of the Gate this spring. Cormac had said the crystal had similar properties, so … why not?

Ruhn extended the bridge from himself, through the crystal, and then out into the vast unknown, sprawling into a darkness with no end. He clenched the crystal tighter, willing it to lead him where he needed to go, as if it were a prism filtering his powers out into the world.

Hello? His voice echoed down the bridge. Into nothing.

He visualized the crystal’s milky core. Imagined a thread running from it, down along this mental bridge, out toward another end.

Hello? This is Agent …

Well, fuck. He should have come up with a code name. He sure as Hel couldn’t risk his own name or identity, but he wanted something cool, damn it.

This is your new contact.

No answer from Daybright came. Ruhn kept extending the bridge, letting it span into nothingness. Pictured the crystal and its thread, letting himself follow its trail into the night.

I’m here to—


Ruhn went still at the faint female voice. Light glowed down the bridge, and then there she was.

A female of pure flame. Or that was how she chose to appear. Not how Lehabah had been made of flame, with her body visible, but rather a female cloaked in it, only a flash of a bare wrist or an ankle or a shoulder through the veil. She was humanoid, but that was all he could glean. She looked like one of the radical sun-priests who’d gone rogue and immolated themselves to be close to their god.

Who are you? he asked.

Who are you? she challenged. Not one hint of her face.

I asked first.

Her flame flared, as if in annoyance. But she said, The little black dog sleeps soundly on a wool blanket.

Ruhn blew out a breath. There it was—the code phrase Cormac had given him to confirm her identity. He said, And the gray tabby cleans her paws by the light of the moon.

Utter nonsense.

But she said, I’m Agent Daybright, in case that wasn’t clear enough. Now … you are?

Ruhn peered down at himself, swearing. He hadn’t thought to hide his body—

But he found only a form of night and stars, galaxies and planets. As if his silhouette had been filled by them. He lifted a hand, finding not skin but the starry blanket of the sky covering his fingers. Had his mind instinctively shielded him? Or was this what he was, deep below the skin? Was this fire-being standing thirty feet down the mental bridge what she was, deep below her own skin? Or fur, he supposed.

She could be a faun or a satyr. Or a witch or a shifter. Or an Asteri, as Cormac had suggested. Maybe the fire was that of the holy star in her.

She merely stood there, burning. Well?

Her voice was beautiful. Like a golden song. It stirred his Fae soul, made it perk up. I, ah … I hadn’t gotten that far yet.

She angled her head with what seemed like predatory intent. They sent a novice?

A chill skittered down his spine. She certainly spoke like one of the Asteri, regal and aloof. She looked over her shoulder. As if back toward the body connected to her mind.

Ruhn said, Look, Agent Silverbow gave me this crystal, but had no idea if it could even work on a mind-to-mind level. So I wanted to attempt to make contact and let you know I’m here and this is the new mode of communication. So if it’s an emergency, I don’t need to waste time figuring out how to get in touch.

That’s fine.

He surveyed her again. So, we trust each other that easily, then? He couldn’t stop his taunting question. You’re not at all worried the crystal fell into the wrong hands and the code phrases were compromised?

Agents of the Asteri don’t bumble about so much.

Damn. I’ll try harder to impress you the next time.

Another soft laugh. You already have, Agent Night.

Did you just give me a code name? Night and Daybright. Night and Day—he liked that.

I figured I’d spare you the trouble of trying to invent something interesting. She turned back to her end of the bridge, flame flowing in her wake.

No messages for me to pass along? He didn’t dare say Cormac’s name. Anything about the Spine?

She kept walking. No. But tell your commander that safe passage is granted under the cover of the waning moon.

Ruhn bristled. Like Hel was Cormac his commander. I don’t know what that means.

You’re not supposed to. But Agent Silverbow will. And tell him I much prefer this method of communicating.

Then Daybright and her flame winked out, and Ruhn was alone.

“Why not tell me Agent Daybright was a female?” Ruhn asked Cormac the next morning, standing in his living room and gulping down his second cup of coffee, Flynn lounging beside him. He’d messaged his cousin to come here under the guise of wanting to discuss the terms of Bryce’s engagement. Thankfully, his cousin hadn’t needed much more than that before arriving.

Cormac shrugged, his gray T-shirt lightly coated in sweat, presumably from the scorching walk over here. “I thought you might share your father’s outdated views that females should not be in the line of danger and balk at putting her at risk.”

“Does anything I’ve ever done indicate I’d feel that way?”

“You’re protective of your sister to a fault.” Cormac frowned. “Did you see Daybright?”

“She appeared humanoid, cloaked in flame. I couldn’t see anything, really.”

“Good. I’m assuming you veiled yourself, too.”

Only by pure dumb luck. “Yeah.”

Cormac paced in front of the TV. “But she said nothing of Sofie?”

Ruhn hadn’t even thought to ask. Guilt twisted in his gut. “No.”

Cormac dragged his hands through his short blond hair. “And no updates on the Asteri’s mech-suit prototype being sent along the Spine?”

“No. She only told me to tell you that safe passage is granted under the light of the waning moon.”

Cormac sighed. Whatever that meant. But Declan asked as he emerged from the kitchen, cup of coffee in hand, “So what now? Ruhn waits for her to call with intel about this raid on the Spine?”

Cormac sneered at Declan. Avallen snob to the core. He said to Ruhn, “Remind me, cousin, why you felt the need to involve these two fools in our business?”

“Remind me,” Ruhn countered, “why I’m working with someone who insults my brothers?”

Dec and Flynn smirked at Cormac, who seethed, but finally sighed. The Avallen Prince said, “To answer your question, Declan Emmett, yes: Ruhn will wait until Daybright contacts him with details on the Spine raid. Or until I have something for him to pass along, in which case he’ll contact her again.”

Flynn leaned back on the couch, propping his arms behind his head. “Sounds boring.”

“Lives are at stake,” Cormac gritted out. “This hit on the Spine, attaining that new mech-suit prototype before the Asteri can use it against us on the battlefields, will give us a fighting chance.”

“Not to mention all the weapons you’ll loot from the supply trains,” Declan said darkly.

Cormac ignored his tone. “We don’t do anything unless it’s been approved by Command. So wait until you hear from me before you contact her again.”

Fine. He could do that. Go about his life, pretending he wasn’t a sort-of rebel. Only until he wanted out, Cormac had promised. And after that … he’d go back to what he’d been doing. To leading the Aux and hating his father yet dreading the day the male died. Until the next person who needed him for something came along.

Flynn grinned. “Bureaucracy at its finest.”

Cormac scowled at the Fae lord, but stalked for the front door. “I need to head out.”

“Hunting for Emile?” Ruhn asked. It was the middle of the morning—the kid would likely be lying low.

Cormac nodded. “Being a visiting prince allows me the cover of … sightseeing, as you call it here. And as a tourist, I’ve taken a keen interest in your Black Dock and its customs.”

“Morbid,” Declan said.

Ruhn blurted, “You can’t think Emile’s going to jump into one of the black boats in broad daylight.”

“I’ll look for him both by the light of the sun and the moon, until I find him. But I’d rather ask casual questions of the Reapers during the day.”

“Are you insane?” Flynn said, laughing in disbelief.

Ruhn was inclined to agree. “Don’t fuck with the Reapers, Cormac,” he warned. “Even for Emile’s sake.”

Cormac patted a knife at his side. As if that would do anything to kill a creature that was already dead. “I know how to handle myself.”

“I told you this would happen,” Hunt snarled to Isaiah as their steps thundered along the hallway of Celestina’s private residence atop the third tower of the Comitium. Celestina had called this meeting in her own home, rather than in the public office Micah had always used.

“We don’t have the full scope yet,” Isaiah shot back, adjusting his tie and the lapels of his gray suit.

Celestina had tried to ease the harsh modernism that Micah had favored: plush rugs now softened the white marble floors, angular statues had been replaced by lush-bodied effigies of Cthona, and vases of fluffy, vibrant flowers graced nearly every table and console they passed.

It was a nice contrast, Hunt might have thought. Had they not been called here for a reason.

He kept reminding himself of that reason, that this was a triarii meeting and not some one-on-one session. That he wasn’t in Sandriel’s castle of horrors, where a trip to her private chambers ended in blood and screaming.

He inhaled once, thinking of Bryce, of her scent, the warmth of her body against his. It settled the edge in him, even as something far more lethal opened an eye. What they were doing with Cormac, all this rebel shit they’d agreed to go through with last night …

Hunt glanced sidelong at Isaiah as the male knocked on the open double doors of Celestina’s study. He could tell him. He needed someone like Isaiah, even-keeled and unflappable. Especially if Hel had a vested interest in the conflict. And Hunt himself.

He’d decided to ignore Apollion’s commands. He had no interest in playing right into Hel’s hands.

Celestina murmured her welcome, and Hunt braced himself as he followed Isaiah in.

Sunlight filled the glass-and-marble space, and all the hard-edged furniture had been replaced by lovely artisanal wood pieces, but Hunt only noted the two males sitting before the desk. Naomi leaned against the wall by the built-in bookcase to the right, face dark and lethal focus fixed upon the males.

Well, the one male. The reason they were here.

Pollux didn’t turn as they entered, and Hunt aimed for the chair beside Baxian. Isaiah could sit next to Pollux. Isaiah threw him a Thanks, asshole look, but Hunt scanned Celestina’s expression for clues.

Displeasure tightened the corners of her mouth, but her eyes were calm. Face full of contemplation. She wore pale purple robes, her curls spilling down her bare arms like a waterfall of night. She might have been a goddess, so still and lovely was she—might have been Cthona herself, voluptuous and full-bodied, were it not for the radiant wings that filled with the light of the sun shining through the windows behind her.

“I apologize for keeping my message brief,” Celestina said to Hunt, Isaiah, and Naomi. “But I did not want the full account on the record.”

Pollux and Baxian stared ahead at nothing. Or Hunt assumed that was the case, given that one of Baxian’s eyes was swollen shut, and Pollux’s face was one big magnificent bruise. That it remained this way after twelve hours suggested the initial damage had been impressive. He wished he could have seen it.

“We understand,” Isaiah said in that take-no-shit commander’s tone. “We share your disappointment.”

Celestina sighed. “Perhaps I was naïve in believing that I could introduce two Pangerans to this city without a more thorough education in its ways. To hand over the responsibility”—she glanced at Naomi, then at Hunt—“was my mistake.”

Hunt could have warned her about that. He kept his mouth shut.

“I would like to hear from you two, in your own words, about what happened,” the Archangel ordered Pollux and Baxian. The tone was pleasant, yet her eyes glinted with hidden steel. “Pollux? Why don’t you start?”

It was a thing of beauty, the way Pollux bristled in his seat, flowing golden hair still streaked with blood. The Hammer hated this. Absolutely fucking hated this, Hunt realized with no small amount of delight. Celestina’s kindness, her fairness, her softness … Pollux was chafing even worse than Hunt. He’d served enthusiastically under Sandriel—had relished her cruelty and games. Perhaps sending him to Celestina had been a punishment that even the Asteri had not anticipated.

But Pollux growled, “I was having some fun at a tavern.”

“Bar,” Hunt drawled. “We call them bars here.”

Pollux glared, but said, “The female was all over me. She said she wanted it.”

“Wanted what?” Celestina’s voice had taken on a decidedly icy tone.

“To fuck me.” Pollux leaned back in his chair.

“She said no such thing,” Baxian growled, wings shifting.

“And were you there every moment of the night?” Pollux demanded. “Though perhaps you were. You always pant after my scraps.”

Hunt met Isaiah’s wary stare. Some major tension had arisen between these two in the years since Hunt and Isaiah had left Sandriel’s territory.

Baxian bared his teeth in a feral grin. “Here I was, thinking your scraps were panting after me. They always seem so … unsatisfied when they leave your room.”

Pollux’s power—standard malakim magic, but strong—rattled the pretty trinkets along the built-in bookcase.

Celestina cut in, “That is enough.” Warm, summer-kissed power filled the room, smothering their own gifts. A feminine, unbreaking sort of magic—the kind that took no shit and would lay down the law if threatened. That was utterly unafraid of Pollux and the sort of male he was. She said to the Hammer, “Explain what happened.”

“We went into the alley behind the tavern”—he threw that last word at Hunt—“and she was all over me, as I said. Then the bastard”—he threw that one at Baxian—“attacked me.”

“And at what point did you not hear her say no?” Baxian challenged. “The first or the tenth time?”

Pollux snorted. “Some females say no when they want it. It’s a game for them.”

“You’re fucking delusional,” Naomi spat from across the room.

“Was I talking to you, hag?” Pollux snapped.

Enough.” Celestina’s power again filled the room, stifling any magic they might have summoned. She asked Baxian, “Why did you go into the alley after him?”

“Because I’ve spent decades with this asshole,” Baxian seethed. “I knew what was about to happen. I wasn’t going to let him go through with it.”

“You did plenty of times under Sandriel,” Isaiah said, voice low. “You and your whole triarii stood back.”

“You don’t know shit about what I did or didn’t do,” Baxian snapped at Isaiah, then said to Celestina, “Pollux deserved the beating I gave him.”

The Hammer bared his teeth. Hunt could only watch in something like shock.

“That may be true,” Celestina said, “but the fact remains that you two are in my triarii and your fight was filmed. And it’s now online and being aired by every news station.” Her gaze sharpened on Pollux. “I offered the female the chance to press charges—but she declined. I can only assume she is aware of what a circus it would be, and is frightened of the consequences for herself and her loved ones. I plan to fix that in this city. This territory. Even if it means making an example of one of my triarii.”

Hunt’s blood roiled, howling. Maybe this would be it. Maybe Pollux would finally get what was coming to him.

But Celestina’s throat worked. “I received a call this morning, however, and have seen the wisdom in … granting you a second chance.”

What?” Hunt blurted.

Pollux bowed his head in a mockery of gratitude. “The Asteri are benevolent masters.”

A muscle ticked in Celestina’s smooth cheek. “They are indeed.”

Naomi asked, “What about that one?” She gestured toward Baxian, who glared at her.

Celestina said, “I would like to grant you a second chance as well, Helhound.”

“I defended that female,” Baxian snapped.

“You did, and I commend you for that. But you did so in a public way that drew attention.” Not only the city’s attention. The Asteri’s.

Again, Celestina’s throat bobbed.

Isaiah asked a shade gently, “What can we do to help clean up this mess?”

She kept her stare on her wooden desk, thick lashes nearly grazing her high cheekbones. “It is already done. To give the media something else to focus on, the Asteri have blessed me with an opportunity. A gift.”

Even Pollux dropped his simpering bullshit to angle his head. Hunt braced himself. This couldn’t be good.

Celestina smiled, and Hunt saw it for the forced expression it was. “I am to mate Ephraim. With two Archangels now dead, there is a need to … replenish the ranks. On the Autumnal Equinox, we shall have our mating ceremony here in Lunathion.”

A month away. The holiday known as Death’s Day was a lively one, despite its name: it was a day of balance between the light and dark, when the veil between the living and dead was thinnest. Cthona began her preparations for her upcoming slumber then, but in Lunathion, raging costume parties were held along the Istros River at the various Sailing points. The biggest party of all surrounded the Black Dock, where lanterns were sent across the water to the Bone Quarter, along with offerings of food and drink. It had been a total shitshow every time Hunt had flown above the festivities. He could only imagine what Bryce would wear. Something as irreverent as possible, he imagined.

Celestina went on, “He shall stay here for a few weeks, then return to his territory. After that, he and I shall alternate visiting each other’s territories.” Until a baby was born, no doubt.

Naomi asked, “This is a good thing, right?”

Celestina again gave them that forced smile. “Ephraim has been my friend for many years and is a fair and wise male. I can think of no better partner.”

Hunt sensed the lie. But such was the lot of Archangels: should the Asteri decide they were to breed, they obeyed.

“Congratulations?” Isaiah said, and Celestina laughed.

“Yes, I suppose those are in order,” she said. But her amusement faded upon facing Pollux—the cause of this. He’d embarrassed this city, embarrassed her, and the Asteri had taken notice. And now she would pay. Not for what Pollux had tried to do to that female, but for getting caught by the public. The Asteri would take this opportunity to remind her exactly how much control they had over her. Her life. Her body.

Hunt didn’t know why they bothered to care, why they’d gone so far out of their way to prove a point, but … nothing surprised him where they were concerned. Hunt’s blood began to heat, his temper with it. Fucking monsters.

“With my mating announcement, we will have a media frenzy. The ceremony and party will be a high-profile event. Royals and dignitaries will attend, along with Ephraim’s retinue.”

Pollux straightened at that, delight in his bruised eyes. Celestina leveled that cold stare at him again. “I hope that with the Hind coming to visit, you will refrain from behaving as you did last night.”

Baxian snorted. “Never stopped him before.”

Pollux bared his teeth again, but Celestina went on, “Hunt, I’d like a word with you. The rest of you are dismissed.” Hunt froze, but said nothing as the others filed out. Isaiah and Naomi gave him warning looks before shutting the doors behind them.

Alone with his Archangel, Hunt forced himself to breathe. To keep steady.

She was going to rip into him for not controlling Baxian last night. For not being there to stop him from brawling, even if he’d been given no order to watch over him at all hours of the day. The punishment was coming, he could sense it—

“The Autumn King informed me of Miss Quinlan’s engagement to Crown Prince Cormac of Avallen,” Celestina said.

Hunt blinked.

She continued, “I was hoping you could provide insight into the situation, considering that they will be expected to attend my mating celebration together.”

He hadn’t thought of that. That this would even be something to discuss. And after what they’d done last night … Could he stomach it, seeing her in the arms of another male, even if it was just pretend?

“It’s an arranged marriage,” Hunt said. “Their fathers insist.”

“I’d assumed so.” Celestina’s mouth tightened. “I’m curious how you are feeling. You and Miss Quinlan are close.”

“Yeah. We are.” Hunt rubbed his neck. “We’re dealing with it day by day,” he admitted.

Celestina studied him, and Hunt made himself hold her gaze. Found nothing but … consideration and worry there. “You are exactly as I thought you’d be.”

Hunt arched a brow.

Celestina’s eyes fell to her hands, fingers twisting. “Shahar was my friend, you know. My dearest friend. We kept it quiet. The Asteri wouldn’t have approved. Shahar was already defying them in small ways when she and I became close, and she thought they would see our friendship as an alliance and try to … stop it.”

Hunt’s heart stumbled. “She never said anything.”

“Our correspondence over the years was covert. And when you rebelled … I had nothing to offer her. My legion in Nena is—was—an extension of the Asteri’s forces.”

“You could have offered your own power.” Fuck, one more Archangel fighting with them that day—

“I have lived with the consequences of my choice since then,” Celestina said.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I heard the whispers that you did what I had longed to do since I learned about Shahar’s death at Sandriel’s hands. What I longed to do every time I had to sit in the Asteri’s council room and listen to Sandriel spit on her sister’s memory.”

Holy shit.

“And I would like to apologize for my failure to extract you from the masters who held you in the years after Shahar fell.”

“That’s not your fault.”

“I tried—but it wasn’t enough.”

Hunt’s brows bunched. “What?”

She set her hands on the desk. Interlaced her fingers. “I amassed funds to … purchase you, but the Asteri denied me. I tried three times. I had to stop a century ago—it would have raised suspicions had I continued.”

She had sympathized with the Fallen. With his cause. “All for Shahar?”

“I couldn’t let someone she cared for rot away like that. I wish …” She blew out a breath. “I wish they’d let me buy you. So many things might be different now.”

It could all be a lie. A lovely, clever lie to get him to trust her. If she’d sympathized with the Fallen, did she share the same sentiments about the Ophion rebels? If he told her all that was brewing in this city, would she damn them or help them?

“The doubt in your eyes shames me.” For all the world, she sounded like she meant it.

“I just find it hard to believe that during all the shit I went through, someone was out there, trying to help me.”

“I understand. But perhaps I might atone for my failures now. I’d like us to be … friends.”

Hunt opened his mouth, then shut it. “Thank you.” He meant it, he realized.

Celestina smiled, like she understood it, too. “I’m at your disposal should you need anything. Anything at all.”

He weighed the kind expression on her face. Did she know about Ophion and Cormac and Sofie? She’d somehow learned about him killing Sandriel, so she clearly was able to attain secret information.

Hunt breathed deeply, calming himself as he said again, “Thank you.” He rose from his chair. “Since we’re being honest here … Sandriel’s old triarii is poison. I don’t know why Baxian is suddenly playing good guy, but I’m sorry I wasn’t there to rein him in last night.”

“I don’t hold you accountable for that.”

Something tight eased in Hunt’s chest. He went on, “Okay, but the rest … They’re dangerous people. Worse than the Princes of Hel.”

She chuckled. “You compare them like you know from experience.”

He did. But he hedged, “I hunted demons for years. I know a monster when I see one. So when the Harpy and the Hawk and the Hind come for the mating party … I’m begging you to be careful. To protect the people of this city. We might give Baxian shit about standing by while Pollux terrorized people, but … I had to stand by, too. I’ve seen what Pollux does, what he delights in. The Harpy is his female counterpart. The Hawk is secretive and dangerous. And the Hind …”

“I know very well what manner of threat Lidia Cervos poses.”

Even Archangels feared the Hind. What she might learn. And Celestina, secret friend to Shahar, who still cared about her friend centuries later, who carried the guilt of not helping … “Whatever you need,” Hunt said quietly, “anything you need to get through this mating ceremony, to deal with Sandriel’s cabal, you let me know.”

Perhaps the Asteri had redistributed Sandriel’s triarii here not only to balance out the numbers, but to plant allies and spies. To report on Hunt—and Celestina.

She nodded solemnly. “Thank you, Hunt.”

He strode for the door, tucking in his wings. He halted at the doorway. “You don’t need to feel guilty, you know. About the shit that happened to me.”

She angled her head. “Why?”

He gave her a half smile. “If I’d gone to you in Nena, I never would have come here. To Lunathion.” His smile broadened as he walked out. “I never would have met Bryce.”

And every horror, every nightmare … all of it had been worth it for her.

Hunt found Baxian waiting at the end of the hallway, the male’s arms crossed, bruised face solemn. “How’d your special time go?” Baxian asked by way of greeting.

“What the fuck do you want?” Hunt strode toward the veranda at the far end of the hall. He’d pay Bryce a lunchtime visit. Maybe they’d get naked. That sounded really fucking good.

“The old gang’s getting back together in a few weeks. I assume you were warning Celestina about it.”

“You’re a bunch of sadistic psychos.” Hunt stepped onto the empty veranda. The wind whipped at his hair, carrying the fresh scent of the Istros from across the city. Storm clouds gathered on the horizon, and lightning danced in his veins. “I’d hardly call you the old gang.”

Baxian’s mouth twitched upward, bruises stretching.

Hunt said, “I’m not buying whatever bullshit you’re selling by beating the Hel out of Pollux.”

“New city, new rules,” Baxian said, black feathers rustling. “New boss, who doesn’t seem to like Pollux all that much.”

“So?” Hunt spread his wings.

“So I don’t have to pretend anymore,” Baxian said. He lifted his face to the darkening sky. “Storm’s coming. Be careful up there.”

“Thanks for your concern.” Hunt flapped once, feet lifting.

“I’m not trying to fuck you over.”

“You’re trying to be a pain in my ass, then?”

Baxian snorted. “Yeah, I guess.”

Hunt settled back to the ground. “What was that shit with you and Pollux—about his seconds?”

Baxian slid his hands into his pockets. “He’s a jealous fucker. You know that.”

Hunt could think of only one person Pollux had ever shown any preference for beyond Sandriel. “You have a thing for the Hind?”

Baxian barked a laugh. “Fuck no. Pollux is the only person insane enough to go near her. I wouldn’t touch Lidia with a ten-foot pole.”

Hunt studied the male who had been his enemy for so long he’d lost track of the years. Something had changed. Something big, and primal, and … “What the fuck went on with Sandriel after I left?”

Baxian smirked. “Who says it had anything to do with Sandriel?”

“Why can’t anyone give me a direct answer these days?”

Baxian cocked a brow. Thunder growled its warning in the distance. “You tell me your secrets, Athalar, and I’ll tell you mine.”

Hunt flipped him off. He didn’t bother saying goodbye before launching into the darkening sky.

But he couldn’t shake the sense that Baxian continued to watch him. As if he’d left something vital hanging in the balance. It seemed only a matter of time before it returned to bite him in the ass.


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