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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 42

Bryce was just walking down the shining hallway to Celestina’s office when her phone rang.

Juniper. Bryce sent her to audiomail. A message came through instead. Call back now.

Dread burning like acid through her, Bryce dialed, praying nothing had happened with Fury—

Juniper answered on the first ring. “How dare you?”

Bryce halted. “What?”

“How dare you call Gorgyn?”

“I …” Bryce swallowed. “What happened?”

“I’m principal, that’s what happened!”

“And that’s a bad thing?” She was due to meet with Celestina in one minute. She couldn’t be late.

“It’s a bad thing because everyone knows that Princess Bryce Danaan put in a call and threatened to pull the Autumn King’s donations if CCB didn’t recognize my talent!”

“So what?” Bryce hissed. “Isn’t this the only bit of good that being a princess entails?”

“No! It’s the opposite!” Juniper was absolutely screaming with rage. Bryce started shaking. “I have worked my entire life for this, Bryce! My entire life! And you step in and take that accomplishment away from me! Make yourself—not me, not my talent—into the reason I got this promotion, the reason I made history! You, not me. Not me sticking it out, fighting through it, but my Fae Princess friend, who couldn’t leave well enough alone!”

The clock chimed in the hallway. Bryce had to go. Had to talk to the Archangel.

“Look, I’m about to go into a meeting,” she said as evenly as she could, though she thought she might puke. “But I’ll call you back right after, I promise. I’m so sorry if—”

“Don’t bother,” June snapped.


The faun hung up.

Bryce focused on her breathing. She needed one of Kyrah’s dance classes. Immediately. Needed to sweat and breathe and majorly unload and analyze the tornado wreaking havoc inside her. But this meeting … She squared her shoulders, putting away the fight, the fact that she’d fucked everything up, had been so arrogant and stupid and—

She knocked on the door to Celestina’s office. “Enter,” came the sweet female voice.

Bryce smiled at the Governor as if she hadn’t destroyed a friendship moments ago. “Your Grace,” Bryce said, inclining her head.

“Your Highness,” Celestina answered, and Bryce reined in a wince. It was how she’d gotten this meeting, too. She’d asked the Archangel to meet not as Bryce Quinlan, but as a Princess of the Fae. It was an invitation even an Archangel had to agree to.

She wondered how it’d come back to haunt her.

“Just for this meeting,” Bryce said, sitting down. “I’ve come to make a formal request.”

“For the return of Hunt Athalar, I take it.” A tired, sad sort of light gleamed in the Governor’s eyes.

“A temporary return,” Bryce said, and leaned back in her chair. “I know he bailed on you at your party. If I’d been aware he was doing that, I would never have asked him to assist me that night. So—totally feel free to punish him. You have my blessing.”

It was a lie, but Celestina’s lips twitched upward. “How long do you want him for?”

“A night.” To go to the Coronal Islands and back before Pippa Spetsos and her cabal could get there. To convince whoever Command sent not to give Spetsos free rein to unleash those weapons on Valbara. “We figured we’d take the arrow train instead of driving the eight hours each way. I promised my mother I’d bring him home with me. If he doesn’t come, there will be Hel to pay.” Another lie.

But the Governor smiled fully at that. “Your mother is … a fearsome creature?”

“Oh yeah. And if Hunt’s not there, every bad thing she thinks about him will be confirmed.”

“She doesn’t like him?”

“She doesn’t like any male. No one is good enough for me, according to her. You have no idea how hard dating was when I was younger.”

“Try being an Archangel in a small community,” Celestina said, and smiled genuinely.

Bryce grinned. “Everyone was intimidated?”

“Some ran screaming.”

Bryce laughed, and marveled that she did so. Hated that she had to lie to this warm, kind female.

Celestina hooked a curl behind her ear. “So a great deal is riding on Athalar’s visit.”

“Yeah. It’s not like I need her permission to be with him, but it … It’d be nice to have her approval.”

“I’m sure it would.” Celestina’s smile turned sad.

Bryce knew it wasn’t her place, but she asked, “How are you and Ephraim getting along?”

A shadow flickered across Celestina’s face, confirmation that she wasn’t contented. “He’s a thorough lover.”


She said deliberately, warning sharpening her voice, “But he has been my friend for many years. I find that I am now getting to know him in a whole new way.”

Celestina deserved so much more than that. Bryce sighed. “I know you’re, like … an Archangel, but if you ever need some girl talk … I’m here.”

The last Governor she’d spoken to had tried to kill her. And she’d put a bullet in his head. This was a nice change.

Celestina smiled again, that warmth—and relief—returning to her features. “I’d like that very much, Your Highness.”

“Bryce in this instance.”

“Bryce.” Her eyes twinkled. “Take Athalar home. And keep him there.”

Bryce’s brows rose. “Permanently?”

“Not at your parents’ house. I mean take him with you to your family, and then he may live with you once more. He’s been moping around so much that he’s bringing down morale. I’ll send him your way tomorrow morning. Let him stew one more night before I tell him at dawn.”

Bryce beamed. “Thank you. I mean it, thank you so much.”

But the Governor waved a hand. “You’re doing me a favor, trust me.”

Bryce made a call on her way to her next stop.

Fury answered right before it went to audiomail. “You fucked up, Bryce.”

Bryce cringed. “I know. I’m really sorry.”

“I get why you did it. I really do. But she is devastated.”

Bryce stepped off the elevator and swallowed the lump in her throat. “Please tell her I’m so sorry. I’m so freaking sorry. I was trying to help, and I didn’t think.”

“I know,” Fury said. “But I’m not getting in the middle of this.”

“You’re her girlfriend.”

“Exactly. And you’re her friend. And mine. I’m not playing the messenger. Give her some time, then try to talk it out.”

Bryce sagged against a worn wall. “Okay. How long?”

“A few weeks.”

“That’s ages!”

“Devastated. Remember?”

Bryce rubbed at her chest, the unlit scar there. “Fuck.”

“Start thinking of big ways to apologize,” Fury said. Then added, “You ever figure that thing out with Danika or the kid?”

“Not yet. Want to help?” It was as much as she’d risk saying on the phone.

“No. I’m not getting in the middle of that shit, either.”


“I have a lot of good things going on right now,” Fury said. “June is one of them. I’m not jeopardizing any of it. Or her safety.”


“Big apology. Don’t forget.” Fury hung up.

Bryce swallowed her nausea, her self-disgust and hatred. She walked down the quiet hall to a familiar door, then knocked. She was rewarded by the sight of Hunt opening the door, shirtless and wearing his backward sunball hat. Gleaming with sweat. He must have just returned from the gym.

He jolted. “What are you—”

She cut him off with a kiss, throwing her arms around his neck.

He laughed, but his hands encircled her waist, lifting her high enough that she wrapped her legs around his middle. He slowed the kiss, his tongue driving deep, exploring her mouth. “Hi,” he said against her lips, and kissed her again.

“I wanted to tell you the news,” she said, kissing his jaw, his neck. He’d already hardened against her. She went molten.

“Yeah?” His hands roamed over her ass, kneading and stroking.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said, kissing his mouth again and again. “You’re outta here.”

He dropped her. Not entirely, but swiftly enough that her feet hit the ground with a thud. “What?”

She ran her hands down his sweat-slick, muscled chest, then toyed with the band of his pants. Ran a finger up the length of him jutting out with impressive demand. “We’re going on a little vacation. So do a good job of seeming like you’re still brooding tonight.”

“What?” he repeated.

She kissed his pec, running her mouth over the taut brown nipple. He groaned softly, his hand sliding into her hair. “Pack a swimsuit,” she murmured.

A male voice chuckled behind them, and Bryce went rigid, whirling to find Pollux, arm slung around a beautiful female’s shoulders, walking by. “Is he paying you by the hour?” the Hammer asked.

The female—the Hind—snickered, but said nothing as they approached. Solas, she was … beautiful and terrible. She’d tortured countless people. Killed them—probably including Sofie Renast. If Cormac saw her, if he got this close, would he take the risk and try to end her?

The Hind’s amber eyes gleamed as they met Bryce’s, as if she knew every thought in her head. The deer shifter smiled in invitation.

But the Hind and the Hammer continued on, for all the world looking like a normal couple from behind. Bryce couldn’t help herself as she said to Pollux’s back, “You really need to come up with some new material, Pollux.”

He glared over a shoulder, white wings tucking in tight. But Bryce smiled sweetly and he, mercifully, kept walking, his wretched lover with him.

Bryce found Hunt smiling beside her, and it lightened any guilt about Juniper, any frustration with Fury, any fear and dread at being so close to the Hind, even as she yearned to tell him everything. Hunt tugged her hand, making to pull her into his room, but she planted her feet. “Tomorrow morning,” she said hoarsely, her very bones aching with need. “Meet me at home.”

She’d tell him everything then. All the insane shit that had gone on since they’d last seen each other.

Hunt nodded, hearing what she didn’t say. He tugged her again, and she went to him, tilting back her head to receive his kiss. His hand slipped down the front of her leggings. He growled against her mouth as his fingers found the slickness waiting for him.

She whimpered as he rubbed over her clit in a luxurious, taunting circle. “I’ll see you at dawn, Quinlan.”

With a nip at her bottom lip, Hunt stepped back into his room. And as he shut the door, he licked his fingers clean.

Ithan blinked at the phone ringing in his hand.


Every Valbaran wolf had the Prime’s number in their phones. But Ithan had never once called it, and the Prime of Wolves had never once called him. It couldn’t be good.

He halted midway down the alley, neon signs casting pools of color on the cobblestones beneath his boots. Sucking in a breath, he answered, “Hello?”

“Ithan Holstrom.”

He bowed his head, even though the Prime couldn’t see him. “Yes, Prime.”

The withered old voice was heavy with age. “I was informed today that you are no longer residing at the Den.”

“On Sabine’s order, yes.”


Ithan swallowed. He didn’t dare say why. Sabine would deny it anyway. Sabine was the male’s daughter.

“Tell me why.” A hint of the Alpha the Prime had been during his younger years came through in his voice. This male had made the Fendyr family a force to be reckoned with in Valbara.

“Perhaps ask your daughter.”

“I want to hear it from you, pup.”

Ithan’s throat worked. “It was punishment for disobeying her orders during the attack this spring and helping the humans in Asphodel Meadows. And punishment for praising Bryce Quinlan’s actions during the attack in a magazine article.”

“I see.” Apparently, that was all the Prime needed. “What do you plan to do now?”

Ithan straightened. “I’m, ah, living with Prince Ruhn Danaan and his friends. Helping them out in the Fae division of the Aux.” Helping with a rebellion.

“Is that where you wish to be?”

“Is there an alternative?”

A drawn-out, too-tense pause. “I would make you Alpha of your own pack. You have it in you—I’ve sensed it. For too long, you have suppressed it so others might lead.”

The ground beneath Ithan seemed to rock. “I … What about Sabine?” Ithan’s head swirled.

“I shall deal with my daughter, if this is what you choose.”

Ithan had no fucking idea who’d even be in his pack. He’d locked himself out so thoroughly from old friends and family after Connor’s death that he’d only bothered to associate with Amelie’s pack. Perry was the closest thing he had to a friend at the Den, and she’d never leave her sister’s side. Ithan swallowed hard. “I’m honored, but … I need to think about this.”

“You have been through a great deal, boy. Take the time you need to decide, but know the offer stands. I would not lose another wolf of worth—especially to the Fae.” Before Ithan could say goodbye, the old wolf hung up. Stunned and reeling, Ithan leaned against one of the brick buildings in the alley. Alpha.

But … an Alpha in Sabine’s shadow, once the Prime was gone. Sabine would be his Prime. Amelie would reign as her Prime Apparent. And then Prime, when Sabine herself was gone.

He had little interest in serving either of them. But … was it a betrayal of the wolves, of his brother’s legacy, to leave the Valbaran packs to Sabine’s cruelty?

He brushed his hair back from his face. It was longer than it’d ever been while playing sunball. He couldn’t tell if he liked it or not.

Fuck, he couldn’t tell if he liked himself or not.

Straightening, Ithan pushed off the wall and finished his walk, arriving at his destination. The towering doors to the Astronomer’s building of horrors were shut. Ithan pulled the crescent moon door chime once.

No answer.

He pulled it a second time, then pressed an ear to one of the metal doors, listening for any hint of life. Not even a footstep, though he could make out the hum of the machines beyond. He knocked twice, and then pressed his shoulder into the door. It opened with a groan, nothing but darkness beyond. Ithan slipped in, silently shutting the heavy door behind him. “Hello?”

Nothing. He aimed for the faint, pale glow of the three tanks in the center of the cavernous space. He’d never seen anything so strange and unsettling—the three beings who’d been sold into this life. Existence. This sure as fuck wasn’t a life.

Not that he’d know. He hadn’t had one in two years.

Their visit last week had lingered like an unhealed wound.

He might have walked out of here condemning everything he’d seen, but he’d still given the Astronomer his money. Kept this place running.

He knew it bugged Bryce, but she’d been swept back into the shit with Danika, and as a princess, her hands were tied as far as a public scene. Especially when she walked such a dangerous line these days—any additional bit of scrutiny might be her downfall.

But no one gave a fuck about him. No matter what the Prime had said.

“Hello?” he called again, the word echoing into the dimness.

“He’s not here,” rasped a hoarse female voice.

Ithan whirled, reaching for his gun as he scanned the darkness. His wolf-sight pierced through it, allowing him to make out the speaker’s location. His hand dropped from his hip at the sight of her.

Long chestnut-brown hair draped over her too-thin, pale limbs, her body clad in that white shift that all three mystics wore. Her dark eyes were still—like she was only half-there. A face that might have been pretty, if it weren’t so gaunt. So haunted.

Ithan swallowed, slowly approaching where she huddled against the wall, bony knees clutched to her chest. “I wanted to see your … boss.”

He couldn’t say owner, even though that’s what the old creep was. In the gloom, he could make out a worktable beyond the mystic sitting on the floor, with a small box atop it. Light filtered out from the box, and he had a good idea of what was kept inside it. Who were kept inside, trapped in those four rings, which were apparently valuable enough that the old male had left them behind, rather than risk them in the city at large.

The mystic’s rasping voice sounded as if she hadn’t spoken in ages. “He put the other two back in, but didn’t have the part he needed to fix my machine. He’s at the Meat Market, meeting with the Viper Queen.”

Ithan sniffed, trying to get a read on her. All he could get from this distance was salt. Like it had brined the scent right out of her. “You know when he’ll be back?”

She only stared at him, like she was still hooked up to the machine beyond them. “You were the one who freed me.” Solas, she sat with such … Vanir stillness. He’d never realized how much he moved until he stood before her. And he’d considered himself capable of a wolf’s utter stillness.

“Yeah, sorry.” But the word stuck—freed. She’d been pleading to go back. He’d assumed she’d meant into the between-place where the mystics roamed, but … What if she’d meant this world—back to her life before? The family who had sold her into this?

Not his problem, not his issue to solve. But he still asked, “Are you okay?” She didn’t look okay. She sat the way he had in his dorm bathroom the night he’d learned that Connor was dead.

The mystic only said, “He will be back soon.”

“Then I’ll wait for him.”

“He will not be pleased.”

Ithan offered her a reassuring smile. “I can pay, don’t worry.”

“You’ve caused him a great deal of inconvenience. He’ll kick you out.”

Ithan took a step closer. “Can you help me, then?”

“I can’t do anything unless I’m in the tank. And I don’t know how to use the machines to ask the others.”

“All right.”

She angled her head. “What do you want to know?”

He swallowed hard. “Was it true, what the demon prince said, about my brother being safe for now?”

She frowned, her full mouth unnaturally pale. “I could only sense the other’s terror,” she said, nodding toward the tanks. “Not what was said.”

Ithan rubbed the back of his neck. “All right. Thanks. That’s all I needed.” He had to know for sure that Connor was safe. There had to be some way to help him.

She said, “You could find a necromancer. They would know the truth.”

“Necromancers are few and far between, and highly regulated,” Ithan said. “But thanks again. And, uh … good luck.”

He turned back toward the doors. The mystic shifted slightly, and the movement sent a whisper of her scent toward him. Snow and embers and—

Ithan went rigid. Whirled to her. “You’re a wolf. What are you doing here?”

She didn’t answer.

“Your pack allowed this to happen?” Rage boiled his blood. Claws appeared at his fingertips.

“My parents had no pack,” she said hoarsely. “They roamed the tundra of Nena with me and my ten siblings. My gifts became apparent when I was three. By four, I was in there.” She pointed to the tank, and Ithan recoiled in horror.

A wolf family had sold their pup, and she’d gone into that tank—

“How long?” he asked, unable to stop his trembling anger. “How long have you been in here?”

She shook her head. “I … I don’t know.”

“When were you born? What year?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even remember how long it’s been since I made the Drop. He had some official come here to mark it, but … I don’t remember.”

Ithan rubbed at his chest. “Solas.” She appeared as young as him, but among the Vanir, that meant nothing. She could be hundreds of years old. Gods, how had she even made the Drop here? “What’s your name? Your family name?”

“My parents never named me, and I never learned their names beyond Mother and Father.” Her voice sharpened—a hint of temper shining through. “You should leave.”

“You can’t be in here.”

“There’s a contract that suggests otherwise.”

“You are a wolf,” he snarled. “You’re kept in a fucking cage here.” He’d go right to the Prime. Make him order the Astronomer to free this unnamed female.

“My siblings and parents are able to eat and live comfortably because I am here. That will cease when I am gone. They will again starve.”

“Too fucking bad,” Ithan said, but he could see it—the determination in her expression that told him he wasn’t going to pry her out of here. And he could understand it, that need to give over all of herself so that her family could survive. So he amended, “My name is Ithan Holstrom. You ever want to get out of here, send word.” He had no idea how, but … maybe he’d check in on her every few months. Come up with excuses to ask her questions.

Caution flooded her eyes, but she nodded.

It occurred to him then that she was likely sitting on the cold floor because her thin legs had atrophied from being in the tank for so long. That old piece of shit had left her here like this.

Ithan scanned the space for anything resembling a blanket and found nothing. He only had his T-shirt, and as he reached for the hem, she said, “Don’t. He’ll know you were here.”


She shook her head. “He’s possessive. If he even thinks I’ve had contact with someone other than him, he’ll send me down to Hel with an unimportant question.” She trembled slightly. He’d done it before.


“Demons like to play,” she whispered.

Ithan’s throat closed up. “You sure you don’t want to leave? I can carry you right now, and we’ll figure out the other shit. The Prime will protect you.”

“You know the Prime?” Her voice filled with whispered awe. “I only heard my parents speak of him, when I was young.”

So they hadn’t been entirely shut off from the world, then. “He’ll help you. I’ll help you.”

Her face again became aloof. “You must go.”


“Fine,” she echoed back, with a hint of that temper again. A bit of dominance that had the wolf in him perking up.

He met her stare. Not just a bit of dominance … that was a glimmer of an Alpha’s dominance. His knees buckled slightly, his wolf instinct weighing whether to challenge or bow.

An Alpha. Here, in a tank. She would likely have been her family’s heir, then. Had they known what she was, even at age four? He suppressed a growl. Had her parents sent her here because she’d be a threat to their rule over the family?

But Ithan shoved the questions aside. Backed toward the doors again. “You should have a name.”

“Well, I don’t,” she shot back.

Definitely Alpha, with that tone, that glimmer of unbending backbone.

Someone the wolf in him would have liked to tangle with.

And to leave her here … It didn’t sit right. With him, with the wolf in his heart, broken and lonely as it might have been. He had to do something. Anything. But since she clearly wasn’t going to leave this place … Maybe there was someone else he could help.

Ithan eyed the small box on the worktable, and didn’t question himself as he snatched it up. She tried and failed to rise, her weakened legs betraying her. “He will kill you for taking them—”

Ithan strode to the doors, the box of fire sprites trapped inside their rings in hand. “If he’s got a problem with it, he can take it up with the Prime.” And explain why he was holding a wolf captive in here.

Her throat bobbed, but she said nothing more.

So Ithan stalked outside, onto the jarringly normal street beyond, and shut the heavy door behind him. But despite the distance he quickly put between himself and the mystics, his thoughts circled back to her, again and again.

The wolf with no name, trapped in the dark.

“I’m requesting an aquatic team of twenty-five for tomorrow,” Tharion said to his queen, hands clenched behind his back, tail fanning idly in the river current. The River Queen sat in her humanoid form among a bed of rocky coral beside her throne, weaving sea nettle, her dark blue gown drifting around her.

“No,” she said simply.

Tharion blinked. “We have solid intel that this shipment is coming from Pangera, and that Pippa Spetsos is likely already there. You want me to capture her, to interrogate her about Emile’s whereabouts, I’m going to need backup.”

“And have so many witnesses mark the Blue Court’s involvement?”

What is our involvement? Tharion didn’t dare ask. What’s your stake in this beyond wanting the kid’s power?

His queen went on, “You will go, and go alone. I take it your current cadre of … people will be with you.”


“That should be enough to question her, given your companions’ powers.”

“Even five mer agents—”

“Just you, Tharion.”

He couldn’t stop himself as he said, “Some people might think you were trying to kill me off, you know.”

Slowly, so slowly, the River Queen turned from her weaving. He could have sworn a tremor went through the riverbed. But her voice was dangerously smooth as she said, “Then defend my honor against such slander and return alive.”

He clenched his jaw, but bowed his head. “Shall I say goodbye to your daughter, then? In case it is my last chance to do so?”

Her lips curled upward. “I think you’ve caused her enough distress already.”

The words struck true. She might be a monster in so many ways, but she was right about him in that regard. So Tharion swam into the clear blue, letting the current pound the anger from his head.

If there was a chance of attaining Emile’s power, the River Queen would snatch it up.

Tharion hoped he had it in himself to stop her.

The chairs had turned into velvet couches on the dream bridge.

Ruhn slid into his, surveying the endless dark surrounding him. He peered past the fainting couch to Day’s “side.” If he were to follow her that way, would he wind up in her mind? See the things she saw? Look through her eyes and know who she was, where she was? Would he be able to read every thought in her head?

He could speak into someone’s mind, but to actually enter it, to read thoughts as his cousins in Avallen could … Was this how they did it? It seemed like such a gross violation. But if she invited him, if she wanted him in there, could he manage it?

Flame rippled before him, and there she was, sprawled on the couch.

“Hey,” he said, sitting back in his couch.

“Any information to report?” she said by way of greeting.

“So we’re doing the formal thing tonight.”

She sat up straighter. “This bridge is a path for information. It’s our first and greatest duty. If you’re coming here for someone to flirt with, I suggest you look elsewhere.”

He snorted. “You think I’m flirting with you?”

“Would you say hey in that manner to a male agent?”

“Probably, yeah.” But he conceded, “Not with the same tone, though.”


“Well, you caught me. I’m ready for my punishment.”

She laughed, a full, throaty sound that he’d never heard before. “I don’t think you could handle the sort of punishment I dole out.”

His balls tightened; he couldn’t help it. “We talking … restraints? Flogging?”

He could have sworn he got a flash of teeth biting into a lower lip. “Neither. I don’t care for any of that in bed. But what do you prefer?”

“It’s always the lady’s choice with me. I’m game for anything.”

She angled her head, a waterfall of flame spilling down the side of the couch, as if she draped long, lovely hair over it. “So you’re not a … dominant male.”

“Oh, I’m dominant,” he said, grinning. “I’m just not into pressuring my partners into doing anything they don’t like.”

She studied him at that. “You say dominant with such pride. Are you a wolf, then? Some sort of shifter?”

“Look who’s trying to figure me out now.”

“Are you?”

“No. Are you a wolf?”

“Do I seem like one to you?”

“No. You seem like …” Someone crafted of air and dreams and cold vengeance. “I’m guessing you’re in Sky and Breath.”

She went still. Had he struck true? “Why do you say that?”

“You remind me of the wind.” He tried to explain. “Powerful and able to cool or freeze with half a thought, shaping the world itself though no one can see you. Only your impact on things.” He added, “It seems lonely, now that I’m saying it.”

“It is,” she said, and he was stunned that she’d admitted it. “But thank you for the kind words.”

“Were they kind?”

“They were accurate. You see me. It’s more than I can say about anyone else.”

For a moment, they stared at each other. He was rewarded by a shifting of her flame, revealing large eyes that swept upward at the edges—crafted of fire, but he could still make out their shape. The clarity in them before her flame veiled her once more. He cleared his throat. “I guess I should tell you that the rebels were successful with their hit on the Spine. They’re bringing over the Asteri’s mech prototype to the Coronal Islands tomorrow night.”

She straightened. “Why?”

“I don’t know. I was told by—my informant. A rebel contingent will be there to receive the shipment. Where it goes from there, I don’t know.” Cormac wanted Athalar to examine the Asteri’s prototype—see how it differed from the humans’ that the angel had faced so often in battle.

Because Athalar was the only one among them who’d faced off against a mech-suit. Who’d apparently spent time in Pangera taking them apart and putting them back together again. Cormac, as he’d been fighting alongside the human rebels, had never battled one—and he wanted an outside opinion on whether replicating the Asteri’s model would be beneficial.

And because Athalar was going, Bryce was going. And because Bryce was going, Ruhn was going. And Tharion would join them, as the River Queen had ordered him to.

Flynn, Dec, and Ithan would remain—too many people going would raise suspicions. But they’d been pissed to learn of it. You’re benching poor Holstrom, Flynn had complained. Dec had added, Do you know what that does to a male’s ego? Ithan had only grunted his agreement, but hadn’t argued, a distant expression on his face. Like the wolf’s mind was elsewhere.

“Who’s going to be there?”

“He angled his head. “We got word that Pippa Spetsos and her Lightfall squadron will also be present. We have some questions for her about … a missing person.”

She straightened. “Is Spetsos being given command of the Valbaran front?”

“I don’t know. But we’re hoping we can convince whoever is there from Command otherwise. We suspect that she and Lightfall have left a trail of bodies all around the countryside.”

Day was quiet for a moment, then asked, “Do you know the name of the ship that’s carrying the prototype?”


“What island?”

“Why are you grilling me on this?”

“I want to make sure it’s not a trap.”

He grinned. “Because you’d miss me if I died?”

“Because of the information they’d squeeze from you before you did.”

“Cold, Day. Real cold.”

She laughed softly. “It’s the only way to survive.”

It was. “We’re going to Ydra. That’s all I know.”

She nodded, like the name meant something to her. “If they catch you, running is your best option. Don’t fight.”

“I’m not programmed that way.”

“Then reprogram yourself.”

He crossed his arms. “I don’t think I—”

Day hissed, bending over. She twitched, almost convulsing.


She sucked in a breath, then was gone.

“Day!” His voice echoed across the void.

He didn’t think. Launching over the fainting couch, he sprinted down her end of the bridge, into the dark and night, flinging himself after her—

Ruhn slammed into a wall of black adamant. Time slowed, bringing with it flashes of sensation. No images, all … touch.

Bones grinding in her left wrist from where it was being squeezed tight enough to hurt; it was the pain that had awoken her, pulled her away from the bridge—

Willing herself to yield, give over, become his, to find some way to savor this. Teeth scraping at her nipple, clamping down—

Ruhn collided with the ground, the sensations vanishing. He surged to his feet, pressing a palm against the black wall.

Nothing. No echo to tell him what was happening.

Well, he knew what was happening. He’d gotten the sense of very rough sex, and though he had the distinct feeling that it was consensual, it wasn’t … meaningful. Whoever slept at her side had woken her with it.

The impenetrable black loomed before him. The wall of her mind.

He had no idea why he waited. Why he stayed. Had no idea how much time passed until a flame once more emerged from that wall.

Her fire had banked enough that he could make out long legs walking toward him. Halting upon finding him kneeling. Then she dropped to her knees as well, flame again swallowing her whole.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes.” The word was a hiss of embers being extinguished.

“What was that?”

“You’ve never had sex before?”

He straightened at the slicing question. “Are you all right?” he asked again.

“I said I was.”

“You weren’t—”

“No. He asked, albeit a bit suddenly, and I said yes.”

Ruhn’s insides twisted at the utter iciness. “You don’t seem to have enjoyed it.”

“Is it your business whether I find release or not?”

“Did you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Did you orgasm?”

“That’s absolutely none of your business.”

“You’re right.”

Again, silence fell, but they remained kneeling there, face-to-face. She said after a tense moment, “I hate him. No one knows it, but I do. He disgusts me.”

“Then why sleep with him?”

“Because I …” A long sigh. “It’s complicated.”

“Indulge me.”

“Do you only sleep with people you like?”


“You’ve never fucked someone you hate?”

He considered, even as the sound of her saying the word fucked did something to his cock. “All right. Maybe once. But it was an ex.” A Fae female he’d dated decades ago, who he hadn’t cared to remember until now.

“Then you can think of this like that.”

“So he’s—”

“I don’t want to talk about him.”

Ruhn blew out a breath. “I wanted to make sure you’re okay. You scared the shit out of me.”


“One moment you were here, the next you were gone. It seemed like you were in pain.”

“Don’t be a fool and get attached enough to worry.”

“I’d be a monster not to care whether another person is hurt.”

“There’s no place for that in this war. The sooner you realize it, the less pain you’ll feel.”

“So we’re back to the ice-queen routine.”

She drew up. “Routine?”

“Where’s the wild and crazy female I was talking about bondage with earlier?”

She laughed. He liked the sound—it was low and throaty and predatory. Fuck, he liked that sound a lot. “You are such a typical Valbaran male.”

“I told you: Come visit me in Lunathion. I’ll show you a good time, Day.”

“So eager to meet me.”

“I like the sound of your voice. I want to know the face behind it.”

“That’s not going to happen. But thank you.” She added after a moment, “I like the sound of your voice, too.”


“Yeah.” She chuckled. “You’re trouble.”

“Is it cliché if I say that Trouble is my middle name?”

“Oh yes. Very.”

“What would your middle name be?” he teased.

Her flames pulled back, revealing those eyes of pure fire. “Retribution.”

He grinned wickedly. “Badass.”

She laughed again, and his cock hardened at the sound. “Goodbye, Night.”

“Where are you going?”

“To sleep. Properly.”

“Isn’t your body resting?”

“Yes, but my mind is not.”

He didn’t know why, but he gestured to her fainting couch. “Then sit back. Relax.”

“You want me to stay?”

“Honestly? Yeah. I do.”


“Because I feel calm around you. There’s so much shit going down, and I … I like being here. With you.”

“I don’t think most females would be flattered to be called ‘calming’ by a handsome male.”

“Who says I’m handsome?”

“You talk like someone who’s well aware of his good looks.”

“Like an arrogant asshole, then.”

“Your words, not mine.”

Day rose to her feet, striding to the fainting couch. Her flames rippled as she lay upon it, and Ruhn jumped onto his own couch.

“All I need is a TV and a beer and I’m set,” he said.

She snickered, curling on her side. “As I said: typical Valbaran male.”

Ruhn closed his eyes, bathing in the timbre of her voice. “You gotta work on those compliments, Day.”

Another chuckle, sleepier this time. “I’ll add it to my to-do list, Night.”


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