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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 59

Bryce couldn’t get a breath down.

The Asteri stared at them all like they could see through the screen. See them gathered here.

They must be able to, Bryce realized. Her hand slipped into Hunt’s, and he squeezed tight, a gray wing tucking around her. Gods, he was gorgeous tonight.

She’d figured this party was the only setting where her father wouldn’t dare challenge her. Where any union with Hunt could be verified and recognized by Archangels. She’d worn and done everything he’d ordered … all so she could get here tonight. Had raced up to the dais upon arriving so that she could announce Hunt as her mate before her father could introduce her as Cormac’s bride.

Relief and excitement—and a bit of smugness—had coursed through her. Her father would bring down the hammer later. But tonight … she’d celebrate her victory. She knew Hunt had as little interest in being a prince as she did in being a princess. But he’d done it. For her. For them.

She’d been about to drag Hunt into a closet or a cloakroom to fuck his brains out when the screen descended. And now, staring at the six immortal figures, at Rigelus’s boyish face …

Thankfully, other people in the room were shaking, too. Her heart pounded like a drum.

Celestina and Ephraim bowed, and everyone followed suit. Bryce’s legs wobbled on her heels as she did so. Hunt squeezed her hand again, but she kept her focus on the ground, hating the primal fear, the terror of knowing that these beings judged them, and with one word they might slay everyone, might slay her family—

“Our congratulations to you, Celestina and Ephraim,” Rigelus crooned in that voice that didn’t belong to the teenage body his twisted soul inhabited. “We extend our wishes for a happy mating, and a fertile one.”

Celestina and Ephraim lowered their heads in thanks. “We are grateful for your wisdom and kindness in pairing us,” Celestina said. Bryce tried and failed to detect the undercurrent of her tone. Was it sincere? Was the slight tightness from a lie, or from being before the Asteri?

Octartis, the Southern Star—the Asteri to Rigelus’s right—spoke, her voice like ancient, cracking ice. “I understand other congratulations are in order, too.”

A chill shot along Bryce’s spine as Rigelus said, “Princess Bryce Danaan and Prince Hunt Athalar.” It was an order. A command.

The crowd fell back. Giving the Asteri a clear shot at them.

Oh gods. Bryce’s blood rushed from her face. How did they already know? Had the cameras on their end been running the whole time, letting the Asteri watch and listen unseen?

But then the Autumn King was there, bowing at her side. “I present my daughter to you, Holy Ones,” he intoned.

She wondered if he hated bowing to them. It satisfied the fuck out of her to see him do it, but there was no time to dwell on that now. Bryce bowed, too, as she murmured, “Hail the Asteri.”

Cormac appeared on her father’s other side, bowing low. As Crown Prince of Avallen, he had no other choice.

He’d been furious at her stunt. Not that she’d ended their engagement, but that she hadn’t warned him ahead of time. Any other surprises tonight, Princess? he’d snapped at her before striding off to speak to her father. You broke our deal. I won’t forget that.

She hadn’t responded, but … Did the Asteri know one of their fiercest rebels stood before them, playing prince? Did they know how she’d helped him, worked with him? She supposed if they did, they’d all be dead.

“And I present her mate and consort, Prince Hunt Athalar,” the Autumn King was saying sharply, his disapproval palpable. He might very well kill her for this. If Cormac didn’t do it first.

But, according to Fae law, she was now Hunt’s property. Recognized in the past few minutes by both Archangels and the Asteri. If it made Hunt uncomfortable, if he resented his new title or the beings before him, he showed no sign as he bowed, his wing brushing over her back. “Hail the Asteri.”

“Rise,” the Asteri said, and so Bryce, Hunt, and her father did. There were so many eyes upon them. In this room, in that chamber in the Eternal City. Rigelus’s, especially, bore into her. He smiled slightly. Like he knew everything she’d done these weeks. Every rebel activity, every mutinous thought.

Bryce hated herself for lowering her gaze. Even as she knew Hunt stared Rigelus down.

But the Bright Hand of the Asteri said, “So many happy unions tonight. It is our wish that you all partake in the revelry. Go, and celebrate Death’s Day in peace.”

Everyone bowed again, and the screen went dark. More than a few people whimpered, as if they’d been holding in the sound.

No one spoke for several seconds as the lights brightened. Then the band began once more slightly off-tempo, like the musicians needed a minute to get their shit together. Even the Archangels were a little pale as they took their seats.

Bryce faced her father. The Autumn King said in a voice so low no one else could hear, “You little bitch.”

Bryce smiled broadly. “It’s ‘You little bitch, Your Highness.’ ” She stalked into the crowd. She didn’t miss Hunt smirking at the king, throwing him a wink that clearly said: Make a move and I’ll fry you, asswipe.

But she had to suck down a few long breaths as she halted at the edge of the dance floor, trying to regain her composure.

“You all right?” Hunt asked, gripping her shoulder.

“Yes, Your Highness,” she muttered.

He chuckled, and leaned to whisper in her ear, “I thought you only called me that in bed, Quinlan.” She did. You are my fucking prince, she’d panted last night as he drove his cock up into her.

Bryce leaned against him, shaking off the last of the Asteri’s ice. “I can’t believe we did it.”

Hunt let out a low laugh. “There’s going to be Hel to pay.” From her father. But tonight, he could do nothing. Here, in front of all these people, he could do nothing at all.

So Bryce said, “Dance with me?”

He raised a brow. “Really?”

“You do know how to dance, right?”

“Of course I do. But … It’s been a long while since I’ve danced with anyone.”

Since Shahar, probably. She interlaced their fingers. “Dance with me.”

The initial steps were stilted, hesitant. His arm slid around her waist, his other hand clutching hers as he led her into the sweet ballad coming from the band. With so many watching, it took a verse or two to get their rhythm.

Hunt murmured, “Just look at me, and fuck all the rest of them.”

His eyes shone with desire and joy, and that spark that was pure Hunt. The star on her chest gleamed, on full display. Someone gasped, but Bryce kept her attention on Hunt. He smiled again.

It was all that mattered, that smile. They fell into easy movement, and when Hunt spun her, she smiled back.

She whipped into his arms, and Hunt didn’t falter a step, sweeping her around the floor. She had the vague sense of Ruhn and Hypaxia dancing, Celestina and Ephraim, too, of Baxian and Naomi—Isaiah now with them—on guard by the doors, but she couldn’t look away from Hunt.

He pressed a kiss to her mouth. The entire universe melted away with it. It was only them, would only be them, dancing together, souls twining. “Everything that ever happened to me, it was all so I could meet you, Quinlan. Be here with you. I’m yours. Forever.”

Her throat tightened, and the star on her chest flared, lighting up the entire conservatory like a small moon. Bryce kissed him back, not caring who saw, only that he was here.

“Everything I am is yours,” she said against his lips.

Hypaxia seemed distracted as Ruhn danced with her, trying his best to avoid watching Hunt and Bryce make moon-eyes at each other. To avoid hearing the comments that trailed in their wake.

The Umbra Mortis—now a Fae Prince. What a disgrace. The slurs and nastiness flowed past Ruhn from Fae mouths, bold enough to run free behind the safety of their masks. Not that the masks would hide their scents. Ruhn marked each one of them.

Athalar was his brother now, by law. And Ruhn didn’t put up with people talking shit about his family. The family he liked, anyway.

Cormac had already left, slipping into a shadow and teleporting out. A small mercy—Cormac had been so distracted by Bryce’s little surprise that he hadn’t bothered to confront the Hind. But Ruhn didn’t blame his cousin for bailing. After the stunt Bryce had pulled, Cormac would have been swarmed by Fae families eager to present their daughters. Flynn’s parents—a sharp-eyed Sathia in tow—were clearly scouring the ballroom for any hint of the Avallen Prince.

Ruhn suppressed his smile at the thought of their fruitless hunt and focused on his partner. Hypaxia seemed to be scanning the crowd.

His heart skipped a beat. He asked quietly, “You looking for someone?”

She cleared her throat. “My sister. The Hind.”

His chest loosened. “Over by the foot of the dais. Next to Pollux.”

Hypaxia glanced over on their next turn. The Hind and the Hammer stood together, both in matte black masks, the angel in a white imperial uniform edged in gold. The Hind’s golden, sparkling dress clung to her hips before falling to the floor. Her blond hair had been swept up, and for once, no silver torque adorned her neck. Only slender gold earrings brushed her shoulders.

“They make a beautiful pair,” Hypaxia murmured. “As monstrous inside as they are lovely outside, though.”

Ruhn grunted. “Yeah.”

Hypaxia chewed on her lip. “I was waiting until tonight to approach her.”

He studied her face. “You want me to go with you?” He could offer nothing less.

“Do you think she’ll … react badly?”

“She’s too smart to cause a scene. And I don’t think the Hind is the sort to do that anyway. She’s cut from the same cloth as my father. The worst thing that happens is that she ignores you.”

Hypaxia stiffened in his arms. “I suppose you’re right. I’d rather get this meeting over with. It will spoil the rest of my night to stew over it.”

“Why meet with her at all?”

“Because she is my sister. And I’ve never spoken to her. Or seen her in the flesh.”

“I felt that way when I learned about Bryce’s existence.”

She nodded distractedly, her eyes darting around the room again. “You’re sure you don’t mind coming with me?”

Ruhn checked the massive clock at the rear of the conservatory. Eleven fifty. He had time. A few minutes. He needed something to distract himself with anyway. “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t mean it.”

They slipped from the dance floor, the crowd parting for the beautiful queen as she aimed for her sister. The Hind marked her approach without smiling. Pollux, however, grinned at Hypaxia, then at Ruhn.

Hypaxia, to her credit, squared her shoulders as she halted. “Lidia.”

The Hind’s mouth curled upward. “Hypaxia.” Her voice was low, smooth. It was a blatant show of disrespect, not to use the queen’s title. Not to even bow.

Hypaxia said, “I wished to formally greet you.” She added, “Sister.”

“Now, that is a name no one has ever called me,” Lidia said.

Pollux sneered. Ruhn bared his teeth in warning and received a mocking smile in return.

Hypaxia tried once more. “It is a name that I hope we can both hear more often.”

Not one ounce of kindness or warmth graced the Hind’s beautiful face, even with the mask. “Perhaps,” Lidia said, and went back to staring at the crowd. Bored and disinterested. A dismissal and an insult.

Ruhn glanced at the clock. He should go. Make his way slowly to the garden doors, then slip outside. But he couldn’t leave Hypaxia to face her sister alone.

“Are you enjoying Lunathion?” Hypaxia tried.

“No,” the Hind drawled. “I find this city tediously plebian.”

The Hammer snickered, and Hypaxia said to him with wondrous authority, “Go lurk somewhere else.”

Pollux’s eyes flashed. “You can’t give me orders.”

But the Hind turned her cool, amused gaze on the Hammer. “A minute, Pollux.”

The Hammer glared at Hypaxia, but the witch-queen remained unbowed before a male who’d slaughtered his way through the world for centuries.

Ruhn saw his opening and said to Hypaxia, “I’ll give you two a moment as well.”

Before the queen could object, he backed into the crowd. He was a piece of shit for abandoning her, but …

He walked, unnoticed and unbothered, to the western doors. Slipped out of them and down the five steps to the gravel ground. He strode to the fountain bubbling away in the shadows beyond the reach of the conservatory’s lights and leaned against it, his heart pounding.

Two minutes now. Would Day be here?

He monitored the doors, forcing himself to breathe in and out slowly.

Maybe this was a bad idea. He’d been talking to the Hind and the Hammer, for fuck’s sake. This place was swarming with enemies, all of whom would slaughter him and Day if they were found out. Why had he risked her like this?

“Looking for someone?” a female voice crooned.

Ruhn whirled, his stomach bottoming out as he beheld the masked figure before him.

The Harpy stood in the shadows beyond the fountain. As if she’d been waiting.


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