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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 60

Ruhn scanned the face in the darkness. It couldn’t be her.

The fucking Harpy? He took in her dark hair, the lean body, the taunting mouth—

“What are you doing out here?” the Harpy asked, stalking closer, her dark wings blacker than the night.

Ruhn forced himself to take a breath. “Day?” he asked quietly.

The Harpy blinked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

The breath nearly whooshed from him. Thank the fucking gods it wasn’t her, but if the Harpy was here, and Agent Daybright was about to appear … The Harpy and the Hind had shown up at the bar that day, but he’d seen nothing of the former since. And yeah, meeting by the fountain with another person wouldn’t scream rebel liaison, but if the Harpy had any suspicions about him, or whoever Daybright was, if she saw them meeting together …

He had to get out of here. Walk back into the conservatory and not endanger Day.

What an idiot he was.

“Enjoy the party,” Ruhn said to the Harpy.

“No stolen kisses for me in the garden?” she mocked as he stormed up the steps.

He’d explain to Day later. The clock read two minutes past twelve—she hadn’t come. Or maybe she’d seen who was in the garden and decided to hang back.

Seen who also observed from the shadows at the top of the stairs.

The Hind’s golden eyes gleamed in the dimness through her mask. She’d followed him. Fuck. Had she suspected that he was slipping away to meet with someone? She hadn’t said a word, as far as he knew, about the shit that had gone down at Ydra—was it so she could ultimately follow them to a bigger prize?

To the greatest prize a spy-catcher could find. Agent Daybright.

Ruhn stared down the Hind as he passed her. She watched him with serene indifference.

He tugged at his collar as he entered the noise and heat of the party. He’d come that close to being caught by the Hind and the Harpy—to getting Day caught by them.

Ruhn didn’t say goodbye to anyone before bailing.

Hunt licked his way up Bryce’s neck, a hand sliding over her mouth to muffle her moan as he tugged her down the dim hallway. “You want someone to find us?” His voice was guttural.

“We’re official now. I don’t care.” But she fumbled with the handle of the cloakroom door. Standing behind her, mouth at her throat, Hunt suppressed a groan of his own as her ass pushed into his aching cock. Another few seconds, and they’d be in the cloakroom. And within a few seconds of that, he planned to be balls-deep in her.

He knew Baxian and Naomi had been well aware they weren’t going down this hall to use the bathroom, but the angels guarding the door had only smirked at them.

“It’s locked,” she mumbled, and Hunt huffed a laugh against her warm skin.

“Good thing you’ve got a big, tough alphahole with you, Quinlan,” he said, pulling away from her. Gods, if anyone walked down this hallway, they’d get a glimpse at his pants and know what was about to go down. He’d lasted all of three dances before needing to slip away with her. They’d return to the party soon. Once they got in a good, solid fuck.

He’d be damned if he’d ever call himself Prince Hunt, but … it had been worth it. The wild plan she’d spun for him more than two weeks ago, when she’d honored him by asking if he’d do this.

Hunt dragged his teeth down the column of her neck, then tugged her a step back. Bryce, panting softly, face flushed with desire that set his cock pounding, grinned fiendishly at him.

“Watch and learn, sweetheart,” Hunt said, and rammed his shoulder into the door.

The lock splintered, and Hunt didn’t hesitate before tugging her in with him. Her arms slid around his neck, all of her lining up with him, and he hefted her leg to wrap around his waist, bracing to hoist her up—

A squeak of surprise halted him.

Hunt whirled, mind trying to match up with what his senses were blaring.

But there it was. There they were.

Celestina’s dress had been tugged down, baring one full, round breast. Gleaming as if someone had been licking it.

But it wasn’t Ephraim who stood before the Archangel, positioned between the female and Hunt. It wasn’t Ephraim whose own clothes were askew, hair mussed, lips swollen.

It was Hypaxia.

Hunt had no idea what to say.

Bryce cleared her throat and stepped in front of Hunt, blocking his raging erection from view. “I guess the locked door means already occupied, huh?”

Hypaxia and Celestina just stared at them, their hair half falling out of their elegant arrangements.

Hunt slowly, quietly shut the door behind them. Lifted his hands. Because that was a faint glow of power beginning to shimmer around Celestina. An Archangel’s wrath, priming to strike down any enemy.

Hunt couldn’t stop his own lightning from answering, its zap searing through him. If Celestina was going to throw down, he’d match her.

Bryce said breathlessly to Hypaxia, as she sensed the brewing storm in the cloakroom, “I’ve, uh, never been in this kind of situation before.”

Hypaxia glanced to the Governor, whose eyes had turned white, flaring with power, and said to Bryce, an attempt at casualness, “Me neither.”

The only way in and out was the door at Hunt’s back. Unless Celestina blasted apart the entire top of the building. Hunt put a hand on Bryce’s shoulder.

But his mate said brightly, “In case we need to clarify, we aren’t going to say anything.”

Hypaxia nodded sagely. “We thank you.” She peered up at the Archangel—at her lover. “Celestina.”

The Governor didn’t take her gaze from Hunt. If he so much as breathed wrong, she’d kill him. In two fucking seconds. Hunt grinned, though. She could try to kill him. “My lips are sealed.”

Her wings glowed, so bright the entire cloakroom was illuminated. “You endanger the person I love,” Celestina said, her voice echoing with power. “For infringing on what he considers his, Ephraim will end her. Or the Asteri will kill her to make a statement.”

Bryce kept her hands up. “The Asteri are probably going to kill me, too, at some point.” Hunt whipped his head to her. She wouldn’t— “I like you,” she said instead, and Hunt tried not to sag with relief that she hadn’t explained their rebel activities. “I think you’re good for this city. Ephraim and his loser cabal, not so much, but once he’s gone home, I think you’re going to make Lunathion even more … awesome.” Hunt threw her an incredulous look. She shrugged. Bryce’s eyes met Celestina’s. Her star flared.

Power to power. Female to female. Governor to … Princess wasn’t the right word for the expression that came across Bryce’s face, the shift of her posture.

Another word formed on his tongue, but Hunt didn’t let it take root, didn’t let himself think of all the deadly implications that the other word would entail.

Bryce said, with that more-than-princess bearing, “I have no plans to fuck you over. Either of you.” She faced Hypaxia, who was giving Bryce that more-than-princess look, too. “We’re allies. Not only politically, but … as females who have had to make some shitty, hard choices. As females who live in a world where most powerful males see us only as breeding tools.” Hypaxia nodded again, but Celestina continued to stare at Bryce. A predator surveying the best place to strike.

Hunt rallied his power again. Bryce continued, “I’m no one’s prize mare. I took a gamble with this idiot”—she jerked a thumb toward Hunt, who gaped at her—“and luckily, it paid off. And I just want to say that”—she swallowed—“if you two want to make a gamble with each other, say fuck it to the arrangements with Ephraim and Ruhn, then I’m with you. We’d have to go against the Asteri, but … look what I did tonight. Whatever I can do, whatever clout I have, it’s yours. But let’s start by walking out of this closet in one piece.”

Silence fell.

And slowly, like a setting sun, the Archangel’s power dimmed until only her silhouette glowed with it. Hypaxia laid a hand on her lover’s shoulder, proof that they were safe.

Celestina said, setting her fine clothing to rights, “We weren’t without choices in this. When the Autumn King came asking for Hypaxia’s hand for his son, I was the one who encouraged her to accept. But who I love, who I am mated to … those are decisions that I am not entitled to make, as an Archangel.”

Hunt grunted. “I know how that feels.” At Celestina’s arched brow, he pointed to his branded-out wrist. “Slave, remember?”

“Perhaps there’s a thin line between Governor and slave,” Hypaxia mused.

Celestina admitted, “I thought that Hypaxia might wed the prince, perhaps in a political sense, and when enough time had passed, we could … resume our relationship. But then the Asteri gave the order about Ephraim, and I found myself with little choice but to say yes.”

Bryce asked quietly, “Did Ephraim …”

“I agreed to it,” the Governor said firmly. “Though I can’t say I found it enjoyable.” Hypaxia kissed her cheek.

That was why Celestina had seemed so unsettled before her first night with Ephraim, so haunted afterward—because her heart lay elsewhere.

Bryce said to the females, “For however long you want and need to keep this secret, we won’t breathe a hint to anyone. You have my word.”

And it occurred to Hunt, as both females nodded, that Bryce had somehow earned their trust—had become someone who people trusted unfailingly.

A more-than-princess, indeed.

Hunt smiled at his mate and said, “Well, we should probably leave. Before someone comes in and finds us all in here and thinks I’m having the night of my life.” Hypaxia and Bryce laughed, but Celestina’s answering smile was subdued.

Bryce seemed to note that, and looped her arm through the witch-queen’s, steering her toward the door and murmuring, “Let’s discuss how much this evening will piss off the Autumn King and how wonderful that will be,” as they left, leaving Hunt and Celestina alone.

His Archangel observed him. Hunt didn’t dare move.

“So you’re truly a prince now,” Celestina said.

Hunt blinked. “Uh, yeah. I guess.”

The Governor walked past him, toward where her lover had gone into the hall. “There’s a fine line between prince and slave, too, you know.”

Hunt’s chest tightened. “I know.”

“Then why accept the burden?” she asked, pausing.

Bryce seemed thick as thieves with the witch-queen as they walked arm-in-arm. “She’s worth it.”

But Celestina said, face solemn, “Love is a trap, Hunt.” She shook her head, more at herself than at him. “One I can’t figure out how to free myself from.”

“You want to be free of it?”

The Archangel stepped into the hall, wings still glowing with a remnant of power. “Every single day.”

Tharion tried not to glance at his watch—technically his grandfather’s waterproof watch, given to him upon high school graduation—as the night wore on. Bryce’s betrothal coup had provided five minutes of glorious amusement before he’d been sucked into boredom and impatience.

He knew it was an honor to be here, to escort the River Queen’s daughter, who was sparkling with delight and joy. But it was hard to feel that privilege when he’d been ordered to attend the ball at her side.

Tharion had waited at the docks by the River Gate at sundown, dressed to the nines. The River Queen’s daughter had emerged from the mists in a pale oak boat pulled by a bevy of snow-white swans. Tharion hadn’t failed to notice the sobeks lurking fifty feet beyond them. Sentinels for this journey of their queen’s most precious daughter.

“Is it not magical?” his companion was saying for the fifth time that night, sighing at the lights and dancing couples.

Tharion drained the rest of his champagne. She is allowed to have one glass of wine, her mother had said in her letter via otter. And she is to be home by one.

Tharion finally glanced at his watch. Twelve twenty. Another fifteen minutes and he could start ushering her toward the door. He handed his flute to a passing server, but found his companion’s expression had turned dangerously pouty.

He offered her a charming, bland smile, but she said, “You do not seem to be enjoying yourself.”

“I am,” he assured her, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to her knuckles.

“Your friends do not come to speak with us.”

Well, considering that he’d seen Bryce and Hunt slip off somewhere, that was no surprise. Ithan was chatting with Naomi Boreas and the Helhound at the doors, and the others … Ruhn and Cormac had bailed. No sign of Hypaxia.

Though the witch-queen had already come to speak with them. He’d had a hard time meeting her gaze throughout the awkward conversation, while she could see how stupid he’d been in tying himself to this female. But Hypaxia had been kind to the River Queen’s daughter, who herself had been all smiles. Tharion hadn’t dared call her Pax.

“My friends have a lot of glad-handing to do,” he hedged.

“Oh.” She fell silent, lurking on the edge of the dance floor as couples swept past. Maybe it was all the champagne, but he really looked at her: the dark eyes full of longing and quiet happiness, the eager energy buzzing from her, the sense that she was some creature crafted into mortal form only for this night, and would dissolve into river silt as soon as the clock struck one.

Was he any better than her mother? He’d been stringing this girl along for ten years now. Had held her back tonight because he didn’t feel like enjoying himself.

She must have felt the weight of his stare, because she twisted to him. Tharion offered her another bland smile, then turned to one of the bodyguards lurking in the shadows behind them. “Hey, Tritus, can you take over for this dance?”

The guard glanced between them, but Tharion smiled down at the River Queen’s daughter, whose brows were raised. “Go dance,” he told her. “I’ll be right back.” He didn’t let her object before handing her off to the guard, who was actually blushing as he extended his arm.

And Tharion didn’t look back as he strode off into the crowd, wondering how much shit he’d be in for this. But … even if he was flayed for it, he wasn’t going to string her along any further.

He paused on the outskirts of the crowd, finally turning to see the guard and the River Queen’s daughter dancing, both of them smiling. Happy.

Good. She deserved that. Mother or not, temper or not, she deserved someone to make her happy.

Tharion made his way over to the nearest open bar, and was about to order a whiskey when he noticed a curvy female—a leopard shifter from the scent of her—lounging against the counter beside him.

He’d always noticed a good ass, and this female … Hel yes.

“Come here often?” he asked her with a wink. The leopard turned her head toward him, light brown skin radiant in the soft lights. Her eyes were thick-lashed, utterly gorgeous above high cheekbones and full lips, all of it framed by golden-brown hair that fell around her heart-shaped face in soft waves. She had the ease and grace of a movie star. Probably was one, if she was important enough to be here. That full mouth curled in a smile. “Is that your attempt at a pickup line?”

He knew that sultry tone. So Tharion ordered his whiskey and said to the stranger, “You want it to be?”


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