House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City) (46 page)

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
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In the safety of her home, Bryce knelt on the floor, wet and bloody and panting. The slice along her spine was long but mercifully shallow, already clotting. It had missed the Horn tattoo by millimeters. Hunt had enough sanity remaining to avoid the white couch as Tharion said, “What happened? Any sign of Emile or Sofie?”

“No—we were stupid to even look for them in the Bone Quarter,” Hunt said, sitting at the dining table, trying to reel his mind back in. Bryce filled the mer in on the rest.

When she finished, Tharion dropped onto one of the counter stools, face white. “I know I should be disappointed that Emile and Sofie weren’t hiding in the Bone Quarter, but … that’s what awaits us in the end?”

Hunt opened his mouth, but Bryce asked, “Where’s Ruhn? He and Ithan should be back.”

Hunt narrowed his eyes. “Call them.”

Bryce did, but neither answered. Hunt fished out his phone, grateful he’d gotten the water-repellent spell Quinlan had needled him into purchasing. News alerts and messages filled the screen.

Hunt said a shade hoarsely, “Ephraim just got here. With the Hind.”

Tharion nodded grimly. “She brought her pack of dreadwolves with her.”

Bryce checked the clock on her phone again. “I need to find Ruhn.”

 

33

Ruhn said nothing as the Hind produced a deck of cards from the pocket of her imperial uniform.

Ithan played the role of confused jock, alternating ignorance with bored distraction as he watched the game above the bar. The Hind shuffled the deck, cards cracking like breaking bones.

On the table’s fourth side, the Harpy lounged in her seat and marked his every move. Her wings—a matte black, like they’d been built for stealth—spilled onto the floor. She wore the familiar battle-suit of the 45th—Sandriel’s former prized legion. The Harpy, along with the Hammer, had been one of its notoriously cruel leaders.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the Hind said, flexing and breaking the cards again. Her hands were deft, unfaltering. Unscarred. She wore a gold ring crowned with a square, clean-cut ruby. A subtle hint of wealth.

Ruhn forced himself to smirk. “I’m flattered I was so high on your priority list today.”

“You’re my half sister’s fianc
é
, are you not?” A lifeless smile. The opposite of Hypaxia’s warmth and wisdom. The Hind was only about twenty years older than her sister—forty-seven years old—far closer in age than most Vanir siblings. But they shared nothing in common, it seemed. “It would be rude not to introduce myself
upon arrival. I already visited your father’s villa. He informed me that you were here.”

Cormac must have arrived right before the Hind, to feed the lie to the Autumn King. Thank the gods.

Ruhn snorted. “Nice to meet you. I’m busy.”

The Harpy’s skin was as pale as the belly of a fish, set off by her jet-black hair and eyes. She said, “You’re as impertinent as you appear, princeling.”

Ruhn flicked his lip ring with his tongue. “I’d hate to disappoint.”

The Harpy’s features contorted in anger. But the Hind said mildly, “We’ll play poker, I think. Isn’t that what you play on Tuesday nights?”

Ruhn repressed his shiver of fear. The standing game wasn’t a secret, but … how much did she know about him?

Ithan remained the portrait of boredom, gods bless him.

So Ruhn said to the Hind, “All right, you’re keeping tabs on me for your sister’s sake.” Was it mere coincidence she’d sought him out now? What had Mordoc told her about Ithan’s whereabouts this morning? Ruhn asked the Harpy, “But why the Hel are
you
here?”

The Harpy’s thin lips stretched into a grotesque smile. She reached a pale hand toward Ithan’s muscled shoulder as she said, “I wanted to survey the goods.”

Without looking at her, the wolf snatched her fingers, squeezing hard enough to show that he could break bone if he wished. Slowly, he turned, eyes brimming with hate. “You can look, but don’t touch.”

“You break it, you buy it,” the Harpy crooned, wriggling her fingers. She liked this—the edge of pain.

Ithan bared his teeth in a feral grin and released her hand. The pup had balls, Ruhn would give him that. Ithan looked at the TV again as he said, “Pass.”

The Harpy bristled, and Ruhn said, “He’s a little young for you.”

“And what about you?” A killer’s sharp smile.

Ruhn leaned back in his chair, swigging from his whiskey. “I’m engaged. I don’t fuck around.”

The Hind dealt the cards with a swift, sure grace. “Except with fauns, of course.”

Ruhn kept his face unmoved. How did she know about the female at the party? He met her golden eyes. A perfect match for the Hammer in beauty and temperament. She hadn’t been at the Summit this spring, thank the gods. The Harpy had been there, though, and Ruhn had done his damn best to stay away from her.

The Hind scooped up her cards without breaking his stare. “I wonder if my sister shall learn of that.”

“Is this some sort of shakedown?” Ruhn fanned out his cards. A decent hand—not great, but he’d won with worse.

The Hind’s attention bobbed to her cards, then back to his face. This female had most likely killed Sofie Renast. A silver torque glinted at the base of her throat. Like she’d killed and broken so many rebels that the collar of her uniform couldn’t fit all the darts. Did the necklace grow with each new death she wrought? Would his own be marked on that collar?

The Hind said, “Your father suggested I meet you. I agreed.” Ruhn suspected that his father hadn’t just told her his location to provide an alibi, but also to warn him to keep the fuck out of trouble.

Ithan picked up his cards, scanned them, and swore. The Harpy said nothing as she examined her own hand.

The Hind held Ruhn’s gaze as the game began. She was the spitting image of Luna, with her upswept chignon, the regal angle of her neck and jaw. As coldly serene as the moon. All she needed was a pack of hunting hounds at her side—

And she had them, in her dreadwolves.

How had someone so young risen in the ranks so swiftly, gained such notoriety and power? No wonder she left a trail of blood behind her.

“Careful now,” the Harpy said with that oily smile. “The Hammer doesn’t share.”

The Hind’s lips curved upward. “No, he doesn’t.”

“As Ithan said,” Ruhn drawled, “pass.”

The Harpy glowered, but the Hind’s smile remained in place. “Where is your famed sword, Prince?”

With Bryce. In the Bone Quarter. “Left it at home this morning,” Ruhn answered.

“I heard you spent the night at your sister’s apartment.”

Ruhn shrugged. Was this interrogation merely to fuck with him? Or did the Hind know something? “I didn’t realize you had the authority to grill Aux leaders in this city.”

“The authority of the Asteri extends over all. Including Starborn Princes.”

Ruhn caught the bartender’s eye, signaling for another whiskey. “So this is just to prove you’ve got bigger balls?” He draped an arm over the back of his chair, cards in one hand. “You want to head up the Aux while you’re in town, fine. I could use a vacation.”

The Harpy’s teeth flashed. “Someone should rip that tongue from your mouth. The Asteri would flay you for such disrespect.”

Ithan drew another card and said mildly, “You’ve got some nerve, coming to our city and trying to start shit.”

The Hind replied with equal calm, “So do you, lusting after the female your brother loved.”

Ruhn blinked.

Ithan’s eyes turned dangerously dark. “You’re full of shit.”

“Am I?” the Hind said, drawing a card herself. “Of course, as my visit here will likely entail meeting the princess, I looked into her history. Found quite a chain of messages between you two.”

Ruhn thanked the bartender as the male brought over a whiskey and then quickly retreated. Ruhn said into Ithan’s mind,
She’s trying to rile you. Ignore her.

Ithan didn’t answer. He only said to the Hind, voice sharpening, “Bryce is my friend.”

The Hind drew another card. “Years of pining in secret, years of guilt and shame for feeling what he does, for hating his brother whenever he talks about Miss Quinlan, for wishing that
he
had been the one who’d met her first—”

“Shut up,” Ithan growled, rattling the glasses on the table, pure feral wolf.

The Hind went on, unfazed, “Loving her, lusting for her from the sidelines. Waiting for the day when she would realize that
he
was the one she was meant to be with. Playing his little heart out on the sunball field, hoping she’d notice him at last. But then big brother dies.”

Ithan paled.

The Hind’s expression filled with cool contempt. “And he hates himself even more. Not only for losing his brother, for not being there, but because of the one, traitorous thought he had after learning the news. That the path to Bryce Quinlan was now cleared. Did I get that part right?”


Shut your fucking mouth
,” Ithan growled, and the Harpy laughed.

Calm down
, Ruhn warned the male.

But the Hind said, “Call.”

Mind reeling, Ruhn laid out the decent hand he’d gotten. The Harpy put hers down. Good. He’d beaten her. The Hind gracefully spread hers across the table.

A winning hand. Beating Ruhn by a fraction.

Ithan didn’t bother to show his cards. He’d already shown them, Ruhn realized.

The Hind smiled again at Ithan. “You Valbarans are too easy to break.”

“Fuck you.”

The Hind rose, gathering her cards. “Well, this has been delightfully dull.”

The Harpy stood with her. Black talons glinted at the angel’s fingertips. “Let’s hope they fuck better than they play poker.”

Ruhn crooned, “I’m sure there are Reapers who’ll stoop to fuck you.”

The Hind snickered, earning a glare from the Harpy that the deer shifter ignored. The Harpy hissed at Ruhn, “I do not take being insulted lightly, princeling.”

“Get the Hel out of my bar,” Ruhn snarled softly.

She opened her mouth, but the Hind said, “We’ll see you soon, I’m sure.” The Harpy understood that as a command to leave and
stormed out the door onto the sunny street. Where life, somehow, continued onward.

The Hind paused on the threshold before she left, though. Peered over her shoulder at Ruhn, her silver necklace glinting in the sunlight trickling in. Her eyes lit with unholy fire.

“Tell Prince Cormac I send my love,” the Hind said.

Bryce was one breath away from calling the Autumn King when the door to the apartment opened. And apparently, she looked a Hel of a lot worse than her brother or Ithan, because they immediately demanded to know what had happened to her.

Hunt, nursing a beer at the kitchen counter, said, “Emile and Sofie aren’t in the Bone Quarter. But we found out some major shit. You’d better sit down.”

Yet Bryce went up to her brother, scanning him from the piercings along his ear to his tattooed arms and ass-kicking boots. Not one sleek black hair out of place, though his skin was ashen. Ithan, standing at his side, didn’t give her the chance to turn to him before approaching the fridge and grabbing a beer of his own.

“You’re all right?” Bryce asked Ruhn, who was frowning at the dirt and blood on her—the wound on her back had thankfully closed, but was still tender.

Tharion said from where he sat on the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, “Everyone is fine, Legs. Now let’s sit down like a good little rebel family and tell each other what the Hel happened.”

Bryce swallowed. “All right. Yeah—sure.” She scanned Ruhn again, and his eyes softened. “You scared the shit out of me.”

“We couldn’t answer our phones.”

She didn’t let herself reconsider before throwing her arms around her brother and squeezing tight. A heartbeat later, he gently hugged her back, and she could have sworn he shuddered in relief.

Hunt’s phone buzzed, and Bryce pulled away from Ruhn. “Celestina wants me at the Comitium for Ephraim’s arrival,” Hunt said. “She wants her triarii assembled.”

“Oh, Ephraim’s already here.” Ithan dropped onto the couch. “We learned the hard way.”

“You saw him?” Bryce asked.

“His cronies,” Ithan said, not looking at her. “Played poker with them and everything.”

Bryce whirled on Ruhn. Her brother nodded gravely. “The Hind and the Harpy showed up to the bar where we were lying low. I can’t tell if it was because Mordoc sniffed around the alley where Cormac made the intel drop or what. But it was … not great.”

“Do they know?” Hunt asked quietly, storms in his eyes. “About you? About us?”

“No idea,” Ruhn said, toying with his lip ring. “I think we’d be dead if they did, though.”

Hunt blew out a sigh. “Yeah, you would be. They would have taken you in for questioning already.”

“The Hind is a fucking monster,” Ithan said, turning on the TV. “Her and the Harpy, both.”

“I could have told you that,” Hunt said, finishing his beer and striding to where Bryce stood before the glass dining table. She didn’t stop him as he slid a hand over her jaw, cupping her cheek, and kissed her. Just a swift brush of their mouths, but it was a claiming and a promise.

“Rain check?” he murmured onto her lips. Right. The dinner and the hotel—

She frowned pitifully. “Rain check.”

He chuckled, but grew deadly serious. “Be careful. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Don’t go looking for that kid without me.” He kissed her forehead before leaving the apartment.

Bryce offered up silent prayers to Cthona and Urd to protect him.

“Glad you two finally sorted it out,” Tharion said from the couch.

Bryce flipped him off. But Ruhn sniffed her carefully. “You … smell different.”

“She smells like the Istros,” Ithan said from the couch.

“No, it’s …” Ruhn’s brows twitched toward each other, and he scratched at the buzzed side of his head. “I can’t explain it.”

“Stop sniffing me, Ruhn.” Bryce hopped onto the couch on Tharion’s other side. “It’s gross. Story time?”

 

34

“How do I look?” Celestina whispered to Hunt as they stood in front of the desk in her private study. Isaiah flanked her other side, Naomi to his left, Baxian to Hunt’s right. Baxian had barely done more than nod to Hunt when he’d entered.

BOOK: House of Sky and Breath (Crescent City)
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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