Authors: Sarah J. Maas
Or rather, the space within them darkened. Exactly as it had when those demons had stormed through the Gates.
Ruhn gaped for a moment at the portal to Hel that had just replaced his front doors.
Then he reached for the sword half-buckled at his back, working past his brain fog to gather shadows in his other hand. Laughter and singing and talking stopped, and the firstlights guttered. The music shut off as if someone had yanked the power cord from the wall.
Then Bryce and Athalar were at the archway into the living room, his sister now wearing Athalar’s hat, and the angel armed with a gun discreetly tucked against his thigh. Athalar was the only person Ruhn would allow to bring a gun into one of his parties. And Axtar—who was now nowhere to be seen.
Ruhn drew his sword as he leapt down the rest of the stairs, managing to land gracefully on the other side of his sister. Flynn and Dec fell into place beside him. His shadows swirled up his left arm like twining snakes.
A faint light glowed from Bryce— No, that was the glow stick on her arm.
A figure stalked from the darkness in the doorway. Straight out of Hel. And in that moment, Ruhn knew three more things.
,” Bryce hissed at the glowing scar between her breasts. Or what she could glimpse of it with the neckline of her T-shirt and her bra in the way. It lit up the fabric of both, and if she hadn’t been facing the towering Fae male who’d appeared out of a cloud of shadows, she
have used the moment to ponder why and how it glowed.
Partygoers had stopped dead in their revelry. Waiting for whatever shit was about to go down.
And what asshole had turned off the music? Dramahounds.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Ruhn prowled closer to the stranger.
The male’s tan face might have been ruggedly good-looking were it not for the complete lack of feeling there. His light brown eyes were dead. Humorless. His thin white sweater over black jeans and combat boots told Bryce he’d come from somewhere colder.
The crowd seemed to sense danger, too, and backed away until only Hunt, Bryce, Ruhn, and his friends remained facing the stranger. She had no idea where Fury and Juniper were. The former was likely strategically positioned in the room to make sure she could intercept any danger before it reached her girlfriend. Good.
The stranger stalked forward, and Bryce braced herself, even as Hunt casually angled himself between her and the male. Bryce
held in her grin at the gesture. And found that grin vanishing instantly when the blond spoke, his accent rolling and rich.
“I was invited.”
The stranger turned to her and smirked, lifeless as a dead fish. “I don’t believe we’ve met.” A nod toward her—her chest. “Though I know who you are, of course.” His eyes flicked over her. “You look better than expected. Not that I was expecting much.”
are you doing here, Cormac?” Ruhn ground out, stepping closer. But he sheathed the Starsword down his back once more.
The blond—Cormac—faced her brother. He sniffed once, then chuckled. “You smell like cunt.”
Bryce nearly gagged at the thought. Cormac went on as Ruhn bristled, “And I told you: I was invited.”
“Not to this fucking house,” Flynn said, moving to Ruhn’s side, Declan flanking his other. A lethal unit.
Cormac assessed his surroundings. “You call this a house? I hadn’t realized your standards had dropped so low, Lord Hawthorne.”
Declan snarled. “Fuck off, Cormac.” Marc came up behind him, teeth bared with silent menace.
Any other opponent, Bryce knew the group would likely obliterate, but this male was Avallen Fae: powerful, trained in combat from a young age, and merciless.
The male said, as if seeing her try to puzzle him out, “I’m your cousin, Bryce.”
Hunt—the fucking bastard—snorted.
“I don’t have any Fae cousins.” Bryce snapped. If only the stupid scar would halt its glowing. If only people would go back to partying.
“That light says otherwise,” Cormac said with blatant confidence. “I might be Ruhn’s cousin directly through his mother’s kin, but your father, King Einar, is Fae, and his line once crossed with ours long ago.” He held up his hand, and flame wreathed his fingers before winking out.
Bryce blinked. Her mother had never once spoken the Autumn King’s name, and Bryce had only learned it through the news when she was old enough to use a computer.
“Why are you here?” Ruhn bit out.
From the corner of her vision lightning sizzled at Hunt’s fingertips. One strike, and Hunt could fry this fucker.
Yet Cormac smiled. His dead eyes gleamed with nothing but contempt as he bowed mockingly to Bryce. “I’m here to meet my bride.”
The words shot through Hunt’s mind fast enough that they doused his lightning, but Bryce tipped her head back and laughed.
No one else joined her.
And when Bryce had finished, she smirked at Cormac. “You’re hilarious.”
“It is no joke,” Cormac said, face darkening. “It’s been decreed.”
“By who?” Hunt snapped.
The Avallen male sized up Hunt with palpable disdain. Not someone used to being questioned, then. Spoiled little prick. “By her sire, the Autumn King, and mine, the High King of the Avallen Fae.” Making this shithead a Crown Prince.
Bryce said coolly, “Last I checked, I wasn’t on the market.”
Hunt crossed his arms, becoming a wall of muscle beside her. Let Cormac see precisely who he’d be tangling with if he took another step closer to Bryce. Hunt willed tendrils of his lightning to crackle along his shoulders, his wings.
“You’re an unwed Fae female,” Cormac said, unmoved. “That means you belong to your male kin until they decide to pass you to another. The decision has been made.”
From the living room archway, a delicate, dark figure emerged. Axtar. She palmed a gun, but kept it at her thigh. No sign of Juniper—presumably, the faun was staying wherever Fury had instructed her to hide.
Cormac glanced toward the merc, and even his sneer faltered.
Every power broker on Midgard knew of Fury Axtar. What she was capable of, if provoked.
Ruhn pointed to the door and snarled at Cormac, “Get the fuck
out of my house. I don’t care if you use your shadows or your own feet, but get out.”
Yet Cormac glowered at the Starsword peeking over Ruhn’s broad shoulder. “Rumor has it that the sword sings for my bride, too.”
A muscle feathered in Ruhn’s jaw. Hunt didn’t know what to make of that.
But Bryce stepped forward, star still blazing. “I’m not your bride, asshole. And I’m not going to be, so scuttle back to whatever hole you crawled out of and tell your kings to find someone else. And tell them—”
“You’ve got a mouth on you,” Cormac murmured.
Hunt didn’t particularly like the male’s appreciative tone. But he kept his power reined in. Even a zap of lightning against Cormac could be seen as a declaration of war.
Fae were highly sensitive babies. Their tantrums could last centuries.
Bryce smiled sweetly at Cormac. “I get that you want to play Broody Prince, but don’t ever fucking interrupt me again.”
Cormac started. Hunt hid his smirk, even as his blood heated at Bryce’s irreverence.
Bryce went on, “My brother told you to leave his house.” Her skin began to glow. “You don’t want
to have to ask you.”
The hair on Hunt’s neck rose. She’d blinded people with that power—and that had been before the Drop. With all that magic backing her starlight … He hadn’t yet seen how it would manifest. Half hoped he’d find out now, with this asshole as a test subject.
Hunt eyed Flynn, Declan, and Marc—all of whom were tense and primed to leap into the fray. And Ruhn …
Hunt didn’t know why Ruhn’s apparent satisfaction surprised him. He’d expected wounded male pride, perhaps, at Bryce showing him up in his own home. Yet pride did shine from Ruhn’s face—for Bryce. Like the prince had been waiting for his sister to step into her power for a while now and he was honored to have her at his side.
Hunt’s attention shot back to Cormac as the Avallen Prince held
up his hands and slowly smiled at Bryce. The expression was as dead as his eyes. “I’ve seen all I needed to.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Ruhn demanded. Shadows rippled from his shoulders, a dark contrast to the light emanating from Bryce.
But shadows also swirled behind Cormac—darker, wilder than Ruhn’s, like a stampede of stallions waiting to gallop over all of them. “I wanted to confirm that she has the gift. Thank you for demonstrating.” He set one foot into those untamed shadows. Bowed his head to Bryce. “I’ll see you at the altar.”
Bryce’s star winked out the moment he vanished, leaving only drifting embers behind.
Bryce was dimly aware of the party ending: people filtering out through the front door, the countless eyes on her as she stood in the foyer, typing into her phone.
“There’s a train at seven tomorrow morning,” Bryce announced to Hunt, who lingered at her side. As if afraid the Avallen male would reappear to snatch her away.
Not just any Avallen male: Prince Cormac. Her … fianc
“There’s no way your mom will go,” Hunt said. “If by some miracle she isn’t suspicious that you’re bumping them onto a train five hours earlier, then Randall will be.”
Juniper scrolled on her phone at Bryce’s other side. “Social channels are empty right now, but …”
“All it takes is one person,” Fury finished from where she monitored the front of the house with the same vigilance as Hunt. “I think I made my point clear about the consequences of that, though.”
Gods bless her, Fury really had.
If any of you post, talk, or so much as
about what went down here tonight
, she’d declared with quiet authority to the awed partygoers,
I’ll hunt you down and make you regret it.
No one had said anything, but Bryce had noticed more than a few people deleting pictures from their phones as they hurried out.
Hunt said, “Getting your parents out of the city without them being suspicious
finding out will be tricky, to say the least.” He angled his head. “You sure it’s not easier to tell them?”
“And risk my mom going ballistic? Doing something reckless?” And that was to say nothing about what Randall might do if he thought the Autumn King was threatening Bryce’s happiness and control over her own life. Whatever her mom left of the Autumn King, Randall would be sure to put a bullet in it. “I’m not risking them like that.”
“They’re adults,” Fury said. “You can trust them to make rational choices.”
“Have you met my mom?” Bryce burst out. “Does
ever spring to mind when you think about her? She makes sculptures of babies in beds of lettuce, for fuck’s sake.”
“I just think,” June jumped in, “that they’re going to find out anyway, so maybe it’s better if it comes from you. Before they hear it from someone else.”
Bryce shook her head. “Nope. I want to be far, far away when they find out. And get a few hundred miles between them and the Autumn King, too.”
Hunt grunted his agreement, and she threw him a grateful nod.
The sound of Declan shutting the front door pulled her attention from the angel as the Fae male leaned back against it. “Well, my buzz is officially ruined.”
Flynn slumped onto the lowest steps of the staircase, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “Then we better start getting it back.” He swigged deeply before passing it up to Ruhn, who leaned against the banister with crossed arms, his blue eyes blazing into a near-violet. He’d been quiet these last few minutes.
Bryce had no idea where to start with him. About Cormac, about the power she’d shown in Ruhn’s own house, about the star glowing for the Avallen Prince … any of it. So she said, “I take it that’s the cousin from your Ordeal.”
Ruhn, Dec, and Flynn nodded gravely. Her brother drank from the bottle of whiskey.
“How close did Cormac get to killing you during your Ordeal?”
Hunt asked. Ruhn must have told him about it at some point this summer.
“Close,” Flynn said, earning a glare from Ruhn.
But Ruhn admitted, “It was bad.” Bryce could have sworn he didn’t look at her as he added, “Cormac spent his whole life thinking he’d get the Starsword one day. That he’d go into the Cave of Princes and be proven worthy. He studied all the lore, learned all the lineage, pored over every account detailing the variations in the power. It, ah … didn’t go down well when I got it instead.”
“And now his fianc
e has a claim to it, also,” Flynn said, and it was Bryce’s turn to glare at the lord. She could have lived without anyone bringing that up again.
Ruhn seemed to force himself to look at Bryce as he said, “It’s true.” So he’d seen her glare, then. “The sword’s as much yours as it is mine.”
Bryce waved a hand. “I’ll take it on weekends and holidays, don’t worry.”
Hunt tossed in, “And it’ll get
Winter Solstices, so … double the presents.”
Ruhn and the others gawked at them like they had ten heads, but Bryce grinned at Hunt. He returned it with one of his own.
He got her—her humor, her fears, her hedging. Whatever it was, Athalar
“Is it true?” Juniper looped her elbow through Bryce’s and pressed close. “About the legality of an engagement against Bryce’s will?”
That wiped the smile from Hunt’s face. And Bryce’s. Her mind raced, each thought as swift and dizzying as a shooting star.
“Tell me there’s a way out of this, Ruhn.” She walked to her brother and snatched the whiskey bottle from him. A faint light flared at his back—the Starsword. It hummed, a whining sound like a finger tracing the rim of a glass.