Authors: Sarah J. Maas
“You’d think this one would be a popular piece these days,” Randall observed, returning to their sides to study the frieze.
Bryce didn’t reply. She didn’t particularly enjoy discussing the events of the past spring with her parents. Especially not in the middle of a packed theater lobby.
Randall jerked his chin to the inscription. “What’s this one say?”
Keenly aware of her mother marking her every blink, Bryce kept her stance unaffected as she skimmed the text in the Old Language of the Fae.
It wasn’t that she was trying to hide what she’d endured. She
talked to her mom and dad about it a few times. But it always resulted in Ember crying, or ranting about the Vanir who’d locked out so many innocents, and the weight of all her mother’s emotions on top of all of
It was easier, Bryce had realized, to not bring it up. To let herself talk it out with Hunt, or sweat it out in Madame Kyrah’s dance classes twice a week. Baby steps toward being ready for actual talk therapy, as Juniper kept suggesting, but both had helped immensely.
Bryce silently translated the text. “This is a piece from a larger collection—likely one that would have wrapped around the entire exterior of a building, each slab telling a different part of the story. This one says:
Thus the seven Princes of Hel looked in envy upon Midgard and unleashed their unholy hordes upon our united armies
“Apparently nothing’s changed in fifteen thousand years,” Ember said, shadows darkening her eyes.
Bryce kept her mouth shut. She’d never told her mom about Prince Aidas—how he’d helped her twice now, and had seemed unaware of his brothers’ dark plans. If her mom knew she’d consorted with the fifth Prince of Hel, they’d have to redefine the concept of
But then Ember said, “Couldn’t you get a job
?” She gestured with a tan hand to the CCB’s grand entrance, its ever-changing art exhibits in the lobby and on a few of the other levels. “You’re qualified. This would have been perfect.”
“There were no openings.” True. And she didn’t want to use her princess status to get one. She wanted to work at a place like the CCB’s art department on her own merit.
Her job at the Fae Archives … Well, she definitely got that because they saw her as a Fae Princess. But it wasn’t the same, somehow. Because she hadn’t wanted to work there as badly.
“Did you even
“Mom,” Bryce said, voice sharpening.
“Ladies,” Randall said, a teasing remark designed to fracture the growing tension.
Bryce smiled gratefully at him but found her mother frowning. She sighed up at the starburst chandeliers above the glittering throng. “All right, Mom. Out with it.”
“Out with what?” Ember asked innocently.
“Your opinion about my job.” Bryce gritted her teeth. “For years, you ragged on me for being an assistant, but now that I’m doing something better, it’s not good enough?”
This was so not the place, not with tons of people milling about within earshot, but she’d had it.
Ember didn’t seem to care as she said, “It’s not that it’s not good enough. It’s about where that job is.”
“The Fae Archives operate independently of
“Oh? Because I remember him bragging that it was pretty much his personal library.”
Bryce said tightly, “Mom. The gallery is gone. I need a job. Forgive me if the usual corporate nine-to-five isn’t available to me right now. Or if CCB’s art department isn’t hiring.”
“I just don’t get why you couldn’t work something out with Jesiba. She’s still got that warehouse—surely she needs help with whatever she does there.”
Bryce refrained from rolling her eyes. Within a day of the attack on the city this spring, Jesiba had cleared out the gallery—and the precious volumes that made up all that remained of the ancient Great Library of Parthos. Most of Jesiba’s other pieces were now in
a warehouse, many in crates, but Bryce had no idea where the sorceress had spirited off the Parthos books—one of the few remnants of the human world before the Asteri’s arrival. Bryce hadn’t dared question Jesiba about their current whereabouts. It was a miracle that the Asteri hadn’t been tipped off about the contraband books’ existence. “There are only so many times I can ask for a job without looking like I’m begging.”
“And we can’t have a princess do that.”
She’d lost count of how often she’d told her mom she wasn’t a princess. Didn’t want to be, and the Autumn King sure as shit didn’t want her to be, either. She hadn’t spoken to the asshole since that last time he’d come to see her at the gallery, right before her confrontation with Micah. When she’d revealed what power coursed through her veins.
It was an effort not to glance down at her chest, to where the front of her gauzy, pale blue dress plunged to just below her breasts, displaying the star-shaped mark between them. Thankfully, the back was high enough to hide the Horn tattooed there. Like an old scar, the white mark stood out starkly against her freckled, golden-tan skin. It hadn’t faded in the three months since the city had been attacked.
She’d already lost count of how many times she’d caught her mom staring at her star since arriving last night.
A cluster of gorgeous females—woodland nymphs, from their cedar-and-moss scents—meandered past, champagne in hand, and Bryce lowered her voice. “What do you want me to say? That I’ll move back home to Nidaros and pretend to be normal?”
“What’s so bad about normal?” Her mother’s beautiful face blazed with an inner fire that never banked—never, ever died out. “I think Hunt would like living there.”
“Hunt still works for the 33rd, Mom,” Bryce said. “He’s second in command, for fuck’s sake. And while he might appease you by saying he’d
to live in Nidaros, don’t think for one minute he means it.”
“Way to throw him under the bus,” Randall said while keeping his attention on a nearby information placard.
Before Bryce could answer, Ember said, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed things between you two are weird.”
Trust her mom to bring up two topics she didn’t want to talk about in the space of five minutes. “In what way?”
“You’re together but not
,” Ember said bluntly. “What’s that about?”
“It’s none of your business.” It really wasn’t. But as if he’d heard her, the phone in her clutch buzzed. She yanked it out and peered at the screen.
Hunt had written,
I can only hope to have abs like those one day
Bryce couldn’t help her half smile as she peered back at the muscular Fae male on the frieze before answering.
I think you might have a few on him, actually …
“Don’t ignore me, Bryce Adelaide Quinlan.”
Her phone buzzed again, but she didn’t read Hunt’s reply as she said to her mother, “Can you please drop it? And don’t bring it up when Hunt gets here.”
Ember’s mouth popped open, but Randall said, “Agreed. No job or romance interrogations when Hunt arrives.”
Her mother frowned doubtfully, but Bryce said, “Mom, just … stop, okay? I don’t mind my job, and the thing between me and Hunt is what he and I agreed on. I’m doing fine. Let’s leave it at that.”
It was a lie. Sort of.
her job—a lot. The private wing of the Fae Archives housed a trove of ancient artifacts that had been sorely neglected for centuries—now in need of researching and cataloging so they could be sent on a traveling exhibit next spring.
She set her own hours, answering only to the head of research, an owl shifter—one of the rare non-Fae staff—who only worked from dusk to dawn, so they barely overlapped. The worst part of her day was entering the sprawling complex through the main buildings, where the sentries all gawked at her. Some even bowed. And then she had to walk through the atrium, where the librarians and patrons tended to stare, too.
Everyone these days stared—she really fucking hated it. But Bryce didn’t want to tell her mom any of that.
Ember said, “Fine. You know I just worry.”
Something in Bryce’s chest softened. “I know, Mom. And I know …” She struggled for the words. “It really helps to know that I can move back home if I want to. But not right now.”
“Fair enough,” Randall chimed in, giving Ember a pointed glance before looping his arm around her waist and steering her toward another frieze across the theater lobby.
Bryce used their distraction to take out her phone, and found that Hunt had written two messages:
Want to count my abs when we get home from the ballet?
Her stomach tightened, and she’d never been more grateful that her parents possessed a human sense of smell as her toes curled in her heels.
Hunt had added,
I’ll be there in five, by the way. Isaiah held me up with a new case.
She sent a thumbs-up, then replied:
Pleaaaaaase get here ASAP. I just got a major grilling about my job. And you.
Hunt wrote back immediately, and Bryce read as she slowly trailed her parents to where they observed the frieze:
What about me?
“Bryce,” her mom called, pointing to the frieze before her. “Check out this one. It’s JJ.”
Bryce looked up from her phone and grinned. “Badass warrior Jelly Jubilee.” There, hanging on the wall, was a rendering of a pegasus—though not a unicorn-pegasus, like Bryce’s childhood toy—charging into battle. An armored figure, helmet obscuring any telltale features, rode atop the beast, sword upraised. Bryce snapped a photo and sent it to Hunt.
First Wars JJ, reporting for duty!
She was about to reply to Hunt’s
What about me?
question when her mom said, “Tell Hunt to stop flirting and hurry up already.”
Bryce scowled at her mom and put her phone away.
So many things had changed since revealing her heritage as the Autumn King’s daughter and a Starborn heir: people gawking, the hat and sunglasses she now wore on the street to attain some level
of anonymity, the job at the Fae Archives. But at least her mother remained the same.
Bryce couldn’t decide whether that was a comfort or not.
Entering the private box in the angels’ section of the theater—the stage-left boxes a level above the floor—Bryce grinned toward the heavy golden curtain blocking the stage from sight. Only ten minutes remained until the show began. Until the world could see how insanely talented Juniper was.
Ember gracefully sank into one of the red velvet chairs at the front of the box, Randall claiming the seat beside her. Bryce’s mother didn’t smile. Considering that the royal Fae boxes occupied the wing across from them, Bryce didn’t blame her. And considering that many of the bejeweled and shining nobility were staring at Bryce, it was a miracle Ember hadn’t flipped them off yet.
Randall whistled at the prime seats as he peered over the golden rail. “Nice view.”
The air behind Bryce went electric, buzzing and alive. The hair on her arms prickled. A male voice sounded from the vestibule, “A benefit to having wings: no one wants to sit behind you.”
Bryce had developed a keen awareness of Hunt’s presence, like scenting lightning on the wind. He had only to enter a room and she’d know if he was there by that surge of power in her body. Like her magic, her very blood answered to his.
Now she found Hunt standing in the doorway, already tugging at the black tie around his neck.
Just … gods-damn.
He’d worn a black suit and white shirt, both cut to his powerful, muscled body, and the effect was devastating. Add in the gray wings framing it all and she was a goner.
Hunt smirked knowingly, but nodded to Randall. “You clean up good, man. Sorry I’m late.” Bryce could barely hear her dad’s reply as she surveyed the veritable malakim feast before her.
Hunt had cut his hair shorter last month. Not too short, since she’d staged an intervention with the stylist before the draki male
could chop off all those beautiful locks, but gone was the shoulder-length hair. The shorter style suited him, but it was still a shock weeks later to find his hair neatly trimmed to his nape, with only a few pieces in the front still unruly enough to peek through the hole in his sunball hat. Tonight, however, he’d brushed it into submission, revealing the clear expanse of his forehead.
That was still a shock, too: no tattoo. No sign of the years of torment the angel had endured beyond the
stamped over the slave’s tattoo on his right wrist, marking him a free male. Not a full citizen, but closer to it than the peregrini.
The mark was hidden by the cuff of his suit jacket and the shirt beneath, and Bryce lifted her gaze to Hunt’s face. Her mouth went dry at the bald hunger filling his dark, angular eyes. “You look okay, too,” he said, winking.
Randall coughed, but leafed through the playbill. Ember did the same beside him.
Bryce ran a hand down the front of her blue dress. “This old thing?”
Hunt chuckled, and tugged on his tie again.
Bryce sighed. “Please tell me you’re not one of those big, tough males who makes a big fuss about how he hates getting dressed up.”
It was Ember’s turn to cough, but Hunt’s eyes danced as he said to Bryce, “Good thing I don’t have to do it that often, huh?”
A knock on the box door shut off her reply, and a satyr server appeared, carrying a tray of complimentary champagne. “From Miss Andromeda,” the cloven-hoofed male announced.
Bryce grinned. “Wow.” She made a mental note to double the size of the bouquet she’d planned to send to June tomorrow. She took the glass the satyr extended to her, but before she could raise it to her lips, Hunt halted her with a gentle hand on her wrist. She’d officially ended her No Drinking rule after this spring, but she suspected the touch had nothing to do with reminding her to go slow.
Arching a brow, she waited until the server had left before asking, “You want to make a toast?”
Hunt reached into an inner pocket of his suit and pulled out a
small container of mints. Or what seemed like mints. She barely had time to react before he plopped a white pill into her glass.